Have you ever seen that I Love Lucy episode where Lucy and Ethel have been asked to sing a duet about friendship in a show of some kind? They are so excited that they get to sing together! After they've been out shopping - separately - they cannot wait to show each other their brand new gowns. Lucy runs upstairs to her apartment to get hers and Ethel pulls hers out of her closet and you immediately hear that very common and canned "uh oh" - it is the exact same dress! After an argument, they agree to take them back and choose something different, but neither of them does and neither of them tells the other. So when it is time for them to go on stage, they both walk out in the same dress and they both get so mad. As they are singing "Ya gotta have friendship, friendship, such a perfect friendship" they are literally ripping each other's dresses. By the end of the song they are both wearing tatters. I've seen that episode so many times - I'm a big fan of the show - but it gets me every time.
Though fictional, Lucy and Ethel had a remarkable friendship. I've been thinking a lot about friendship lately and it occurs to me that perhaps Lucy and Ethel set my example of what I thought friendship was supposed to be. Of course, it was a different time and a different place, but it was something special. To my knowledge, there was no other woman-woman friendship like it anywhere else on TV, and my mom didn't have a friendship like that (as far as I knew). Women on TV were depicted as devoted and subservient to their husbands, but not Lucy and Ethel. Sure they had restrictions - they were homemakers entirely dependent on their husbands, which was common - but they pushed and challenged and tested their husbands all the time. They had minds of their own and they figured out how to use those minds to get what they wanted for themselves.
So let's compare their friendship to friendships of today. They spent time together nearly every day. Outside of people at the office, I don't even TALK to anyone every day, though I have a friend I talk with several times a week. They supported each other (though Ethel, wisely, often declined to participate in some of Lucy's hair-brained schemes). I find this to be the part missing in my friendships. My female friends can be supportive but they are usually too involved in their own lives to be supportive in a meaningful way. I'm meeting new people all the time, however, who are proving to be supportive of me and encouraging me to take risks in my life. Ricky and Fred got along and in fact had their own friendship separate from "the girls." Though that didn't happen in my life, I know this happens quite a bit and it's wonderful to see. Usually, however, either the women or the men are friends already and they drag their spouses along for the ride (or at least that's how it starts). Lucy and Ethel were in the same women's clubs. Lucy was the first one Ethel ran to with news - good or bad - and vice versa.
I've often wondered who conceived and wrote that friendship. In those days there weren't many women writers in television so I assume a man did it. He must have based that friendship on women he knew because I simply cannot believe a man could conceive that kind of friendship on his own! I saw the movie The King's Speech a couple of weeks ago and walked away thinking about friendship again. Though the relationship between Bertie and Lionel started as a professional one, they became lifelong true friends until their deaths. Even a King needs to have a trusted and loyal friend and he found one in his speech therapist.
The person I felt was my "best" friend over the past decade has really been testing me, though I'm sure not intentionally. In one moment she is totally supportive, present and available and we have great conversations and really good fun. Another moment - which seem to be more often and lasting for longer stretches - she is consumed by her own life and, though we "talk" it's really her talking until she says what she needs to get off her chest and then rushes off the phone. I was feeling "slighted" - for lack of a better word - so I started paying close attention to our conversations. She literally went three months without asking about my children, though we spoke several times a week. That was an eye opener. In the past couple of weeks we've been out together, with a couple of her other friends, and my eyes opened again. While I was catching up with one of her friends I have not seen in awhile, after he asked how I'm doing, how's work, how are the kids, etc., she interrupted our conversation and started telling a story about something her 2 year old son did. Really? You had to pick that time to share that story? The thing that really gets me is when she calls with the express purpose of asking for parenting advice and then she completely blows off what I say. Um, toots, if you do not agree with my parenting style then why do you call to ask me for advice? Needless to say, I've been reevaluating that relationship.
I'm watching my boys struggle with friendship. Though he doesn't say it, I think Sweetie really wants to have a "best" friend but he just hasn't met a boy who has the right combination: the same desire to be "best" friends and parents who are willing to schedule play dates, etc. through me. He has a friend he really likes who is two grades above him - and I know and like his parents - but that boy already has a "best" friend and I think Sweetie feels a little like the third wheel when they are all together. He has another friend in his grade that he likes but his parents are immigrants, struggle a bit with the language and culture, and do not seem interested in getting to know me. I tell Sweetie to have lots of friends, not just one or two, but he's very shy and making friends is not easy for him. Stinker, on the other hand, very clearly wants a "best" friend. He made friends with a set of twins in pre-school and he loves them, but they go to a different school clear across town. I know and like their mother, but scheduling time to play is very challenging. We last got together in October and I have been trying to schedule something since then. We are having a play date with one of my friends (who has a son Sweetie's age) on Monday and I invited the twins to join us but they are busy. Stinker cries every time I have to tell him they will not be doing something with us. He made a new friend in kinder, but this boy is friends with everyone - not just Stinker - and that makes Stinker sad. Knowing how badly I seek a true bond with people in my life, it's hard for me to watch them struggle as they navigate their way.
"Lean on me, when you're not strong, and I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on, for it won't be long, 'til I'm going to need somebody to lean on."