The Loved Ones

Maybe it’s an age thing, but Valentine’s Day isn’t always about romance

My friend Lennie makes this jam that’s insanely delicious. I’m actually eating it out of the jar as I write. Every spoonful reminds me of some adventure we’ve had in our three decades of friendship: the time we ate grapes in the sun at a market in Italy, the time we grilled figs and sausage in the back yard with our husbands, the time I was heartbroken and she soothed me with hot lemonade and Mozart, the times our kids slept over at her house in Fullerton and awoke to hot chocolate-chip waffles.

Eating her jam makes me feel rich in friendship and lucky to have met her. Maybe you have a friend like that, too, the kind who should have her own holiday.

Or maybe you have a childhood friend like my friend Shelley, who has one of those smiles that makes everyone want to smile along. She knew all the words to all the jump-rope rhymes, which boys were worth chasing, how to hem her own clothes, and exactly how high to pile the ice cream when we watched “The Wild, Wild West” on sleep-overs. When I reconnected with her again some years ago after decades without much contact, she was still smiling as she reeled off the names of her grandchildren. I smiled with her. Whole lifetimes had happened to us, and yet it was as if no time had passed at all.

Teenaged friends, too—why aren’t they more celebrated? I look at my youngest daughter and the high school friends she cherishes, and can’t help remembering the summer days my sister, Erin, and I spent with the Bell sisters, Kathy and Pam. The crushes, the secrets, the velvet hot pants and platform shoes and pastel nail polish—everything we did in those days was improved by their sense of occasion. They could sing, and when we’d harmonize on “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” which was one of our mothers’ favorites, their natural gifts made even my wobbly voice sound as if it were making a contribution. I still can’t hear that song without giving thanks for the grace they brought to my otherwise cringe-worthy adolescence.

Was I just blessed, or did you, too, have friends like these?

Maybe sentimentality is just a hazard of aging, or maybe it’s because this is the time of year when the malls are overtaken by valentines, but love has been on my mind more than usual lately. Not the Hallmark kind, or the kind you reserve for your family or your significant other, but the broad, life-list, cumulative kind.

When you’re young, you don’t see it. You’re busy, and tend to take relationships for granted. Even later it’s tough to be close. This is especially so in Orange County, where geography alone can be a friendship killer. (Some of our best friends are in West L.A.—or at least that’s where they were in the ’90s, the last time we saw them.)

But then something will happen—a wedding, a funeral, a blast from the past on Facebook—and you will realize how thoroughly you’ve become interconnected. This will make you feel awestruck. Then it will make you feel old.

And then, it will make you feel like thanking somebody, or maybe sending a different kind of valentine: To Louis and Kris, whose company was a universe of music and nature. To Marty and Steve, whose wit could render me helpless with laughter. To Debbie, so kind, and to Betsy, so wise, and to Annie, so worldly, and to Marilyn, who gave me a black evening clutch in the early 1980s that’s still in my closet. I could go on, but you see. Maybe you, too, feel this way lately—appreciative of all the sweet ways in which we can belong to each other, in which I can be yours and you can be mine.

Got a Valentine’s Day message for a dear friend? Share it in the comments section below.

Illustration by Brett Affrunti

This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue.

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