A birthday party reminds Jane why friends matter
My wife Sara and I recently joined a group of people to celebrate the 50th birthday of a friend of mine. (Lordy, doesn’t time pass quickly – surely it was only a couple of years ago that we were going to parties to mark friends’ 40ths.) A dozen of us gathered for a lovely long dinner, an evening of conversation, memories, much laughter and too much wine. It was a real treat, quality time spent with people you like and care about.
Over the course of the evening, we each took our turn to say a few words about the woman whose birthday it was – and I said that one of the many things I liked about her was what a loyal friend she’d been over many years. What I didn’t tell the group, was that thinking about how my friend and I met had made me reflect not only on the passage of time, but on the phases of life we go through as gay or bi women.
My friend and I met online about 15 years ago (we think – neither of us can be certain!); nothing out of the ordinary today, but my memory tells me that was quite unusual in those days, certainly for women. We arranged to meet at a pub one summer weekend, and from that day I had a strong sense that we were going to remain friends. We chatted for hours and hours over lunch and stayed for a good few glasses of wine after that, until the sun disappeared from the pub garden.
My new friend had been out since her late teens, in contrast to me, and I loved her stories of lesbian life – they may not all have been positive for her, but they were like a big welcoming hug for me. I still felt so new in this world that every anecdote, every piece of advice or gossip, made me feel that I was starting to find my way, and that – finally – I did belong, somewhere.
Like I said, time flies. We were both single then, now each of us is in a longterm relationship. The birthday dinner was attended by as many heterosexual guests as gay or bi, a reflection of assimilation and improved equality over the years; and also by more couples than single people, another reminder of our advancing years.
Sadly my friend and I no longer live in the same area, so we don’t see each other as often as we did in our 30s. But it’s a friendship I’m so proud of, because it reminds me that I once had courage, albeit fairly late in life; that my bravery in getting out to meet people like me, to simply be myself, paid huge dividends. I’m generally pretty hard on myself, far more likely to focus on things I’ve done badly than anything I’ve done well; but whenever I see my friend I’m reminded that I’ve come a long way, helped hugely by her, and others.
It’s something worth remembering, as many of us join together this month to mark Pride. Now, I just have a couple of years to plan my own 50th celebration, and make it one to match hers.
Ah, how much am I enjoying the new series of Grace And Frankie? I’ve written about the Netflix series before, and now into its third series, it is still a delight. So funny and heartfelt about the challenges of ageing, and touching about coming out very late in life. I loved the episode where Martin Sheen’s character decided he simply had to tell his mother, who’s in her 90s, (though looks 20 years younger of course – this is Hollywood) that he’d married a man. Even at the age of 70, the series tells us, you still have a need to be open with your family, and receive their blessing. They may not give it, but a weight is lifted because you’ve been honest.
Whenever I see my friend I’m reminded how far I’ve come