Whatever ambivalence I felt about the Grad School City portion of my recent trip, I felt none whatsoever about my housing arrangements: I spent three nights with my college roommate and her family and three nights with another college friend and his husband. This arrangement was originated by necessity--half-pay means no money for a hotel room!--and I had some trepidation about burdening busy people in the middle of the work-week. But it was terrific to have that time with them, and to be, however, briefly, a part of their regular lives.
As I've aged, this has become increasingly rare: actually seeing how my friends live. Sure, I have friends whom I meet for drinks every week; friends whose houses I dine at regularly; and I've even rented a vacation house with several friends for a weekend. But that's not the same thing.
When I was in my twenties, I was enmeshed in my friends' lives in ways that went beyond our constant phone calls. We actually lived with each other, even after college, and even after most of us had gotten our own apartments. If we lived in different cities, we'd visit each other for long weekends--and if we lived in the same city, we'd crash at each others' places when it got too late to go home for the night. We'd sleep in the same room, use the same bathroom, make breakfast together. Or we'd hang out at each others' places for hours as afternoon turned into evening, watching bad t.v., reading magazines, drinking a bottle of wine and doing our makeup as we tried to decide what to do with the night.
Now we're busier, with work and other things. Almost all of us are partnered and half of us have kids, and spending large blocks of time together is a trickier proposition. Even when Cosimo and I stay overnight with friends, it's usually just one night (if we're traveling), or there's some event we're all going to (reunion, sporting event), so the rhythms aren't those of real life.
But over the past year, I've stayed for two or three nights, just by myself, with four or five different friends (and their partners and kids, if they have 'em), some of whom I'd never before seen in pyjamas, or whose kitchens I've never experienced flooded with early-morning sunlight.
It's been a treat. The greatest luxury is simply that of time: all those hours in which to have the kinds of conversations that emerge only over a day or two of doing other things--fixing meals, taking the dog for a walk, running errands--and that wouldn't necessarily come out over a 45-minute phone call or a hasty lunch. But there's also the special intimacy that comes from witnessing someone's daily routines with her partner or her child or her pets, from seeing the corner of her kitchen table where she pays her bills, or learning how her coffee maker works. I like that intimacy, and I miss it. But I'm glad to have gotten a fresh taste with a few friends this past week.