When I interviewed Grace for an article in Cosmopolitan called, “Young Women Who Made a Mint,” we became fast friends. We were in our 20s, and we fell deeper into “twinship” the first time she came to my apartment in Queens, pushed some books off a chair to sit, and offered my cat Thor cheese. He declined, sauntering off to lick where his balls used to be.
We had crazy Lucy-Ricardo-and-Ethel-Mertz style exploits, like sneaking onto the Seinfeld set at Universal Studios when cast and crew were on break to steal a memento and pretending to a Beverly Hills realtor we were one percenters so we’d be shown celebrities’ mansions. After the failure of our joint business venture—a line of naturopathic cosmetics—Grace ghosted me for 11 years. I pined like we’d shared the same womb. Triumphs had a hollower tinge because the person who knew me best wasn’t there to share them, and sorrows were harder to bear.
The morning I called to say I was on the way to the cemetery to bury my mother, Grace picked up the phone. There were some difficult conversations ahead and trust to repair, but the bond we’d shared proved even sturdier later in life because we’d known each other when we were first learning to become ourselves.
The bond we’d shared proved even sturdier later in life because we’d known each other when we were first learning to become ourselves.
After reuniting with Grace, I felt compelled to explore other female friendships that emerged stronger after a lengthy pause. Sure, Facebook makes it easier to locate someone from the past now, but after the initial “Wow, hi!” is there more than old recriminations and awkward silences left between you?
As the stories below show, former friends are sometimes able to rebuild Humpty Dumpty and live with the fissures. Part of that is accepting that neither woman was or is perfect. Often these friends have weathered enough other blows and disappointments in the years apart to treasure the value of having in their life someone with the same deep roots.
Laurie and Jeannette: “There was a Hole in My Heart Without Her”
“Her mother died. She feels alone and you will make her laugh.” When Laurie Gwen Shapiro got that message in March 2019 about her former bestie Jeannette, the two women hadn’t spoken in 15 years.
They met in 1983 as high school interns at NBC Radio in New York’s Rockefeller Center. Laurie, author of The Stowaway: A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure in Antarctica, recalls, “We bonded after a supervisor took ‘extreme interest’ in me and Jeannette whispered, `That was me last summer!’” Laurie was an extrovert, wired to be upbeat while Jeannette, bubbly at times, suffered from depression. Still, the two shared a similar sense of humor, along with a love of fiction and poetry. The latter inspired the ‘zine they started in the early ‘90s: SPIT: A Magazine of the Arts. (The title comes from Lou Reed’s 1986 “Spit It Out.”)
I can’t imagine we’ll ever drift away again.
The pair increasingly felt like sisters; it was not surprising when a stranger on a subway asked if they were twins. For a year, the friends shared a brownstone with two other people, which inspired them to guffaw when someone referred to them as “those two lesbians who have the ‘zine.”
There wasn’t a nasty fight but a series of disconnects. “It felt toxic,” admits Laurie. Their lifestyles veered. Now 52, Laurie married young, giving birth to a novel and then a baby.
Jeannette got involved in the underground arts scene. “My sex, drugs, rock and roll thing,” laughs the 53-year-old, adding, “We still cared about each other but, being at different development stages Laurie and I weren’t ‘twinning.’”
Then Laurie’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, passing away in 2007. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through,” Laurie says.
Jeannette, who lives in Western Massachusetts and is working toward a PhD in psychology, sighed deeply when recalling this event, “I will always regret that I didn’t provide more support when her mother died. … But we hadn’t been as close for a while.”
In separate phone conversations, both women described experiencing a hole in their hearts during the years apart. Their reconnect was instantaneous, during what turned into a 90-minute phone call. Laurie says, “I was clear this wasn’t the time to talk about what had separated us. I knew what it means to lose a mother. I said, ‘You need me right now and I need you.’”
Each holds the other’s history. “When you forget something from your past, the other person remembers!” says Jeannette.
They are bringing back their ‘zine for an issue celebrating friendship.
Laurie says, “Yesterday we texted 17 times. I can’t imagine we’ll ever drift away again. I have a long life ahead. I need my sister.”
Eileen, Gina, and Janis: After 29 Years, It’s as if No Time Had Passed
Eileen Scully, founder of therisingtides.com, a consulting firm aimed at improving the workplace for women, describes her friendship with Gina and Janis (last names withheld) this way: “We’ve been close for 40 years but there was a looong pause in the middle.” The trio, all turning 50 this year, grew up on the same street in Trumbull, Connecticut. They attended the same schools through high school, were constantly in and out of one another’s houses, and shared milestones—first period, drivers’ licenses. Eileen, now living on Cape Cod recalls, “Every Christmas morning, we’d call each other to ask: ‘What’d you get?’”
Things started falling apart in 1987 when they went to different colleges. Eileen explains: “The idea of writing letters, finding stamps, and keeping track via landlines seemed daunting, especially since we were meeting new people.”
There was never a goodbye.
We are so deep in one another’s souls it’s effortless.
In 2009 the women reconnected on Facebook. It was as if no time had passed. Gina, living near her childhood home, says, “When you meet new friends, there’s more work involved. We are so deep in one another’s souls it’s effortless.”
Janis shares, “As mothers we could relate in a whole new way. It was wonderful to share this phase of our lives.” Eileen is thrilled to have her childhood buds to discuss “getting into menopause.”
A few years ago the three visited the small Catholic school they’d attended and belly laughed for two hours. “We talked over one another and shared silly stories,” says Eileen, adding, “Nothing in that school had changed.”
Since Janis moved to India in 2013, the three started a WhatsApp group to chat and share photos and videos. Janis laughs, “Because I’m in a different time zone, sometimes I wake up to 40 missed messages!”
And every Christmas morning there are WhatsApp messages: “What’d you get?”
Gayle and Delores: Thirty Years After a Devastating Fight, the Two Renewed Their Friendship
Gayle Williams and Delores (last name withheld) met as high school students in the Bronx. Delores, 54, says, “Being black girls in a mostly Irish school made us closer.” The friendship continued to thrive even after Gayle moved to Massachusetts for a newspaper job. When Gayle became engaged, she chose Delores as maid of honor.
Four months before the big day, Gayle checked in with the dress store where the bridal party had gone for gown fittings months earlier and found out the order had never been placed: Delores had forgotten to pay her deposit. An omission Delores instantly corrected.
There was a blowup before the wedding, and they didn’t see each other again for 30 years.
There was a blowup. Gayle said, “If you can’t handle the responsibilities of being maid of honor I’ll have someone else do that job.” Delores countered, “I can do you one better. I don’t have to be at the wedding.”
They didn’t see one another again for 30 years.
In March 2019, Gayle, 55 and living in Westchester a few towns from Delores, heard her former friend’s mother had recently died. “I remember after my mom died years earlier, Delores rushed to be with me at the funeral home.” Gayle sent a condolence email, and then attended the wake.
On the receiving line, the women shared a fierce embrace.
Neither wants to rehash the past. Gayle says, “I missed our camaraderie.”
Delores says, “When you’re young, everything feels like a trauma. I don’t want to go back into that headspace. Our mothers would both say, ‘Why look back when there’s so much to look forward to?’”
Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW, is a NYC-based therapist, author of three relationship self-help books and editor of the anthology How Does That Make You Feel: True Confessions from Both Sides of the Therapy Couch. She has contributed to many publications including New York, Washington Post, This Week, Reader’s Digest, Observer and vox.com.
A version of this story was originally published in March 2019.