Wait for it. There’s a lot in this issue about bringing sex into our conversations. People with disabilities, for example, and why they get portrayed as non-sexual beings — with notable exceptions in Susan Nussbaum’s new novel. The danger of silence around teen sex, for another example (and kudos to the Orthodox rabbi who recently told parents and educators how to talk to Orthodox teen boys about wet dreams and not feeling sinful…). All good.
But how about that other subject we don’t address? Women have mostly stopped talking about our friendships. This is a sea-change for feminists! This is under-examined fallout from the lean-in era, buried in all the high-octane chatter about work-life balance.
After a recent, long-overdue, much-postponed lunch with a close friend — one with whom I’ve exchanged confidences, earth-shattering feminist insights and birthday gifts for 35 years — I began to worry about how significantly our work lives have foiled our friendships. Every week is strewn with missed opportunities for seeing this woman, though she and I never really talk about why.
Think of how often we say to friends — people we actually like — “I’d love to, but I’m on deadline. I’d love to, but I’m drowning in work.” Women caring for young children find themselves in mandatory chats with contemporaries in the playground, at the soccer game, wherever, that give rise to closeness. And for women living in Sabbath-observant worlds, where Shabbat enforces many occasions for women-to-women socializing, the work-driven diminution of contact with close women friends may not feel as profound.
But many others of us feel we have pulled the plug on our friendships. When we cheer women’s advancement in the workplace, and see women accelerating into a career trajectory, we almost never calculate the cost in blown-off book club gatherings, coffee dates, drinks-and-dinner strategy sessions about politics large and small. One of the hidden losses in the lives of many women right now is the loss of time for female friends.
As the cycle of our work lives has expanded to 24:24 and 7:7, even the interstitial moments for conversation have shrunk concomitantly. A women in her forties confesses to me that she and her friends connect around midnight, via email and text messages, while their children and partners are all sleeping. The only women whose lives we catch up with regularly seem to be our Facebook friends. Seriously, some weeks I know more about people to whom I am barely tangentially connected than I do about the sturm-und-drang in the lives of my actual BFFs.
The loss is more than personal. Not only is our delight diminished when work drives us away from our friends, but so is the movement for change that women’s collective energies spur. In the early days of second-wave feminism, a lot of passion, analysis and intellectual energy went into acknowledging and honoring the bonds women feel for one another, our commonalities (whether of aspiration or oppression) and the ways that sisterly efforts were going to make the world a better place.
That was then. This is now.
Recognizing the power of face-to-face connections in this digital era, some women are discovering a new path to consciousness raising and female friendships. These are the women loving their Lilith salons, gathering in people’s homes every three months or so, around the country, to see how their own lives are refracted through the pages of the magazine. These salons (see the inside back cover for details) are a forum for intergenerational contact and conversations, for honoring the relationships of the women in the room and for encouraging the possibilities of pleasure in the moment and social change down the line.