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The Name I Have for My Group of Oldest Female Friends

Some of my happiest moments have been with these women.

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gif illustration of female friends at beach enjoying a sunset
JR BEE
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I have spent an inordinate amount of my time in retirement trying to make new friends only to realize this truism: There really is no replacement for the old ones.

Enter my Wolf Pack, which is what I call the group of my oldest and closest women friends I’ve known for decades. We are five, all 60- or 70-something, and while our in-person visits have dwindled, we are bonded by years, phone lines and video calls.

Leaving the workplace, for me, meant leaving behind a good chunk of my daily social interactions. Let’s face it, the farther you get from the office, the less you care about the news that is exchanged at its water cooler. And while some are loath to admit it, it seems to me that the life of a retiree holds far less interest to people who are still employed. It may be because employed people still define others by what they do for a living — and retirees, at best, do much less.

In my case, my retirement was coupled with moving 100 miles away from where I had lived for 35 years. I said goodbye to my neighbors, my fellow mom friends, the friends I walked with to stay in shape and the friends who sometimes would just show up to have a glass of wine on my deck. Throw in the pandemic lockdowns and for about two years, my husband and I lived in a bubble of just us.

When the pandemic fog lifted, I began hunting for some friends in my new community. And that’s when the light bulb went on: It really wasn’t new friends I wanted as much as some new playmates — interesting people with whom I could hang out and do things. My husband calls them “time-fillers,” and he wouldn’t be entirely wrong.

Yes, they would have to be smart, funny and like to do similar things. But deep down I know they likely would never rise to the level of love and affection I feel for the women of my Wolf Pack.

There is something to be said for having a shared history, of having evolved together during our 20s and 30s, and weathered so many storms together. And let’s not forget how many cherished memories we have made together. Anyone I meet today, at 74, likely will be a footnote in my life. They will have value, just not the same value as someone I’ve been friends with forever.

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The author (third from left) on a beach hike along the Southern California coast with her Wolfpack.

So how did my Wolf Pack come together? At one point, we were all early-career journalists whose paths crossed in assorted newsrooms. Our jobs took us in many directions and off to live in many different places far away from one another. But we quickly realized, we were kindred souls and had developed a bond that more resembles a family than a group of friends. Heck, we even fight like sisters and then feel bad afterward.

Science has been keen to understand the psychology behind female friendships. Having friends — or not having them — has been linked to our overall health and happiness. “Friendship is a hallmark of human behavior,” wrote the authors of a study originally published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences and later in the National Library of Medicine. “Friends may promote our financial success, health and even survival,” they found.

But science is pretty quiet on the value difference between old friends versus playmates. So, you are stuck with me to opine that playmates can be anybody, anywhere, and it doesn't matter how long you know them. They matter, but just not as much as my old friends — my Wolf Pack.

My kids call these core-of-my-life women “Auntie.” I call them Amy, Vani, Barbara and Cindy. There were a few others who came and went over the years, but sometimes less is more. And while months can pass without an in-person gathering, the depth of our friendships never shallows. We merely pick up where we left off.

We’ve shared our holiday tables, have been there for milestone birthdays and comforted one another after losses — whether they be jobs, pets, parents, or in two cases, husbands, one of them mine.

We have danced joyously together at first weddings and even more so at second ones; we have gathered for the births and adoptions of our children, the coronation of Eagle Scouts and college graduations.

We have traveled together from coast to coast and abroad, had too much to drink together and laughed so wickedly hard together that we were asked to “keep the noise down" by a Santa Barbara hotel manager half our age. We smothered our giggling until we heard the elevator door shut behind him.

Plus we have our own traditions, take for example, the “Annual Girls’ Hike” that hasn’t happened in a decade although we are planning to plan it again. The first one was in the early 1990s and Amy — the most outdoorsy of the pack and a gourmet cook in the kitchen — had us strap frozen chicken breasts to the outside of our 40-pound backpacks. She promised the chicken would defrost as we hiked in the hot sun and she would cook it for dinner. The meal was delicious, although we were all left smelling like rotten poultry.

Sleeping on the ground under the stars after bear-bagging our supplies was great until one of us wondered aloud whether bears liked chicken — or women who smelled like them. The next day we rejoiced to come upon an isolated hot spring just waiting for us to strip naked and jump in. We did and all was well until we spotted a troop of Boy Scouts marching steadily toward us.

My Wolf Pack memories are rich and vivid. Discovering the Puerto Rican island of Culebra with Vani in our 20s; Cindy and I dancing our way through the Greek islands. And, thankfully listening to the money advice given by Barbara, the city editor who hung up her green visor and pursued a much more lucrative path as a financial advisor.

And of course, Amy. Hers was the first face I saw after waking up from a major surgery. She was also the first one there when I brought my baby girl home from China without a clue how to be a mother.

The best moments in my life have occurred in the company of these women. And no, I don’t really expect to find new friends who will “get” me the way they do. But if you’d like to take a hike or grab lunch, there’s a good chance I’m free.

Photo courtesy of the Author
Do you have lifelong friends of your own? Let us know in the comments below.

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