Write of Way by Mary Lou Sanelli

Thursday, March 03, 2016 1:42 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


Six years ago, I did a lot of research for a book I was writing about friendship. I wrote down things in one of those tiny notebooks I carry around, things like: “You don’t need a thick skin to have friends. You need a porous one.”

And there was a moment last night when I thought I was about to share this quote with someone. I was giving a talk at a Unitarian Women’s Retreat. During the Q & A, almost everyone likes to tell a story about their own experience.

One woman shared that according to an article she’d read, as many as fifteen percent of American adults don’t have a single close friend. “This means,” she said, whipping out her phone to do the math, except she couldn’t figure how to use her calculator, “well, anyway, a lot of people are friendless.”

“Sad, considering how well connected we are,” I said, very much facetiously, pointing at her phone.

“The author said she interviewed people who are turning to Siri for contact, but that’s not contact. Why should I care if a machine knows I’m lonely?”

And then the question went around the room: What do we mean by close?

“Someone who will offer to pick me up at the airport.”

“Someone who will sit with you when your mother dies and let you cry for hours.”

“I called my friend Lynette when my pressure cooker exploded,” I said. “Split pea soup everywhere. I couldn’t cope.”

“I don’t have a friend who would clean up split pea soup,” another said. “Close, but not that close.”

I had to think. Let’s see, I have at least three friends I can call when crises strikes. And a few more recent ones that I hope will be as long-lasting. But I’ve lost enough to understand that the closer friendships are, the more fragile they can become. Which reminds me of another truth I wrote in my notebook, “tread carefully.”

Another said she found it difficult to keep friends, that she tends to wind up disappointed. And because so many other women at so many other Q & As have expressed the same problem, I assumed, wrongly, that she was struggling with friendship in the long run because of an unrealistic perfection quest. I think of all the pain I could have saved if I’d just brought my expectations down a notch or two over the years.

I was about to say as much. And that in each of my closest friendships there has been at least one moment when we could have broken up, but we came through, stronger than ever. I nearly shared another quote, too: “Friendships are like marriages. We love each other, but we have to be able to hate each other sometimes, too. Even be bored by each other.”

Luckily, before I said any of this, I asked, “What do you mean by disappointed?”

She stared at me.

“What disappoints you?” I repeated.

And this was her honest, unabashed, and totally unexpected reply:

“You mean, like, when she slept with my husband?”

The room went silent. Then, oh, how we laughed! Her reply was so real, yet so unassertive, I’ve never forgotten it. The whole evening was intimate and special like that. That’s the most interesting part about the work I do: No matter how well I plan ahead — going over my notes, knowing my material—it’s usually something totally unplanned that makes the whole evening one of the more satisfying.

And the most interesting part of writing is that it’s like having those evenings back.

Marylou Sanelli

Marylou Sanelli works as a writer and literary speaker. Her latest book is A Woman Writing. For more information visit www.marylousanelli.com.

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