The winning aspect of “Sex and the City,” the movie, is its celebration of sisterhood.
It may be occasionally frivolous and, with its devotion to fashion, a bit too giddy at times for some of us, but deep down it presents credible portrayals of modern women. Like men, they bond and kibitz, but the essential difference is that, unlike most straight guys, these girls talk about love and pain, ecstasy and disappointment. Matters close to the heart. Things men shy away from when they are in the company of other guys.
For a lot of men, women remain mysteries. If they appear to be the weaker sex, they endure. Often, they outlast us. Maybe their statistical longevity over men results from the fact that they do not hold things in, as so many of us men do. One friend puts it this way: “Women are not as bottled up as men are.”
I recall sitting in a Manhattan restaurant some years back. I was alone, staring into space when, across from me, two fashionably dressed women sat down at the next table. They were in their 70s, talking, it appeared to me, with dignified enthusiasm. I overheard both speaking fondly of their departed husbands. I could tell they were friends, good friends. If they missed their men, they appeared happy and content. I assumed their husbands had left them well off. I thought of women I knew who were then in their forties. I imagined them three decades later having a similar time with friends they had for decades.
And guys my age in the ground.
I thought, “This is this the way it goes for most women.” When their men are gone, they know or have learned how to take care of themselves, treat themselves well and maintain some dignity and pride. They also seem to keep friends for a very long time. Later, when their men are gone, these friendships sustain them.
My friend Eileen is almost 80. Once a week, she meets with four of her high school friends, three of whom are widows. They talk and share ideas and gossip; they rant on about politics. I know Eileen loved her husband, but his departure has not hampered her capacity for fun. She takes trips and even has a new boyfriend, who may stay over once in a while. Clearly, she wants to remain alone and feel independent. She has fun with George, and at first she allowed herself to get a bit giddy about the dating thing. (George was not as jealous as her husband). But of all the activities she values most, it is lunch with the girls.
My aunt is 87. Twice a month, she, Mary, Connie, Maria, Gloria, Annie, Margie and Loretta get together for coffee. All are widows. I knew them when they were young and full of life. I think I was at most of their weddings.
The other day, my aunt told me the story about Margie, Annie and my uncle. My aunt had planned to have Annie in her wedding. “She wanted to be in it so bad,” my aunt recalled. But there was a problem. Margie’s husband, Pete, was my uncle’s best friend and ever since she was a kid, Pete’s sister Dora thought she would be marrying my uncle.
Dora’s mother, a close friend of my uncle’s family, felt betrayed, left out, especially as my uncle was the handsomest and smartest of all the returning veterans. One day, my uncle told his bride-to-be that because Pete was in the wedding, he asked Margie to be a bridesmaid. It was, he said, to keep the peace.
My aunt wasn’t happy; she didn’t even know Margie, who was from another town. But she demurred. Poor Annie would not be getting a bridesmaid dress.
Later, a family squabble erupted. Margie and my aunt did not speak because the mothers no longer got along. It was all over poor Dora. When I was growing up, I used to ask my aunt why she and Margie were estranged. “It’s the mother,” said my aunt.
Now that Pete and my uncle are gone, as are the mothers, my aunt and Margie talk twice a week. They have become close phone friends who can yak for hours. Annie, the rejected bridesmaid, harbors no hard feelings. Not after 61 years. So there they are — the girls.
And what do they gab about?
My aunt says they talk about “aches, pains, what we cooked, what we ate. We talk about Bush and what he’s done to our country and we laugh a lot.” I feel pretty sure they tell some harmless, off-color jokes, but like a bona fide representative of the World War II generation, my aunt denies any involvement with matters that might be termed ribald.
If the ladies had gone first, I wonder whether the widowers would hang out and bond in a spirit of brotherhood.
I wonder whether guys would or could take the time to organize a Web site for a close member of my family who has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. When they learned of the illness, friends went to town, arriving at the home, eager to organize closets, arrange the rooms for maximum comfort, and make sure the three kids had rides to all their games and meals for an entire month.
It’s what sisters do for each other.