Oh poppets, I have been looking at a lovely bouquet of flowers all weekend. They did not come from B.A. but from a friend whose thesis I had a look at before he handed it in. How very nice that in all the fuss around his degree ceremony he thought of little me.
And this reminds me of how important it is to have all kinds of relationships and how terribly we overlook and undervalue them. In A Whole Woman, Germaine Greer suggests that we have grossly undervalued even motherhood and that the be-all and end-all identity of woman is now Wife.
But there is something else going on in English-speaking societies, and it is the devaluation of the different degrees of friendship. I suppose the biggest example of what I mean is "Facebook" where a list of all the individuals who have full access to your page are called "Friends." However, I very much doubt all those people are your friends. Most of them are probably Acquaintances, and there is nothing wrong with that. It's good to have a wide range of acquaintances. You just shouldn't act like they are your friends.
Aristotle was very strict on the concept of friends. He thought that only men of excellent character could be true friends, and then only to their social equals. He didn't think men and women could be friends because they were not social equals. Ancient Roman aristocrats, however, did not agree with Aristotle on this one, and as a matter of fact very often the only person a Roman aristocrat trusted was his wife. In an intensely competitive and violent society, his best interests were her best interests, and they both knew it.
But let's get away from marriage, although not before I say that what holds marriage together is not romance, which is its agreeable starting point, but friendship with various benefits. Marriage is something very odd, for something so ancient and universal, and I am not going to write about it. Instead I will hint about the different kinds of friendship and acquaintance there are.
First of all, as hipped as we are on the idea of loyalty and fidelity, various people have waxing and waning importance in our lives. Christmas card and wedding invitation lists are very sweet for they honour not only those who are most important NOW but those who were most important THEN. Meanwhile, I think fondly of various women in various offices I have worked in, but I don't think of them as friends, past or present. They were good colleagues and made boring jobs more enjoyable. But we have passed completely from each other's lives.
This suggests that you, too, will have waxing and waning importance in the lives of others. I was a tremendous social asset in my Canadian theological school; I threw myself into the life of the school and achieved a kind of local fame. Various people told me how much I would be missed. My most heartfelt ambition was to return as a professor and continue on where I left off, but this was not to be. Now as far as 99% of the school is concerned I am just a photo on the wall. But this is okay, for I have new roles now, including Safe Grown-Up To Whom To Appeal in Emergency.
Second, it is okay not to be everyone's best friend. Heavens. The idea. But it is pleasant to have people with whom you meet up for the occasional coffee, and people with whom you meet up for the occasional drink, and people whom you invite for dinner, and people with whom you go on holiday. Social life seems to me to be a series of rings, and people move into the inner rings or out into the outer rings, depending on what happens in your life.
Third, we don't have to be so serious all the time. When I am sixty, I will probably be telling good-humoured young men that it is a terrible shame that we were born forty years apart. They will agree, and we will all know that we are lying, but we will also know that it is amusing to say things like that.
What everyone who met her apparently loved about the Queen Mother is that she gave everyone the impression that she really was interested in him/her and what he/she had to say, quite as if she had come there on purpose to see him/her and him/her alone. This was not fakery but charm. I think the only way to master such a wonderful skill is to practice.
I am very sorry to say this, for I married so late, but I did not become such a marvellous flirt until I was safely married. Now I can say outrageous things from the ramparts of my fortress of marriage, and am thus popular with the sort of men of whom I used to be afraid. If B.A. should shuffle off this mortal coil, however, I fear there would be a general stampede out of town, but oh well. I might not want to see them anyway. B.A. is unlikely to shuffle off until I am old, and perhaps by then I will not at all be interested in men but only in television and sweets.
Fourth, it is good to exchange greetings and remarks with simply everyone in your life, including bus drivers and assistants in the butcher shop, so as to fight against the forces of loneliness: not just your loneliness, but the loneliness of the bus driver and of the assistant in the butcher shop. When I worked as a teenager in a cafe, working before and after school, I very much enjoyed greeting all the regulars, for they livened up a lonely time in my life, and some very much enjoyed being greeted by Seraphic, age 17.
When news that I was leaving reached the regulars, one wrote me a letter. Apparently he had been suffering the end of his marriage, and the one thing that got him to work in the morning was the fact that someone was happy to see him, said "Good morning" like she meant it and remembered his usual order. So you never know how much good you can do just by smiling and saying good morning. "Favourite Cafe Waitress" was for one person the most important role I played in life, and by saying thank you, he now stands out in my mind as "Favourite Cafe Patron."