what the market will bear: the long game of female friendships

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Hedge Fund (n): a limited partnership of investors that uses high-risk methods, such as investing with borrowed money, in hopes of realizing large capital gains.

How much risk are you willing to bear? Are you able to lay your hand on the table fully aware of the gamble you’re taking, cognizant of the fact that it is possible to leave with less than with what you started? Are you willing to engage in arbitrage — exploit your opponents when they’re at their weakest? Will your investors provide shelter through the most ferocious of storms, or will they find safe harbor, taking comfort in their abandonment while bearing witness to your public ruin? Are you comfortable in identifying that which is worthless and using that “junk” to yield financial gain? Can you build a life trading security? Can you weather what the market will bear? Are you comfortable calculating your worth based on what you’ve acquired and own? Will your partners stand beside you until the inevitable end?

When I was in college I became enamored with finance and its gameplay. The idea that a whole industry was devoted to partnership and risk appealed to me because the fundamental elements of finance reflected innate behaviors in human nature. We “short” friendships; we invest in that which is profitable and we fervently need to believe that we will come up solvent and prosperous in the end. We tether ourselves to the notion that if we make sound investments and take calculated risks, we’ll enjoy the inevitable returns. However, what happens when the market takes a fall that you hadn’t expected? What happens when your partner doesn’t hold up their end of the deal (think pyramid schemes, sociopathic traders and hedge fund charlatans), and you’re left in shambles, forced out of retirement or struggling to make ends meet? What happens when you play your boldest hand to then lose everything?

What happens when you arrive in the middle of your life with so much less than what you started with?

Lately, I find myself drawing correlations between playing the market and the ways in which we cleave to, and disconnect from, people. I find myself frustrated in friendship investments that consistently yield disappointing returns, friends who haven’t performed, risks that don’t fall in my favor.When it comes to relationships, I’ve placed equal, if not more, weight on my female friendships, echoing Rebecca Traister’s sentiment:

For many women, friends are our primary partners through life; they are the ones who move us into new homes, out of bad relationships, through births and illnesses. Even for women who do marry, this is true at the beginning of our adult lives, and at the end — after divorce or the death of a spouse. — “What Women Find in Friends They May Not Get From Love”

In my twenties, I was thick in the business of accumulation — I wanted to know all of the people, all of the time. I had no strategy; I just wanted the masses. Most of my college friends left New York so I found myself cozying up to coworkers, neighbors, and fellow graduate students. I operated a high-volume business, ushering in a revolving door of female friends and acquaintances while trying to figure out my identity as an independent adult woman. I figured that I’d winnow down over time; I thought I would slowly build my tribe. I didn’t count on feeling depleted and stretched too thin as a result of investing in too many people instead of creating a thoughtful portfolio. I ended up with a phonebook filled with people who were willing to uncork the champagne when times were flush but couldn’t be counted on during the moments when I wallowed my way down a bottle of red wine. I woke at 30 feeling as if I knew a lot of people but didn’t really know anyone.

At the same time, something else shifted — we grew up. Everyone was getting married and busied themselves in the business of procreation. Suddenly, we couldn’t roll into work hungover because we couldn’t hide in our cubicles. We had accountability and responsibility. Our devices multiplied while our attention dwindled. We were everywhere but not present. Friend dates turned into CIA logistical operations with multiple calendars being juggled and people prioritized. No longer was I a player in the open market — I had to go private. I was forced to be surgical and strategic in focusing on the quality of my friendships and how/to whom I would allocate my time, which seemed to be dwindling with the passing of each day.

There is no time, became everyone’s anthem, always.

In my 30s, I was myopic when it came to female friendships. I devoted myself wholly to a small group of women who were brilliant, funny, ambitious, and kind. Most were married, few were single, and I tacitly accepted the fact that casual connections gave way to scheduled friend time.People became comfortable announcing that they could see me because their significant other had other plans for the evening, i.e. you’re my backup plan since my husband isn’t available. I accepted that the word “I” would be replaced with the word “we”, and that affinities, hobbies, and passions became a collective, coupled sport. I accepted that the only people with whom I could talk about being single were other single friends because most of my married friends had developed amnesia about what it was like to be uncoupled. I accepted, with chagrin, the emergence of the “single girl dinner” as a cute trope when it’s my everyday reality. I accepted that I’d been deprioritized — that I was the hobby, “fun-time” for my coupled friends. Briallen Hopper eloquently writes:

“Because single women often put friendship at the center of our lives, it can be hard for us to be friends with people who see friendship as peripheral, as many partnered people do. A close friend once told me that her priorities were her kid, her partner, her work, her friends, in that order, like suits in a deck of cards. In her life, a kid thing would always trump a partner thing; a work thing would always trump a friend thing. This was the best way she knew of trying to impose some order on life’s complexity, but to me it seemed like a terribly reductive way to think about human relationships — plus, it was no fun to know that I would always be the lowest priority in her life. Our friendship didn’t last.” — “Relying on a Friendship in World Made for Couples”

I accepted that I’d see some of my close friends less and less because they opted to befriend other mothers — complements to the lives and the struggles they endured, others who “understood” where they were at a specific time in their lives. Still, I invested heavily. I nurtured a married friend through her bought with depression and her desire to divorce the man she’d just married. I took the late-night calls and the last-minute lunches from friends who needed me. I was the wall that would never crumble; I was the friend everyone could count on.

Until I could count on no one. This became the moment when it registered that my decade-long fund — replete with the strategy and risks I was willing to bear — was underperforming.

This year is the worst I’ve ever known. I’m enduring immeasurable loss and intense sadness. My financial security remains uncertain, at best. And the people I believed I could count on became demonstrably silent. They were “busy”. They didn’t know “how to handle it”. They swooped in for a series of caring texts to then disappear for months at a time. Even when I made it clear that I didn’t need a therapist, that my expectations were minimal, the years I spent being patient and devoted haven’t been reciprocated. Everyone is quick to “like” my minor triumphs and “heart” my Instagram photos — passive interaction has become the default setting, the status quo. When I announced to one of my closest friends I was moving to Los Angeles, she ceased all communication. We’d been friends for nearly a decade and suddenly I was speaking to a ghost. I sent pleas via email, text and post and silence. When I sent an email to another close friend pleading for work because I was frightened of losing my apartment and defaulting on my loans, two weeks later I received the equivalent of a form letter response. I never expected to be saved or delivered a kingdom. I never anticipated that my friends would swoop in and solve my life because I’m an adult and that responsibility rests solely on my shoulders, but it would’ve been nice to have my friends shoulder me through the dark places I once carried them through. It would’ve been comforting to feel that the risks I so assiduously born would have been shared by others — even for a little while. It would have been wonderful to feel less alone.

Here I was, spending a decade avoiding risk, leveraging my heart in my portfolio, and laying all of my cards on the table only to come out empty. Only to feel that my years of investing wasn’t worth it at all. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe those years spent being a good friend without expecting anything in return to find I never received anything in return was a hand folded, a return I should’ve accepted. Maybe laying my heart on the table wasn’t the wisest hand I could’ve played, but I can’t help but think that I spent my adult life constructing the safest portfolio to discover that not everyone lingers for the long game, that as you grow older your world becomes too small for anyone to fit. And who expected this when you believed that friendship was the one partnership that didn’t need regulating? That those moments spent in the dark with the friends you loved would be forgotten, discarded, left for a savored, sweet memory? I spent years studying derivatives, all of the ways in which one could mitigate risk, and here I was, at 40, and completely alone. Bankrupt. A slew of bad investments lay before me.

When does it happen? How does one regard the love between two friends as a garment worth shedding? How do you tell someone that you love them but that love has been deprioritized? How do you handle learning that you’re a junk bond? A short-term investment folded for the long family game? How do you gracefully accept that no one will follow you gallantly into the dark when you were happy to serve as everyone’s usher?

I thought I was wise. I spent a decade building a tribe to find that tribe never existed. What happens then? What happens when you’re 40 and alone and all of your friends are toasting their own lives, shouldering their own sorrows? What becomes of you then? How do you move on?

What happens when you wake one morning and find the market shifting below your feet? How do you rebuild after the market you spent your life investing in collapses?

Photo Credit: Helen Sotiriadis

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cheddar + dill biscuits + living this one great life

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Whenever you are faced with a choice between liberty and security, choose liberty. Otherwise you will end up with neither. People who sell their souls for the promise of a secure job and a secure salary are spat out as soon as they become dispensable. The more loyal to an institution you are, the more exploitable, and ultimately expendable, you become…You know you have only one life. You know it is a precious, extraordinary, unrepeatable thing: the product of billions of years of serendipity and evolution. So why waste it by handing it over to the living dead?George Monbiot

It’s easy to ghost through our waking life. Play the part of a somnambulant — a body that moves mechanically, with no purpose or passion. We live to be cartographed and programmed, and we cleave all too delicately to the everyday certainties that threaten to undo us: the traffic that is relentless, the job we slumber to, the boss who is possibly psychopathic, the beloved with whom we settle because considering options becomes a tiresome proposition.

My pop suffers from stiffened joints that make it sometimes difficult for him to walk, and when I press him on this, when I ask him to see a doctor, he says he’d rather carry this discomfort because the risk taken to learn that he may be sick, that something may be gravely wrong is too much from him to bear. So he chooses to live with this disquiet, this numb leg and the stiffness on a limb that used to move nimble, quick. I’m quiet as I know how far I can push him, that there might be a moment where his silence matches my own.

I have a friend who tells me she’s getting OUT. She says this in a voice that implies she’s speaking in all caps, and she often sends me notes reaffirming her need to quit his job. But the money’s so damn good, and it’s not all that bad, even during the dark moments when it is that bad. Sometimes she tells me that she’s an adult and it’s not like we’re twenty-three anymore; it’s not as if the world is still filled with so much possibility. There are mortgages to pay, purses to buy, expensive meds to refill. She sells herself a lemon life, and she’s masterful at it. Other times, late, she sends me texts and tells me that she lives vicariously through me, a single artist who can indulge in such flights! of! fancy!, and I have to remind her of my $130,000 student loan debt, the five-figure credit card debt, and, oh by the way, this artist has been working as a professional marketer for seventeen years. There is no flight of fancy. There is no ticker tape of golden skin on a Fijian beach, rather there is a decision to live your life uncomfortably comfortable or live your life with all the bandaids ripped off. And this puts me to thinking that sometimes a mortgage is not too far from a mortuary, and that safe is probably the more dangerous of all the four-letter words. Safe tells you that the world no longer glints and gleams, that there is no Santa Claus. Safe tells you that in 401K, we trust. Safe tells you that you’re an adult now, you can no longer dream now, the world is closing in on you now. Safe tells us you that your story has already been written.

We chose the hand we know we can play rather than the terrain undiscovered.

Seven years ago, I stopped drinking and told myself that I’d lead a safe, controlled life. I created routines, only cleave to that which was familiar, and I told myself to get serious about the business of being an adult. Because I’m someone who observes the extremes, I interpreted safe as the antithesis of reckless. No longer would I be the twenty-five-year old who brought drugs on a plane and woke up in a different state. No longer would I play detective with crumbled up receipts and call records. I got a cat and I lived this very vibrant and verbose life, online, but rarely did I leave my phone. And for a while this worked until my home and office resembled one another in the sense that they resembled the inside of a tomb. I wasn’t living life, I was hiding it from it with over 140-character count witticism and perfectly composed blog post. Exasperated, a friend once shouted through tears that I was impenetrable, and even after listening to my friend in pain nothing registered. I couldn’t feel anything, and it would be a year later until I’d realize that I traded in one form of anaesthesia (alcohol) for another (solitary confinement). It would be two years later until I’d started the long road to repair that friendship, to open all the doors and let people in.

When I read George Monbiot’s article, I paused because it reminded me that there is no joy living in the extremes, of inhabiting a word until it becomes you, and you are only defined by how you are not living. His words articulated that there is something brilliant and beautiful in the middle of reckless and safe, that there is color and sound and feeling in taking giant leaps of self-faith. As a woman inching toward 40 I’m finding that I need to revisit children’s books because they remind me that a story survives on its own velocity, that it can always be retold and rewritten as long as it’s good. As long as that story keeps a child’s eyes wide, but then softly sings them into a slumber.

So far I’ve booked trips to Ireland (a journey with my pop who’s from Dublin) and India this year, and while I still don’t know how my story ends, I like the art of writing it, and rewriting it as I go.

All this thought while working from home, making biscuits.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of A Pastry Affair.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) cold butter
2 tbsp fresh dill, minced
1 cup (4 ounces) cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 + 2 tbsp cup heavy cream
1/3 cup milk

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 425 degrees (220 degrees C).

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or with two forks until mixture resembles a coarse sand. Mix in the fresh dill and cheddar cheese. Gradually pour in the heavy cream and milk, mixing until just combined.

Turn out dough on a lightly floured surface and bring together until it forms a ball. If you need to knead the dough to bring it together, do so but no more than 10-12 times. Flatten the dough ball to roughly an 1-inch thick round and, using a 2-inch round cookie cutter or drinking glass of equivalent size dipped in flour, cut out biscuits until all dough is used. Place biscuits on a baking sheet and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until tops of biscuits are lightly browned.

Allow to cool slightly on a rack before serving.
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