Built to last?

Built to last?

“Past season” read the markdown tag on the flouncy linen skirt that Sweet Cakes was trying on at her favorite bargain retailer. “Harrumph,” Sweet sweetly harrumphed to herself. With a new belt (something bold and scarf-y) and a boat-neck tee, what was past will be new again. An intuitive shopper with innate fashion flair knows there’s no such thing as “past season” if you choose wisely—and even better if you can do it at a cut-rate.

But what happens when the tag on a friendship reads “past season”? Can you spruce it up, or must you let it retire in the Returns bin?

Sweet pondered this matter as she took chocolate and Veuve Clicquot with the Girlfriends the other evening. The occasion? The birthday of The Lady Doctor, as she’s lovingly known to the gang. As usual, there ensued giggly and half-serious discussion of new movies, celebrity kids (Rocco is sooo cute! Seems like hell on wheels, though, doesn’t he?), and redecorating projects. It was all as it ever had been during a decade of birthday and promotion and graduate-school-acceptance parties.

Except for one thing.

The circle of friends had changed shape. It was an oval maybe. Or—ouch—perhaps still a circle only now smaller. And it was Sweetie-girl, dear gentle Candy Darling, who found herself perched elegantly on the edge.

The Blue Devil reconstructed in painstakingly detail her recent movie date with a tall, dark and handsome European, and Sweet found herself nearly bored with a narrative that once would have held her rapt.  The Spanish Scholar insinuated that her mother was, maybe, a teensy bit overbearing, and Honey Girl, being honest here, thought, “Well, yes, dear S.S., so are you.” That’s a friendship S.O.S., if ever Sweet had heard one. Not only that, she had to acknowledge that most of the conversation was directed near her but not to her. If she was clearly growing blasé about what mattered most to some of The Girlfriends, she couldn’t deny that her shift in affections didn’t seem to be breaking anybody’s heart. A skilled interlocutor, Sweet could still wrap herself in the manners of loyal friendship. But she had to admit that she was draped in a garment stamped “past season” and it would probably need more than a length of satin to refreshen it.

Maybe the question is not: Why do friendships wane? Maybe the question is: Why don’t they? What are the ingredients of a successful bond that stands up to time’s shifting sands? Sweet knew that she had lost touch with some of The Girlfriends through recent changes. New job duties, new workout routines, new crushes—she’d kept some of these fresh developments from her friends. And it seemed she wasn’t the only one. They weren’t filling her in, either. She had become a secondary supporting player in the cast.

What had Sweet’s assumptions been? That she would catch up with everyone “later”? In these busy days, when would “later” arrive, anyway? Not that Sweet wanted to put her life—or her friends’ lives—on a 24/7 news cycle, but truly, couldn’t she have done a bit more to include her once-reliable Others in her changes?

Heavy thoughts for a weeknight party. Strains of “Happy birthday dear Lady Doctor…” roused Sweet from her contemplations. And though she reached no firm conclusions on what had happened with The Girlfriends or even if she wanted to fix it, she knew what was called for right then. “Happy birthday to you!” she chimed in, finding that, for the moment at least, the circle had expanded to include everyone in expression of that loving sentiment.
The circle of friends had changed shape. And Sweet found herself perched elegantly on
the edge.

Built to last


It’s not that I don’t enjoy my current full-time job at a hoity-toity glossy, but occasionally, I feel like I’m not making good on that promise I made to myself—and all those with high hopes for me—to make the world a better place. I know I’m getting all Miss Rumphius (“go to faraway places, live by the sea, do something to make the world more beautiful,” blah, blah, blah) on you, dear readers, but being the product of a guilt-ridden liberal upbringing and the daughter of an urban planner with a distinctly do-gooder conscience, this doubt is seated deep within me.

Thus, when I came across the website for a new quarterly called The Next American City via an old college friend who is doing some work for it, I immediately melted down into an existential crisis: Must quit fashion magazine right now and invest all nonexistent savings in real magazine that will contribute something worthwhile to cultural dialogue. Alas, that moment passed, and here I am alleviating my guilt by plugging the site—www.americancity.org. Go there. Learn something. Start rethinking this whole American landscape. In the right ways, ya’ll.

Dubbed “a subtle plan to change the world” by The New York Times, the Next American City looks at the state of the American metropolis and asks, “Where do we go from here?” In this rapidly changing landscape, how can businesses and developers thrive? How can cities and suburbs expand their economies? And how can our society successfully address social and environmental challenges?”

If you want the full treatment, then you’ll have to subscribe, but if you want a test drive before buying the hybrid, then the website does the trick with a plethora of articles online tackling the big issues from “Gambling on Philadelphia’s Future: Can Casinos Fit into a Big City Downtown” to “Reviving South Minneapolis: Showdown at South Central Farm.”

Houston, yes, it seems we do indeed have a problem. But it’s not a problem we can’t solve if we start now.