The Girls from Ames
How 11 women have sustained a 40-year friendship – and how that bond nurtures them.
(Page 2 of 2)
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Among their ground rules: Don’t brag about husbands’ jobs or incomes. Don’t gloat about children’s achievements. Make every effort to be with each other for key events. In addition, Zaslow observes, “Ames girls learned early that the way to keep female friendships alive was to listen and talk, in that order.”
The women enjoy other friends, too, of course. But as Zaslow notes, “these more recent friendships are built mostly around their kids, their jobs, or their current neighborhoods. The bonds are limited to the here and now, and memory hardly exists.”
By contrast, the Ames girls share a lifetime of memories. As Cathy puts it, “With the other girls, there’s an understanding you don’t have to explain.” Marilyn also finds comfort in knowing that “there’s a group of people I can turn to at any moment in my life, and they’ll be my safety net.”
That safety net benefits families as well. Studies show that women with strong friendships often have closer marriages. “They don’t burden husbands with all of their emotional needs,” Zaslow explains.
By middle age, he adds, many women have a clear sense that their friendships with women may be among the longest-lasting relationships of their lives. There are 12 million divorced women in the United States and another 12 million widows.
Men’s relationships take different forms. “Men tend to build friendships until about age 30, but there’s often a steady falloff after that,” Zaslow states. “Men’s friendships tend to be based more on activities than emotions. They connect through sports, work, poker, politics.... Women talk. Men do things together.... Women’s friendships are face to face, while men’s friendships are side by side.”
Calling e-mail a great gift to many women’s friendships, Zaslow notes that the Ames girls’ bonds are strengthened by “reply all” messages to the group.
Several of their mothers have also kept in close touch with longtime friends. As Cathy’s mother told her, “Men come and go, but you can have girlfriends forever.”
Although Zaslow’s presence sometimes created tension, the women’s willingness to open their lives to him serves as a gift to readers. It shows not only the rich rewards of sustained relationships but also the slights and jealousies that can temporarily threaten bonds.
Keeping the 11 girls straight is hard at times. And their stories, filtered through Zaslow’s journalistic pen, lose some of the impact a first-person account might have had. Still, Zaslow’s portrayal serves as an engaging reminder of the well-worn maxim, “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.”
Marilyn Gardner is a Monitor staff writer.