Sunday, December 17, 2006

old friends

We got together with three other couples on Saturday for one of our periodic lunches. They are all friends and neighbors from the lake and we have these get-togethers several times during the winter months when we don't see each other at the lake. We all live in differrent cities, so we have found a convenient restaurant that is a nearly equal distance for all of us to travel to.

The conversation is always somewhat predictable, given the personalities present. You can usually predict what each person will talk about if given the chance to lead the conversation and what the various opinions will be on any given subject. Needless to say, we avoid touchy subjects like politics and religion in casual conversation, having learned where we all stand on those subjects at different times and conversations in the past. While we have somewhat divergent opinions and attitudes about those important subjects, it is comforting to know that whatever differences we have are set aside in the interest of continueing friendship. Since we are all hovering around the 60 year old benchmark, some well past and some rapidly approaching, we share a lot of common life experiences that help to bind us together.

As with all familiar groups of people we all play our roles as written in our shared past experience. One couple is the glue that holds us all together, being the couple that instigated our meeting of each other at various times over the past ten years or so. They are gregarioius and outgoing people who genuinely enjoy the company of whomever they are with. They have a wide range of friends besides us, but always make us feel as though we are the most important people they know. We can always count on one of them to start the conversation by asking us about ourselves. And they are genuinely interested in hearing te answer.

Another couple in the group I think of as being Pollyanna and her Sugar Daddy. He is a semi-retired environmental analyst who once worked for a government agency and she is a kept woman who has never known what it is like to do without. You can always expect to see pictures, lots of pictures, of their latest travels. This time it was three roles of film taken in Rome (when you've seen one picture of the Vatican, you've seen them all). And when she isn't talking about Rome or London or their Mediteranian cruise, she is expounding on her wonderful and perfect grandchildren. While she is talking, he just sits and nods and smiles and pretends to hear what is going on. He is hard of hearing and I consider that a blessing, as I'm sure he does, but won't admit. Needless to say, we try not to ask her what's new, but somehow she always gets her latest news admitted into evidence.

The third couple of our group always presents a surprise. We never quite know what to expect of him--willl he be talkative or quiet, argumentative or congenial, interested or remote? Will she join in the conversation without being coaxed or sit quietly and seemingly unattached to the group? Theirs is a relatioinship where he dominates all conversations and she willing allows him to take center stage. She is really quite intelligent and funny and interesting when we can get her engaged. He loves to talk aboiut his car collection--he restores old cars--and will go into exquisite detail about the mechanics and upholstery and paint finish on his latest restorations. He even brought along a paint chip to show us the color and depth of the finish he just put on his old Thunderbird (although it is difficult to extrapolate from a one inch square paint chip how the entire car looks). He is a retired engineer and we love to play to his intellectual conceit by asking for his opinion and explanation of the workings of anything and everything, which he gives with an air of definitive finality.

The fourth couple of the group is, of course, Mary and me. Naturally we are perfect and require no inspection or dissection.
Actually, Mary can be the life of the party when she decides to be. She is a wonderful story teller and has a self-deprecating sense of humor that puts everyone at ease. She has a great way of getting everyone involved, being sensitive to everyone's feelings, and making sure that all are included in the group. Must be the teacher in her. Me? I'm the observer of all the others. I speak when spoken to, but otherwise keep my mouth shut so I don't get into trouble. Unless we're talking about sports. Then I'm right there leading the charge. I hate talking about myself and will try to deflect the conversation onto any area other than me, but will expound at length on any subject if given the opportunity. Bobology often results.

Given the range of personalities in the group, it's a wonder how we all get along and actually look forward to seeing each other at these luncheons. It seems that this is an example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Separately, not all of the couples would be as close, although couple number one, the glue, we consider to be our closest friends. The group dynamics at work here make for an interesting study. Take any one couple out of the mix and the whole dynamic changes, the whole exercise becomes focused differently. If we were to add another couple to the group no telling how we would react. As it is, our little group is just the right size for intimate conversations, yet large enough to keep the broader talk interesting and wide ranging.

I suppose trying to analyze a group of friends to better understand how the group interacts puts an unnecessary burden on the relationship. It is probably better to just accept what is, and enjoy the time we spend together. But I guess that the human condition dictates that we search for answers and meaning in everything we do. Sometimes, however, a lunch is just a lunch, a friend is just a friend, and a group of friends is just a mob under control.

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