coverFrom Chapter 2: Kept Women

“When I was in my early 20s, I had a close friend who I adored—she was hilarious, loyal, whip-smart and felt likewise about me. We were in the same circle, lived blocks apart, both worked like mad and dated tons. When we weren’t barhopping together, we spent much of our free time watching Party of Five and shopping and dissecting our many relationships and friendships.

But we had major Issues, the it-really-hurts-me-when- you-[        ] kind of issues that as a Formerly one only has with people we’re explicitly committed to. We had sit-down talks about our feelings and cold wars and reached détentes and then fell out again—it was all terribly intense and upsetting and there was much venting to other friends, which only amplified it. She and I constantly felt betrayed and let down by each other. We were like Lauren and Heidi on The Hills, except we weren’t blond, or morons, or on television. Or rich, with our own clothing lines. OK, we weren’t anything like Lauren and Heidi on The Hills, except insofar as we were very dramatic. Eventually, we threw up a Berlin Wall and avoided each other.

I cannot imagine a friend now, as a Formerly, with whom I could have an unpleasant breakup; things just aren’t that combustible. I also can’t foresee any come-to-Jesus talks. First off, few of us are able to finish a sentence without someone needing a cheese stick or a trip to the potty. But more important, it feels as if most Formerlies have reached a tacit agreement that we will not ask any more of one another emotionally than the other can realistically provide. The disappointments are minor, no one gets off on pushing anyone else’s buttons (on new friends, we don’t even take the time to learn where they are!) and we cut one another as much slack as we know we’ll need sometime in the near future, given how complicated everyone’s lives are. “I don’t ex- pect all things from any one of my friends,” says my friend Julie. “I can take what people have to offer, and I don’t have to be friends with everybody.”

That sounds very free-form, which I suppose Formerly friendships are. And yet, my friendships are closer and more consistently satisfying, even if some are transacted largely over the phone or on Facebook because folks moved to other states for careers and love and the desire to snowboard all the time (something I can’t say I relate to, but hey). “I would say that the major trend is from quantity to quality,” says my friend Jennifer, who also used to have some very intense and sometimes troublesome relationships. Jennifer undertook two big friend-weeding projects when she approached 30 and again when she approached 40, in which she inventoried which friends she felt had her best interests at heart, which she felt most comfortable around and which brought out her good, as opposed to her not-so-hot, habits. Then she let the others recede.“It’s like cleaning out your clothes. It makes the better friendships seem more sparkly.” My weeding-out process, like most Formerlies’, was entirely passive, though probably just as thorough.

One of my sparklier “new” friendships is actually with Harlene, the woman on the other side of that Berlin Wall, which came down at some point when neither of us were paying attention. We ran into each other at a wedding a couple of years ago, and both immediately missed what we’d loved about each other. The rest of it? Maybe it has gone wherever my perky boobs, voluminous hair and dewy, unlined face have gone. I’m positive all that negative silliness will never be seen or heard from again. Either Harlene and I are too busy pushing our husbands’ buttons to push each other’s, or we simply no longer feel the need. Besides, our husbands click, which, if you’re a married Formerly, you know is almost as good as having a friend with a giant, underused beach house or who’s a doctor and doesn’t mind if you email her pictures of stupid skin tags you’re convinced are cancer.”

From Chapter 5: My Friend Restraint

“The whole vintage thing is a big mess now that I’m old enough to have actually lived through some of the eras being ironically re-referred to in fashion. Part of what makes vintage clothing so excellent is the contrast between the age of the outfit and the age of the person wearing it. A 20-year-old hipster boy wearing ’70s polyester or a 30-year-old going a little Mad Men is hot. A 42-year-old woman wearing a fringed suede vest, a paisley blouse and bell-bottoms? Cue the ballad of the sad clown. It’s time to put those clothes back in the Salvation Army clothing pool and let some young chick discover the 1970s for the first time. She’ll think she invented it. It’ll be sweet.

Retro irony in general, Restraint says, should be left to those who didn’t actually eat Froot Loops as part of a balanced breakfast when Toucan Sam was still the Bruce Springsteen of cereal mascots. That means Formerlies such as myself are wise to avoid T-shirts with Sam, Mr. Bubble or Wonder Woman on them. Your own youth can be nostalgic, but only other people’s childhoods can be ironic. Oh, and I implore you to share this with any male Formerlies in your life. If he still has that Stones T-shirt from the Tattoo You tour and it miraculously still fits, he should feel free to wear it. But kindly discourage him from going to the Virgin Megastore and buying the reissue of the tee from a concert he once attended. That makes me want to cry. If his T-shirt looks 30 years younger than he is—because it is—there’s something tragic about the whole endeavor. He knows he was at the concert. It ought to be OK if no one else does unless it comes up naturally in conversation. It’s also OK to handcuff him to the radiator, if that’s what it takes to stop him from getting the shirt. Even if he doesn’t thank you for it, you’re still right.”