Friend spaces

Years ago when I lived in Coeur d’Alene for a while, a friend of mine, Jeannie, started a women’s group. We met once a month at someone’s house for a potluck and general hanging out and getting to know each other.

The inspiration for the group was by way of rebellion, actually, or making a statement. Jeannie had been invited to a different women’s group, a “birthday club” that met monthly. Jeannie, who was a well-known member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, went once, then her second time took along a college instructor girlfriend who was African-American.

The reception from the 100% white group was distinctly chilly. Jeannie—who decided her past civic leadership roles had made her somehow “acceptable”, or they wouldn’t have invited her in the first place—vowed not to go back.

She started our group by inviting women she knew would welcome a space in which we’d have a chance to get to know women from various cultures and backgrounds. As it turned out, most of us were white. But we were all ages and stages of life, from single women in their 30s to grandmas in their 70s, and we had a wonderful time.

Fast forward a few years. After living in Coeur d’Alene and commuting to Spokane for a while, I finally consolidated my life in one city. That’s important to me because I want to engage in the civic and social life of my community, and that’s tough when you’re always 45 minutes away from either home or work.

I went back to Coeur d’Alene a couple of times for our Saturday group, but now the 45-minute drive was weighted the other way, and my center of gravity was once again in Spokane. So over time I dropped out of many of my CdA connections.

I missed that girlfriend space, though. One day I went through my work contact list. I picked out every woman I’d met in some professional capacity who seemed bright, funny, and interesting. I sent out an email that said something along these lines:

“We don’t have playgrounds with teeter-totters and swing sets where we can make friends simply by taking turns. I meet a lot of interesting women in the course of my work, and I think some of you could become good friends. We’ll never know unless we have time to talk, and that won’t happen in our busy lives unless we actually schedule some friendship time. So here’s your invitation to coffee. Let’s meet at 9 a.m. at the Rockwood Bakery on the second Saturday—because I like alliteration—and see what happens.”

I literally don’t know how long ago that was—maybe four years? Even five?—and Second Saturdays has been meeting monthly ever since, although we move the location around. Women came, brought friends, dropped out themselves sometimes while the friend became a regular. Some come every time, some once in a while, some never come but ask to stay on the list “in case my life changes and I can come.”

The initial invitation list was heavy on women who work in public relations and communications, but that’s not its make-up today. Today, for example, our gathering included a grants director for a regional foundation; a writer/editor; a university librarian; a restaurant manager; a recruiter for a local employment agency; and a life coach.

That's just their professions. I could have said it was two women who do yoga, one who's dealing with her mother who has Alzheimer's, one who redid her house and yard in the last year, one who's thinking about a new last name because she doesn't like keeping her "divorced name" and never liked her maiden name, one who saw an adolescent cougar on a hike this spring... much more interesting that way, and things I never would have known had our connection stayed professional.

Today we talked politics for a while--one item on a long list of topics we covered. Perhaps it was to be expected that my instincts would lead me to invite women who shared my general political sensibilities, but I honestly didn’t know that when I invited them. It just emerged over time, and I suppose women who didn’t find that element a comfortable fit just quietly stopped coming.

We also talked about friendship, and wondered whether some of those childhood teeter-totter friends would become friends if we met today as adults. I’m no longer in touch with anyone from my grade school, so I have no idea if we’ll vote for the same presidential candidate or feel the same about combating global warming. You don’t know, when you’re taking turns on the swing, what will matter to you as an adult and what characteristics you’ll desire in a friend.

I keep the email list and send out monthly reminders, along with news tidbits members ask me to share with the others. I’m fairly choosy in those I invite personally, but I’ll add any name someone else asks me to put on the list. I figure the group dynamic will work itself out.

Kind of like a grown-up swing set, I suppose, although with better manners. And coffee.

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