By Jeffrey Zaslow
For a year now, every single day, I’ve received emails from women I’ve never met, all of them offering vivid reminders of an old saying: “You can make a new friend. You can’t make an old friend.”
They are writing in response to my book, The Girls from Ames, a nonfiction account of 11 friends, now in their forties, who grew up together in Ames, Iowa.
One woman in Sydney, Australia, wrote to me, “There are things only your girlfriends understand.” Her childhood friends know the small girl inside of her, before she was “someone’s wife and mother.”
I heard from a group of fifteen women who call themselves “Las Quinceaneras” (The Chosen Fifteen). They met as first-graders in Cuba, lost boyfriends during the Bay of Pigs incident, later escaped to the United States, and have maintained their friendships for fifty years.
I heard from four Illinois friends whose favorite activity over the years has been getting tickets to The Oprah Winfrey Show. They’ve gone together 12 times, and have also made pilgrimages to see Dr. Phil, Ellen DeGeneres, Tyra Banks, David Letterman, and Regis and Kelly.
All sorts of groups have been leaving comments on GirlsfromAmes.com with the names they have for themselves: The Sugars, The Doo Wha Diddies, The Maf (as in Mafia), The Goula Belles, The Green Pinto Gang, The Fearsome Four. The DGs wouldn’t tell me why they call themselves The DGs. They’ve vowed to take their secret to the grave.
Since writing the book, I am often asked about the differences between male and female friendships.
My answer: I envy the ease with which women share their lives. I envy the vital ways they support each other emotionally, especially as they get older.
Researchers say women’s friendships are face to face: they share their feelings, their emotions, their secrets. By contrast, men’s friendships are side by side: We do things together. We play golf or go to football games.
I play poker with the same guys every Thursday night. We almost never talk about our personal lives. We just talk about the cards.
I am now often asked about my friendships. I used to say that my poker buddies didn’t even know my children’s names. But then I wondered if I was exaggerating. So a few months ago, I finally turned to my left at the poker table and casually asked my friend Lance: “Hey Lance, could you name my children?”
He shrugged, paused to think, and then smiled sheepishly. “I could rename them,” he said.
Though I’ve heard from some groups of male friends who say their bonds and their conversations are deep and emotional, I’ve also heard from readers saying that my poker buddies and I are typical. A woman named Carol, who lives in Wisconsin, told me that she and her female friends share the most intimate details of their lives. That’s in great contrast to her husband and his friends.
Her husband had recently gone on a weeklong fishing trip to Canada with four longtime friends. They were in a remote cabin with no TV. Carol wondered: What did they talk about for a whole week? One of the men was having problems with his job. Another’s daughter was about to get married. A third man had health problems. Carol’s husband said none of those issues ever came up.
I’m not sure writing The Girls from Ames has made me more evolved as a man. I still relate to my friends the way a lot of guys do – in jocular, fun-loving, unemotional ways. Still, I find myself sincerely hoping that my three daughters will feel the warmth of close friends for many decades to come. As I’ve learned, first from the Ames girls and now from women all over the country, the bonds of longtime female friendship are a gift that can last a lifetime.
Jeffrey Zaslow is the author of The Girls from Ames and the co-author of The Last Lecture. He also writes the column, Moving On, for The Wall Street Journal. The paperback of The Girls from Ames goes on sale April 6.