October 19, 2003
New York Times
THE AGE OF DISSONANCE
By BOB MORRIS
finally got around to meeting a friend's kid the other day. She lives down the street, and yet it took me a year to get over there. Maybe I just didn't want to involve myself in one more new mom's tangled web. But this friend has been a great playmate for years — a chic, talented illustrator with a Chihuahua and a motorcycle. She was always up for fun. And she played the piano very well. Many afternoons, I'd hop on my bike and ride over to her studio with my trombone or mandolin. She had the time to play music then.
Let the "Sex and the City" friends have their brunches. We had our musicales.
When she married and moved in with a nice, stable real estate developer, we abandoned our routine. She was busy, and I, single New Yorker that I am, wasn't interested in getting to know someone with whom I couldn't network or play duets.
I had many other friends to fill the void. They didn't come with spouses attached, let alone children to distract from our fun.
"Friendships can be based on circumstance," said Erik Kolbell, a minister, author and psychotherapist, who wrote an essay in April for Town & Country magazine about dropping old friends graciously. "When things change, even if someone just moves out of the neighborhood, it can become too hard to maintain a relationship."
There was my pal, for instance, who married a woman who didn't appreciate my attitude. Or the supersocial gal who used to live near me, then moved uptown and became impenetrably busy planning her wedding, fixing up an apartment, then carrying a child. The other day, an announcement came with baby picture.
Cute, I thought. That's great. But what's in it for me?
It's not that I don't like having friends. It's just that like so many urban dwellers who have avoided settling down until the last possible moment, I have so many friends to choose from. And let's face it, it's much easier to plan spontaneous evenings with people who don't have baby sitter issues or dull spouses. When married couples get together, the talk of children and schools can make a single person feel sadly out of the loop.
"It's a life that's all about being in, not going out," said Kimberly Ryan, a former Vogue editor who gave up New York City to be a suburban mother in Darien, Conn. "My kid got a stomach virus the night I was coming to the city for a big dinner with my old girlfriends, and when I told them I couldn't come, they offered to send a car and driver. They just don't get it. Other single friends are angry because they feel I've abandoned them. It's hard for some people to see me as I am, I guess. And I don't blame them."
Is that what it is? Is it hard for us to see one another as we change, so we chose to disappear instead?
In "Urban Tribes: A Generation Redefines Friendship, Family and Commitment," Ethan Watters, a San Francisco writer, suggests that the culture of the "Friends" generation, as narcissistic as it appears, has created a kind of solidarity that has made people less fixated on nesting and more attuned to one another as a community. But he also knows how easily friends can sabotage a new romance. His own group of single friends was not happy about his getting married not long ago, at age 38. "In the initial stages, people get hurt on both sides," he said. "But after a while, when things settle down, some friendships can come back. You just have to give them some time to regenerate."
Maybe so. The other day, when I arrived to see my old neighbor and playmate in her big new town house and big new life, I thought I'd just meet and greet the kids, deliver some presents and high-tail it out of there, never to return. She opened the door looking eclectically chic in a little pencil skirt and sherpa boots. She was thrilled to see me, even if one of her children was cranky, the other covered in baby food and her kitchen under renovation. Within minutes, we were making music together just as we used to.
The kids danced around us. They loved it. "Bob is a lot of fun," she told them.
I'll definitely be back soon for another play date. I love a captive audience.