Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Buckets of Friends

By Nichole Giles

Sixteen years ago, at eighteen years old, I got married. Four children, a mortgage, two dogs, and an entire lifetime later, I sometimes wonder how I survive. My husband is an amazing man and my best friend, but there are certain roles in life a man can’t fill, no matter how hard he tries.

Women are usually the glue that holds everything together, the very rock and foundation upon which our families are built. Whatever other project we take on, whatever job we work, whatever career path we choose—including that of household CEO—we are first and foremost wife, mother, sister, daughter, and the center of our homes.

That mountain of responsibility may be what we do, but it is not who we are. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. After all my years of marriage, I’ve come to understand the importance of friendship, and the women who’ve filled that role for me. They’ve been my support, my iron tower, my light in a dark room, and my source of laughter through hard times. They will ever continue to be my sanity.

Every one of my friends has a different story and a different personality. I love them for our similarities as well as our differences, and because of that, I need them individually and as groups. They fall somewhere between a guiding light and a survival drug.

When I stop to think about it, I realize how many buckets I have dipped into this well of support, and how important each bucket is in the shaping of my life, and my individual self.

For instance, I’m part of a group of six women who—for 12 years and counting—get together once a month for a girl’s night out. It started out as a female support group that has grown, and shrunk, and then evolved from acquaintances that enjoyed having a night away from our families, into a group of friends that share unbreakable bonds, each one contributing to the personal survival of the others. For example, two years ago I got a heart-wrenching phone call. Jen was on the other end of the line, her voice fraught with grief. Raylene’s husband, Jeff—who was serving in Afghanistan—had been injured in a suicide bombing attack. His hands and face severely burned by the blast, Jeff was being flown by medical helicopter to a hospital in Germany.

My heart sank. “Is he alive?” I croaked through the lump in my throat.

“For now,” Jen said.

She called the rest of our group, and as we were able, the five of us made our way to Raylene’s house, offering what little support we could while she waited for more information. Our group has grown to truly value each other’s friendship as an integral part of our lives.

Another good example is Tova, who I meet once a month for lunch, and who is such a unique individual that she inspires me to stretch my arms and reach higher for the power within myself. She reminds me regularly that it’s okay to be an observer, an artist, and a powerful, fabulous woman. I don’t know what I’d do without her, either.

I’d think bonds like this were unusual, except for movies like, “The Women” and “Steel Magnolias” and the long list of books that I won’t even attempt to list. Still, movies and books aren’t always based on reality, so I decided to ask a few other women about the roles their girlfriends play in the movies that are their lives.

“I would be insane without my girlfriends!” says Kellie. “My children would be mistreated and I’d be divorced for the second time without the women in my life. We need each other for support. I have just a few friends but they are my very close friends and I love them. We talk about everything. We move each other to different houses. We go to each other’s birthday parties. Our children are friends with each other. When life goes south, I know I can talk to any of my friends and they will listen, try and help, and give me that pat on the back that tells me, ‘you will get through this.’”

“I reach out to other woman for several reasons,” adds Lori. “Women have compassion and it's easy to confide in other women, especially those with whom we have built a level of trust. They’re skilled at listening and able to offer suggestions for things that have worked for them or to advise on the things that haven’t.”

“Women have a unique way of making other women feel valued,” Lori continues. “Even if we’re struggling or have failed at something. We have a common thread as we’re typically going through the same issues and challenges in our lives.”

Raylene had a similar response. “It’s essential to seek the listening ear of a girlfriend, because women get it. They can relate because they have the same emotions. We all want to save our relationships, our children and the world. No one gets that but other women.”

Besides being there as support during times of challenge and trial, women are able to fill a variety of roles for each other, roles that the men in their lives cannot fill.

“Other moms know the responsibility that only we mothers have,” says Kellie. “We know when one of us needs a night out, and then we make plans and do our best to keep them. When one of us gets pregnant, we’re there with gifts and congratulations (or condolences,) and when she becomes an ornery pregnant friend, we roll our eyes and remember that we’ve been there.”

Raylene points out, “The deep relationships we form with one another get us through the best and the worst times. Women are much more excited, sympathetic, empathetic and understanding when it comes to the birth of a baby, graduations, death of a loved one, an illness, divorce, complicated relationships and everything else you can think of. Most of the time a deep conversation with a girlfriend results in a better relationship with that person.”

Raylene continues, smiling wickedly, “Having the same conversation with a man usually does little to improve that relationship. Not because men love us less, but because men communicate differently than women.”

We all agree that time spent with our friends is unlike time with spouses and children. These are the moments when we don’t have to worry about being the mother or the wife, and are instead able to be individual women with our own identities. Our other relationships are stronger because they reflect this valuable piece of ourselves we might not otherwise have.

“I feel like all week long my battery is worn down,” admits Lori. “I’m recharged when I’m able to spend time with friends. I know they love me, I know they care about me, and I know they will laugh when I laugh and cry when I cry. I know that unfailingly I can go, and my friends will accept me no matter what. Sometimes that’s through a simple piece of advice or sometimes it's the hug at the end of the visit or the warm welcome when I first walk in. Regardless of what that ‘thing’ is, it is offered up when you need it the most because women just know.”

“It takes a strong woman to be friends with me,” stresses Kellie. “I get a little pushy and mouthy, but I cherish my friends. Anyone who doesn’t have close girlfriends is missing out on one of the greatest blessings in life.”

Not long after Jeff was injured, the girls and I convened at a nearby TGI Fridays to celebrate Raylene’s twentieth wedding anniversary. Obviously, Jeff couldn’t be there, and Raylene gave us the highest honor of friendship in sharing her anniversary with us. That night we skipped dinner and went straight from appetizers to desert. It’s one of the little things that let us pretend we’re young again, and that life is only as complicated as eating dinner before desert.

“Girlfriends can share in your burdens and make you laugh,” says Raylene. “A night out with them is always the perfect medicine to get you up and going again, giving you courage and also some relief in knowing that they will be there when you need them (again) and you will be there when they need you.”

Lori’s final comment sums it up best. “I’m a better person for my friends. They allow me to let go, let loose, and to be me. In this crazy world of trying to be the best at everything, it's great to have a place to go to where it's okay just to be Lori and not worry about trying to be super-mom, super-spouse, super-employee, super-everything.”

I agree, women save the day. Because of my girlfriends I’m able to survive the conundrum of life, and when my daughters are old enough, I plan to pass this knowledge to them. As they grow up and become women, I have no doubt that they too, will come to understand the power of friendship.


Cindy Beck said...

It is so true. Women need each other in order to make it through the tough spots in life.

Good blog entry; thanks for posting it.

Nichole Giles said...

Thanks, Cindy. I'm so glad to count you as another one of my most valuable and cherished friends.


Rachelle said...

Loved this! Great quotes from everyone and neat thoughts that are so true. Friendship is so important. You are an incredible friend.
Congrats on having this featured in the newsletter! :)

Janet Kay Jensen said...

What would we do without our women friends? We are better people from knowing and loving them. Well done, Nicole!

Deanne said...

I believe in the power of friendships. Women are at the center of love and service. You are a wonderful friend and an inspiration to us all. Well done dear daughter. I love you!