I belong to a secret club of women. Sadly, the club is such a well-kept secret that the other members do not know about it. These women are famous and accomplished and published, and have no idea that I believe we are friends. Or surely would be, if only we lived in the same city, or perhaps had gone to the same college.
Anna Quindlan is a founder of the club. Anne Tyler and Alice Hoffman are members. Wendy Wasserstein and Laurie Colwin are officers emeritus. The newest inductee is Jennifer Weiner.
All these women are whip-smart and wry and witty. They each have done their therapy. They are writers; women of substance. They are people for whom the personal is political and the political is personal. Family and feminism both run deep in their veins. Many of them are moms. Most are Jews. The others might as well be.
I am sure they would love me, if only we met.
When I was a young woman, I subscribed to the New York Times simply for Anna Quindlan’s column. She gave insights into issues that helped me clarify my own world view. Her voice became a yardstick by which I measured my ideas and ideals. She made me feel less lonely as I trudged through my 20s, frantically trying to maintain my inner compass. I was so proud of her, and utterly horrified when she gave up the column to write novels. I couldn’t believe she hadn’t consulted with me before making such a big decision.
I did write to her once or twice during the 1980s, and got brief, very kind, hand-written responses. Over the years I had many conversations with Anna in my head as I swallowed disappointments at work, at home, in the world. When I met Anna at a book reading a decade ago, I kept a careful distance, for fear that if I got too close I would simply throw my arms around her. There was, of course, a chance that she would understand. There was also a chance she would call the police.
To this day I give anthologies of her columns as graduation gifts to puzzled young people who probably would prefer a Forever 21 gift card.
You will note that none of my club members write about groups of friends whose relationships unfold gloriously over the decades, where the women sustain each other through trials and triumphs, love and loss, blah blah blah.
In real life, as time goes by, I think most women find our worlds get smaller. My contemporaries and I have drifted away from one another—or, more often, we have been pulled away. One of us cares for aging parents and another is overwhelmed by the needs of her kid with ADD; one moves to another city for a better job, another gets divorced and falls under the spell of J-Date. Each of our schedules is turned inside out by our kids’ lessons and practices, which never seem to coincide with those of our friends’ kids. Even when we’re not at work, we are preoccupied by a pressure to produce that leaves little energy for more than a glass of wine and an evening with Jon Stewart.
I have never been so busy, and so lonely, in my life.
I wonder if Anna would understand.