The Power of Friendship

I recently had a touching and somewhat poignant experience. For all of us who are alone (or for me anyway), we wonder what’s going to happen ‘later’ in life. If you’re alone, what if things go wrong, and you have no partner to protect you and share the experience with you? It’s a scary thought, and part of the musical chairs of life, where some of us wind up alone. You make a false move, make a bad decision about the person you marry, or make a good decision, and destiny intervenes. And the next thing you know you’re alone at a time in life when you didn’t want to be, and never thought it would happen to you. Who knows, I may find the right person to share my life with again one day before the dance is over. But for now, I am ‘alone’. I have a million wonderful children, but I am still the person who takes care of them, and I don’t expect them to take care of me, or be with me in tough situations. They have their own lives to lead, and now I have mine, (gulp) alone. It strikes me hardest whenever I’ve ended up in an emergency room. When you’re married, it’s an easy question to answer when you read the line on the form about who to call in an emergency. My kids were really too young to call until recently, and I don’t want to be a pest or a burden to them, so for several years now, I have put down my assistant’s name and number, which always makes my heart ache a little. And looking down the road to all the things that could happen in years to come is scary. Not just medically, but all those tough moments, and decisions one has to make in life. What happens when you find yourself in one of those situations and have to face it alone? As my kids would say, it sucks. But there it is, sometimes that’s how it happens, and when I think about it, it concerns me.

With all the recent turmoil and upheaval in the world, banks have folded, the stock market has plummeted, and I think none of us are totally sure we can rely on the institutions we once did. They are fallible, and if they fail, we could be in big trouble. In light of that, my attorneys recently suggested that I check out other banks to compare with my own. (I hate dealing with stuff like that. How do I know who is telling me the truth, which institution is sound, and if I have the right one? It’s easy to be wooed away by another institution, but are they any good?). I put off doing anything about it for as long as I could, and finally agreed to a meeting at another bank, just to hear what they had to say, for informational purposes. And as I prepared for the meeting, I hated the bad decisions I have made in my life, and the bad luck, that have wound me up without a partner. Figuring out what bank is the safest is something I would love a husband to do—I don’t feel competent to make those choices. You can hand me 400 pages of blank paper, and I have no trouble turning it into a good story that will keep people turning pages. But hand me an insurance form, anything from a bank, or any kind of official form, and my mind goes blank and turns into jello. I know that sounds stupid, and I’m not dumb, but I just hate red tape and officialdom, and my mind turns into ‘white noise’ and I cant even hear what’s being said. Traditionally, in my upbringing and experience, choosing the right bank should be made by a husband, and instead, since I no longer have one, I have to make that decision myself. And what if I make the wrong choice of bank? And even if once happily married, women who wind up widowed, at any age, have to learn to make these decisions too. It’s not as easy as you’d think (particularly if you have a partner who does it for you).

A few days before the meeting, my lawyer called me, a wonderful woman who is also a dear friend, one of my two closest friends. And the other closest friend called me too, since she is the one I’d always planned to leave my kids to if anything happened to me. They both invited me to lunch before the meeting, and I happily accepted the invitation. And they both offered to come to the meeting with me. Both are professional women, both are smart, creative, married and have kids. And I was thrilled to have them come along, although the bank decision would ultimately be mine. But I loved the idea of having company when I got there, and dreaded the meeting. And maybe it would only be an information meeting, and nothing more would come of it.

Lunch with my two women friends was great fun, as it always is on the rare times when we meet for lunch together (maybe once or twice a year?) all three of us are busy, have jobs and lives and families and too little time to hang out together, and sometimes even too little time to call each other. But I always know they’re there, as I am for them. It’s nice to know.

After lunch, we walked to the meeting a few blocks away. And as we approached the building, I could feel my mind turning to mush. It was the kind of meeting that I knew would make me feel ignorant and uninformed, and probably overwhelmed. We were met by a smooth team who made an efficient presentation. I always want to laugh hysterically at meetings like that. It’s so embarrassingly grown up. Are they really talking to me? And on top of it, their presentations are so polished that I can’t figure out what’s sincere, and it is delivered in the jargon of the business world, which I’m not involved in, so I don’t understand half of what they’re saying. Do people really talk like that? I guess they do, but not in my daily life. (Writing a book, I try to make things simple and clear for people, and easy to understand. In business, people talk in terms I don’t understand, in a language I don’t speak, in order to impress one with how important they are. But what are they saying??). I felt about 5 years old, as I squirmed in my chair, felt overwhelmed as I feared I would, and couldn’t wait for it to be over. (Like a kid in church, is it over yet? can we go? I’m hungry…I have to go to the bathroom…I want a drink of water). I hated being in that grown up seat as the object of “A Presentation”. I’m sure they were trying to impress me, but I just wanted to hide in the corner and put a blanket over my head, and have someone tell me when it was over, and translate what they said. Oh good, we can leave now. The presentation was great, I got useful information, with which to make informed decisions. But it confused me anyway. What if I make the wrong decision? What if they’re lying? What if I screw everything up? What if I just don’t know enough to make a good decision? I hate dealing with stuff like that. And it was incredibly comforting having my two friends in the room. They said very little. I made silly nervous awkward remarks, and just felt stupid, and wanted to go home. But I’d look across the table and there they were, the two women who are my friends. I’m not sure if they understood more about the presentation than I did, or are any smarter, but the major point for me was that they were there, I was not alone, I had support and company and their love and friendship. The rest was just a presentation, in a language I barely speak,”business-ese”. I speak four languages, but business-ese just isn’t one of them.

We finally left the presentation, and the presenters were all very nice people. I am in awe of their seeming competence. I couldn’t do what they do, but they probably couldn’t turn 400 blank pages into a good story. So I guess we all have our jobs and talents.

And in the elevator on the way down, I had an epiphany. (appropriately, the meeting had been held on a high floor, with ceiling to floor windows, for a dazzling view, except that I’m afraid of heights, it gave me vertigo as I stayed as far away as possible from the view, and it just heightened the anxiety for me, instead of impressing me. It just made it even scarier for me). But in the elevator after the meeting, suddenly I realized something…..that my two friends had come with me, that I was not alone, that I didn’t need a husband or a partner for a meeting like this, I had them. And since the meeting wasn’t about decisions they had to make, they were probably less scared, and heard it all more clearly than I did, and I could discuss it with them later. They were there. That was the essence of it for me. I no longer had to have a partner to put on the emergency line in the ER form (although it would be nice, but I don’t HAVE to have that, and my life won’t fall apart if I don’t). If my friends will come to a bank meeting with me, then I’m not alone. Someone else doesn’t have to fill out the forms, I can do it, and I can talk to my friends. And even if they don’t say a word in a meeting, they were sitting there like grown ups, while I felt like a kid with her parents, talking to the principal of a new school. I have friends!!!! I wanted to shout as I came out of the building. I can do this!!! I’m not as alone as I feared for the yucky grown up stuff. I suddenly realized that having friends is invaluable, and that these two women are there for me. They came to the meeting, sat there, listened, and saw me through it, and eventually I will ask them what they thought (when my stomach stops doing double flips about it). But for the first time ever, looking down the path to the future, instead of being panicked and thinking I can’t do it all alone, I realized that I can, and my friends will be there for me, these two kind, loyal, loving women who were at the bank meeting with me….and I am there for them too. (I could act like an adult at their bank meeting, just not my own). I wanted to shout, “I can do this!!! I CAN!” instead of the frightened voice in my head in the past that said “I can’t do this alone”. With friends like those two loving women there for me, yes, I can!!!

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15 Comments so far
  1. Simone June 9, 2009 4:29 pm

    Of course you can!

    Danielle getting married and being with the perfect someone forever only happens to very few people.I think you are in a far better position than most women…you have lived a full life,you are not financially dependent on anyone and you don’t have to answer to any man.I would trade your life for mine right now and i’m only 28 years old.You have had two successful marriages that lasted…I know you’ve been married more times but only two have really counted for you.You have kids that love you and you love them back.

    You are not alone! Alone is being broke,living in a trailer park with three kids to feed,and worrying about where your last meal is going to come from.That’s not you!

    If someone told me I could have the option of being in my 60’s,single and successful…living between San Francisco and Paris.I would take it.

    You have beaten all the odds in life…and you have so much life left in you.Who cares if that is not with a partner.You have friends and your kids….and financial freedom.And you have experienced love…some of us never get to experience true love.

    You almost have it all….

  2. Tina June 10, 2009 4:01 am

    Well done to you. Yes – I don’t think any one ever imagines that they would be alone but these things happen and while it’s nice to have a partner, one can still feel very lonely even when married.

    God bless your friends – you are very lucky to have true friends!

    Tina x

  3. Valerie Rodriguez June 10, 2009 7:48 am

    Good for you! You are awesome! I love that you share your stories with us, it helps me to know that I am not alone and that there are other women out there who go through some of the same things I do. Thank you for sharing, you will never be alone in life, there are too many people that love you very much.

    Valerie R

  4. Kim Litchford June 10, 2009 3:05 pm

    Love, we all want it and desire it but few of us actually have it. I am a single mom of five kids and grandmother of two at the age of forty-three. I know exactly how you feel. I have the same thought processes you have expressed in your blog daily. I have been married and divorced three times so I figured three strikes and your out. I married at the age of eighteen to my first husband who unbeknownst to me was an alcoholic. We divorced after three years. Since then he has passed away due to his alcoholism. When I married the second time I just knew this would be the love of my life. I could picture us sitting on the porch in our old age still madly in love. Did not happen. He ended up being worst than my first. He was abusive and also had drug and alcohol addictions. And if that wasn’t enough he was unfaithful. A lot. He did give me four beautiful children. I couldn’t take the abuse and finally escaped after nine years. My third marriage was to a much older man. He couldn’t handle the kids and so after three years we divorced. So I was married around a total of fifteen years. I now have been alone for 10 years. Somedays I love it, other days I hate it. Like you, I sometimes wish I had someone to lean on and help me get through life’s trials and struggles. But the reality is I don’t, at least for now. Having a few good friends helps make it a little less lonely and painful. The one thing we must realize in love and life is there are no guarantees to a happily ever after story. One can create it in books but life is not a book. We don’t have a script to read and follow so we just have to wing it and do the best we can. May we both find love, but if not, let us appreciate the love we have experienced, even if it didn’t last a lifetime. Never give up hope, keep the faith and be thankful for good friends.

  5. Manuela June 10, 2009 7:29 pm

    I visit your website more frequently because as much as I enjoy your writing, I admire how you share your thoughts. That they mirror those of a normal ‘joe’ like me is nothing short of surprising.

    How I relate to your June 9 post! It never ceases to stump me how on the path of my life, by taking a left when I should’ve maybe gone right, has led me to where I am today. For the past few weeks, I’ve been mired in the same thought..”I don’t want to grow old alone.”

    Reading your message has reminded me to put things where I know they can be. We all have good days & bad days & hopefully, true friends… & a dog! Nothing truer! God bless!

  6. kimmi June 14, 2009 8:06 am

    What if … What if a year or two from now you find that perfect man, but he hates banking? Does having the man beside you make you stronger? “What if” is a fear, and just like getting over your fear for flying, you’ll slowly lose your fear of being alone. What if a year or two from now, Danielle feels a sense of complete and strength of her own–without anyone? It’s there, we just don’t realize it, untill we have to.

    ETA: ditto on those ten-dollar words!

  7. Jeanne VanDusen-Smith June 14, 2009 3:17 pm

    ‘Just five minutes ago,I completed reading “His Bright Light”. One of my grandchildren has recently been diagnosed (at age nine), so I’m very grateful for your book. I’m a licensed therapist, but reading your heart-felt, true experiences is more valuable by far than reviewing the literature. And about being a woman alone? Me, too. I didn’t know the last one to ask me would be the…you know. I was widowed at age forty and I’m seventy now. I still long to be cherished by a wonderful man (the human heart doesn’t seem to age, emotionally); but I’m happy, nonetheless. I have my friends and family, oil painting, writing fiction, trying to learn how to become holy (and for such a dickens as I am–that isn’t easy).:+)Short of a few extra heartbeats in high places (acriphobia, like you), I fear nothing. Being a hopeless romantic alone isn’t easy, but there are far worse things. Thank you for sharing your fabulous story-telling skills, and for sharing your painful life experiences. You are a lovely, sensitive, generous lady. Best of blessings. JVDS

  8. Janice Matthews June 16, 2009 12:32 pm

    This is why you understood Nick better than anyone. You are still linked, I hear his voice in your words. Remember all the good advise you gave him. You were his link. Now you just need to heed the advise you gave him. Just take a deep breath, don’t fight it and learn how to get good advise and move through it. You will do fine but its the cards you both were given.

  9. Victoria June 17, 2009 10:22 am

    Danielle, Thank you for all your wonderful books. I am currently listening my way through Bungalo 2, encouraging myself to do treadmill. Also, thank you for the topic of this particular blog.For so many people, feeling like an authentic adult, not like one who feels like she is walking around in her mother’s clothing playing dress-up, sometimes does not happen. It has nothing to do with how much money we have in the bank, or how much honor and prestige we have accumulated in life, or if we have a partner or not. So many times I walk down the street, or sit on a bench in a mall, and wonder how many adults, who are walking past me, feel the same way I do……hoping that nobody notices that they are not sure what it means to be an adult.

    When I was young, I used to imagine that when I was an adult, I would have all my “wits about me” and feel grown up, whatever that means…that I would feel intelligent, poised and confident, the way Jackie Kennedy looked. In reality, it doesn’t seem to matter how many year I accumulate, and I have as many as you, I melt into jello, as you put it, most of the time. Last summer, I learned how to play my first computer game, The Sims2. When a game character transitions from one level of life to another( teen-age to adulthood, for example) they visually get transformed on the screen to what seems to be some other entity all together. I don’t think this happens in reality, although I wish it did. Nobody would have to tell me to “straighten up and fly right” because I was an adult now…it would just automatically happen. It is possible that for some people this really does happen, but for most of us, it does not, and the “jello” meltdown is all too common. When I read in your blog that YOU melt down…I felt sooooo relieved. You are a writing heroine for me, writing all those wonderful stories, and inventing all the male and female characters. I think your characters give me strength, like Gabbie, in the Long Road Home. She was somehow able to go on, when barred from her former existance, to create a new life for herself. The character Joe, was not. I felt the courage in Gabbie, as she walked into her future, not knowing what would be there. But she had courage and kept walking. In my own life, I have started over many times… the same character in a new setting. I guess you just have to be curious about life. For life is like a good Danielle Steel novel…I always want to know happens next…..and how the characters will inspire me to re-mold and re-set my personal “jello” state of the moment. Danielle, only a person who has melted and re-molded themselves, could inspire somebody else to do the same thing. Also, that you have admitted that you, even now, still melt down to a puddle from time to time, shows us that YOU are courageous in yourself. Between the melt-downs, you are your true self, and so are we. Courage wins out!

    Please enjoy the Bay Area for me. Although I no longer live there, I spent most of my life in San Jose.

  10. Meridth Sloan June 17, 2009 12:17 pm

    Hi danielle. i know this doesn’t have much to do with what you are discussing in this particular blog but it’s been on my mind and i just wanted to be able to write you and tell you so i found this blog and figured i could write it here.
    i’m only seventeen but i’ve read your books for many years now and i always read in the back how it said the other books you had written and i always saw “His Bright Light”. so finally one day i went to books-a-million and bought it so i could read it and i can’t even tell you how much it touched me. i found myself laughing and crying at the stories you told and about his life growing up.
    by the end of the book i found myself crying as if i really knew him and i just couldn’t stop.
    i have a job now that a lot of downtime and i needed a book to read so i started to read it again, and it just still touches my heart so dearly.
    your son sounded amazing even through the struggles.
    i know i’m only a kid but i wanted to let you know that that book did show me alot, and helped me learn about manic depressives and their signs so maybe someday i can help someone.

    thank you.

  11. barbara fushulle June 18, 2009 9:14 am

    this was so needed to hear after losing father,mother,brother just last year before my b’day with no husband and noone left but loving friends

  12. Linda St.Cyr June 18, 2009 12:15 pm

    I thought this blog post was brilliant and will speak to your millions of readers especially those of us who have found ourselves alone at one point or another.

    I know this is your personal blog but I just wanted to let you know that I am a huge fan of your writing. I admire you and want you to know that you are my inspiration for starting my writing career.

    Thank you for taking the time to share your life with us and also for telling the powerful stories that you do!

    A loyal fan,

  13. Maria Furtick June 24, 2009 10:04 am

    Hi Danielle,
    You are so right – of course we can! I am recently separated from my husband of 31 years … long story. It is frightening being alone at this stage in my life with the added responsibility of my mentally challenged son, age 27. He is such a joy though.

    I recently started reading for the first time in my entire life and of course, you were my author of choice. I am just finishing Sisters. Wonderful book! I have so enjoyed all of your books. I’ve read 6 in the last month. Ransom was fab! I lost a few fingernails on that one. Thank you for all your wonderful books and stories. Keep ’em coming. I plan to read every one of them.

    Just know that you are never alone as long as you have friends!

  14. Janine Castro June 27, 2009 3:11 pm

    Ms. Steel,

    You write about the power of friendship…how true!!

    After recently going through the worst heartbreak of my life…I have wonderful friends (and family even) who are helping me!!

    How lucky I am! How lucky we all are to have such wonderful friends! For them I am thankful.

    I also want to say thank you for your wonderful books! The honest and true feelings of the wonderful characters you create comes through so well!

    Thank you!

  15. Stephanie August 13, 2009 1:57 pm

    I simply can not believe someone with your talent feels the sting of being alone as well. Yes, I have a child as well but she has a young family and busy…. I’m also alone and recently relocated from the South Bay back to the East Bay and do not know a soul in my community..It’s very odd. I had no idea life after 50 would be so challening. I will continue to smile and face each day as a glorious one.

    Best Wishes To You As Well.
    Stephanie R.