(Originally published January 28, 2010 at playgroupwithsylviaplath.com)
I got my best Christmas present days after the holiday and I didn’t even know it was coming. I was picking up Thing Three from a friend’s house and before I left the father said, “Hold on, I’ve got something for you.” He handed me a little square box of perfect packaging with something shiny and silver in it. It was a 2 gigabyte iPod Shuffle with “Have A Great 2010” engraved on the back. “I gave these to all of my clients this year for Christmas, and I had an extra one and I knew you would like it,” he
said. “I loaded it up with about 800 songs for you. – There are some surprises and some real gems in there.”
Just the week before, I’d had my annual $25-and-under holiday gift exchange with 11 girlfriends. Sure, there was a one-of-a-kind bottle of hand-pressed olive oil from Italy, a hooked “Ho Ho Ho” rug and a charming pinecone candelabra. But let’s face it; it was no shiny new shuffle.
Driving home, I was giddy with my swag – I have a clinical weakness for all things Apple. But then it dawned on me, the real gift was that I’d made a male friend with a common interest – and that hadn’t happened in a long time.
Back in my working days, I had plenty of men co-workers, colleagues, pod and cubicle mates. Male friends. We would have lunch, coffee, dinner, and even go to bars after work. – And yes, I was married. My male co-workers taught me to smoke a cigar in a glass corner office on the 51st floor on Park Avenue to celebrate a big banking deal. And I was the go-to call for a client when he had extra tickets to the Rangers games at Madison Square Gardens.
But, my male friends mostly disappeared after I left work, and vanished entirely as soon as Thing One arrived. But I didn’t miss them right away. I was consumed in babydom. Then there was Thing Two, Thing Three, and I needed a village. I have my village and couldn’t be happier with it. But 12 years in, it’s about time for a weekend pass from the village.
I wondered, was it just me in my miasma of selfishness, or was this a real issue lots of women were facing? Every thinking stay-at-home-mom who really cared about larger world issues yet inexplicably found themselves discussing the evils of over-scheduled middle-schoolers (again) agreed with me wholeheartedly. But that could’ve been just because they were from my village.
So, I asked a psychologist who’s been practicing relationship therapy for 25 years on Long Island. It was like my own Friends episode. “All relationships take place within a social context. They don’t happen out of the blue,” she said. “Once a woman is home, there’s a lack of freedom and conversation is based on what is active in your life. All of a sudden there is a lot of talk about throw-up and laundry.”
Keep singing it doctor: “The current generation feels it more than any other because these women had real friendships with men in college and the workplace more than any women before them,” she said. “All of a sudden – and it may be 10 years all of a sudden – you find yourself thinking what am I doing here? I never intended to be here.”
I figured I’d either nailed a great social issue of our time, or I just knew the right expert to call. I wondered if the modern men we went to college and the office with valued their cross-gender friendships (that’s what my new Long Island friend calls them) as much as women did. So I asked Slim, who works in a three-person office, if he missed having lots of female colleagues. And he said, “are we out of cashews?”
Clearly, Long Island psychologists were my people. The psychologist waxed lyrical about a woman’s need to be considered equally valuable as a human being, and the feeling of being part of something bigger than yourself and the rewards of being connected to the male part of the universe. All of this happens organically when you have male co-workers. There’s also the bantering, competition, joking and big brother protectiveness that come with male friendships. Female friendships, on the other hand, are filled with emotion and support, but often a certain delicacy or tension because their feelings get hurt more easily.
That explains why my email in-box is littered with digital flower bouquets, chainmail encouraging me to let 10 women in my life know how much they mean to me, and plenty of Maya Angelou poetry. And if I receive one more copy of the essay comparing motherhood to the invisible, nameless builders of the world’s greatest cathedrals, I will begin sharpening my own special stonemasonry chisel. Why don’t any of my stay-at-home mom friends send me emails that say, “Four words, people: John Edwards sex tape.”
After much discussion with friends and my Long Island psychologist, I’ve accepted that in order to have that richer texture of easy friendships with both genders, I would have to go back to a work environment with male colleagues. But I’m pretty sure that after not too long of that, I would need a weekend pass to visit my village. And that’s a sacrifice I’m not yet willing to make. So for now, I’ll have to be happy with my shuffle as a small window into the male mind. Although I’m still not sure I understand how a song by the hip hop rap group The Roots works as a lead-in to an aria from Puccini’s Turandot.
So, when I sat down to thank my friend for my new toy, I could’ve written, “Dear Scott, Thank you so much for the iPod shuffle. It is so cute and just perfect to listen to while vacuuming or folding laundry.” (Which, admittedly, it actually is.) I could have even quoted a few lines from Gift From The Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. But I didn’t. I sent him a link to an awesome YouTube video of Hitler reacting to the Democrats losing Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat.