Hanging With the Gals

By Marjorie Ingall

Published March 21, 2003, issue of March 21, 2003.
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Manhattan is the Planet of Fabulous Single Girls. All those “Sex and the City” stereotypes? True! The streets are full of kitten-heeled, ginger-saketini-drinking, cell-phone- clutching, expert-hair-color-sporting, yoga-mat-carrying chicks who get to spend hours reading the Sunday Times unmolested by toddlers chanting “Elmo! Elmo! Elmo! Elmo!” and husbands chanting “Do we have Bulgarian feta? I thought we had Bulgarian feta. Where is the Bulgarian feta?” Fabulous Single Girls don’t scrub pureed squash out of their fine washables or listen to basso readings of huge chunks of dreary Op-Eds about those annoying French.

I used to be a Fabulous Single Girl. I had purple hair. I reviewed spas for a magazine, jetting hither and yon to have shirodara and watsu treatments with wealthy women who bitched about their husbands and massage therapists. I dated a succession of boys (Bitter Pothead Lawyer, Sexually Inept Sports Fan, Soulful Dimwitted Musician Guy) whom I discussed endlessly with my girlfriends. Carrie Bradshaw had nothing on me.

Now I have a husband, a spare tire and three — yes, three — copies of “Goodnight, Moon.” Some of my friends have babies, and we bond over shared anxieties about schools, caregivers, the fact that our tiny darlings tend to grab other children’s toys and use them to inflict blunt trauma. But some of my closest friends are still Fabulous Single Girls. And our relationships are more complicated than they used to be.

The territory is unfamiliar, and pop culture, which is usually so reassuring and reliable for me, offers no guideposts. How many movies about female friendship can you name? When films do focus on girl friendships, one girl generally turns out to have either a fatal disease or a hidden psychosis. By the end of the movie there’s usually only one girl. Her lower lip is trembling bravely. She’s either holding her new baby (named after her dead friend, bien sur) or holding a firearm, having offed her friend who ended up copying her haircut, stealing her identity, driving a stiletto heel into her boyfriend’s brain and killing her puppy. In real life, this happens to me every few weeks.

The only movie that I can recall that addresses female friendship in a nuanced, smart, non-boy-centric way is Nicole Holofcener’s “Walking and Talking.” It’s about how the relationship of two best friends changes over time, when one is unhappily single and the other is planning her wedding. It’s funny and real and wonderful, and it’s a litmus test, a shorthand, for me and my girlfriends. Do you know it? Do you love it? If not, you’re not immediately identifiable to us as a girl’s girl. To us, a girl’s girl is someone whose primary identification is with other women. A feminist. Someone who has a Miriam’s cup on the Passover table.

But how do I reconcile my girls-first self-image with my current state: being coupled, earning less than my husband, taking care of a baby? It’s so retro. And how do I navigate the changes in my relationships with my best girl buds? Some of my round-the-way girls are unhappily single, and I find myself treading carefully around the subjects of marriage and kids. I hear myself turning my life into shtick, kvetching about my geeky spouse and thuggish little offspring. I don’t want them to be envious of what I have; I don’t want to rub anything in. So I moan about the fact that I haven’t been to the gym since the Eisenhower administration, and I pepper them with questions about the hot restaurants and bars I’ll never go to. Part of me is jealous of their impromptu museum-runs with girlfriends, their memberships in the all-chick Brooklyn hockey league, their jobs in actual offices, their futures glittering with first kisses and cute boys not yet met. And part of me loves the life I do have, loves it beyond all measure.

Some of my girlfriends do not want marriage or babies. And I feel they’re often annoyed with me. Is it just paranoia? Or do they feel neglected, dumped? I’ve always been proud of the way my husband and I have had our own separate lives; we’ve never been a vomitous joined-at-the-hip duo. But with Josie added to the picture, all bets are off. Am I the girl we sisterly girls always dissed, the one who dumps her pals every time she’s in a relationship — only my relationship is with a 26-pound diaper-clad Lego-wielder? Do my friends resent the fact that I cancel plans to hit the Williamsburg galleries because Josie’s got a cold? Do they think I’m neglecting my cat, because I talk about him so much less now?

I don’t know. I haven’t had the state-of-the-relationship talk with any of my girlfriends since Josie was born. I didn’t realize it until I sat down to write this piece, but I haven’t had a heart-to-heart, the “I still love you; let’s talk about how our relationship is different” conversation with any of them. I’ve had it with my husband, Jonathan, but not with my pals. And I hope this isn’t a problem.

Perhaps it’s just that hope talking, but I think we’re mostly okay. Last week I attended an all-girl tea party at a fancy hotel. Jonathan watched Josie while I ate teeny cucumber sandwiches and scones with clotted cream and laughed and reveled in estrogen and caffeine. The week before that, I gasped and giggled and cried with one of my homegirls, whose new guy really might be The One.

It’s vital to me to keep these relationships going, and I do think my girlfriends know that. I don’t wanna go all Stepford and only hang with other couples, other baby-people. Pirke Avot, the treatise on Jewish ethics, says, “Al tifros min hatzibur,” do not separate yourself from your community. These girls are my community. More than that, they’re my mishpokhe. And my life is so much richer because of them.

Marjorie Ingall can be reached at mamele@forward.com.

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