By Sally Friedman
Friendship improves happiness, and abates misery, by doubling our joys, and dividing our grief.
~Marcus Tullius Cicero
We met at a Rutgers University Homecoming Game when I was a twenty-one-year-old bride. I was anxious because I was the new kid on the block — I'd married my Rutgers alumnus that summer.
Just being married felt weird. The prospect of meeting all of my husband's old college friends and their wives — it was even more daunting than I'd expected.
The other women I was being introduced to were a bit older, and more connected already. I'd heard their names, and I'd met some in the blur of our wedding reception.
I remember fussing over what to wear and finally settling on the wrong choice: a plaid wool dress that itched and was far too warm in the blast of October sun.
Besides, I couldn't keep the women's names straight, and felt like an idiot.
But I can still remember how warmly I was welcomed, and how my instant feeling was one of relief. These women were new in my life, but lovely and warm.
I exhaled — and by the end of the day, I finally learned who was who.
That was back in 1960.
I can tell you with certainty that not one of us, back then, could have imagined how this sisterhood of women would bond. Or that we would still be together more than five decades later.
But here we are, women who married crew-cut college guys whose bond was a past we didn't even share — New Jersey's state college, Rutgers, was an all-male school when our husbands started there as freshmen in 1950.
No one could have imagined that in so many ways we would grow up together, we Rutgers wives, and share every imaginable milestone.
Nor could we have foreseen, in our youthful naïveté back then, that bad things happen to good people.
By the time we were in our early forties, Don and Dick were tragically gone. One heart attack, one terrible car accident.
The losses only drew us closer.
And yes, their widows (such a strange word, back then) remarried, but stayed with us. We women all recognized that while our guys were the core, we had something that was growing as special as what they had. The "ZBT Group," as it is still affectionately known in tribute to the fraternity the boys had loved, bonded us, their wives, as surely as it had bonded them.
So together, we wives built our own foundation. Together, we survived early marriage, kids, mortgages — the station wagon years — and then a torrent of change.
The world had changed from our coming-of-age days when marriage was the finish line, the happily-ever-after. Suddenly, some of us were back in school, some were entering the world of work, and all of us held fast to each other as social revolutions were changing the earth under our feet.
It was an amazing, interesting, challenging time. And we were ever grateful that we had each other as life support in the murky waters of change.
Officially, our gatherings were spaced out to about five times a year. But the ties that bound us didn't depend on the calendar, we learned. A phone call for reassurance, a note hastily scribbled before e-mails, a visit and a hug when the going got really tough — these things meant that the miles separating us didn't matter so much.
We marched through the inexorable toll of losses and sadness — and celebrated the triumphant times — together.
We buried our parents, wept at the weddings of each other's children, greeted one another's grandchildren with love and awe.
We still do.
All of us can still sing the words to the Rutgers alma mater, and we women feel like honorary members of the Class of 1954 at reunions.
We no longer race up the stadium steps for the Homecoming Game. But we still go with our Rutgers alums.
And like seventh graders at the school dance, by halftime, we women have shifted the seating so that we can be close to one another, and what's happening on the field is, well, secondary to our rich and textured conversations.
I love these women. I know they are there for me, and always will be.
No — we're not childhood friends. We're not sorority sisters. We're not family, although sometimes, that's hard to remember. What we are is both simpler — and more complex — than any of those.
We are wives of husbands who promised to stay close — and kept that promise.
We're friends. Such good friends.
How blessed we are.