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Transcript: Best of Friends

LAURA STASSI:  This is “Dating While Gray: The Grown-Up’s Guide to Love, Sex, and Relationships.” I'm Laura Stassi. On this episode, three stories of people who have forged strong and meaningful love connections, though romance is not part of the equation. It’s “Best of Friends.”

Remember back in Season 3, when I went swing dancing at Maryland's Glen Echo Park? I heard from a lot of Glen Echo fans after that, including an email from a woman we're calling Jane. She's in her late 60s, has been divorced more than 20 years, and she's a regular at Glen Echo. But Jane's preferred dance style is contra. Basically, it's like square dancing. Jane told me it's easy to pick up, and fun. She invited me to meet her at Glen Echo on a Thursday night. I arrived as the band was warming up.

JANE: Hi, how are you?

LAURA: Hello!

JANE:  This is Laura. Her podcast ….

JOHN: Yeah.

LAURA: That was Jane and another big fan of contra dancing. We're calling him John. He's in his early 60s, has been married and divorced twice. And Jane wanted me to meet him because he's special to her.

(Soundbite of contra dance)

On the dance floor, John and Jane took turns guiding me through the callers’ instructions. I got the hang of it -- sort of.

(Soundbite of contra dance)

LAURA:  It was a lot of fun.

(Soundbite of contra dance)

LAURA: Afterward, I asked Jane and John to talk about their relationship.

JANE: Hey John, why don't you start, and I’ll add. Yeah.

JOHN: So it was … it was probably spring, probably -- maybe what, maybe four years ago?

JANE: Yeah.

JOHN: So I danced when I was younger -- swing dance, all different types of dancing. And so after I separated, divorced, separated from my wife, was looking for just activities to go out and be involved, you know, in society. And so I heard about contra dancing -- actually, my oldest daughter mentioned something to me about, you know, dancing at Glen Echo. And so I looked up on the Glen Echo page and, and there was a variety of different types of dancing, one of which was their swing dance, and then and then contra dance. And so I went to contra dances. And I also went to swing dances. And I met Jane at the contra dance, and we became friends. And it's been a pleasure.

JANE: Well, you know, at contra dancing, you do not need to come with a partner. But you need a partner to dance. And in the beginning, luckily, there were always more men than women. But you look around, and there's a wide variety of ages and types. And John is just a nice-looking, wholesome guy. And so a girlfriend and I who were at the dance together, I think we were sort of always targeting in on John, because John, you're also a very good dancer. And that was something else that you want to have happen, is that you want to be with a good dancer. And so I think in the beginning, Helene and I were fighting over John in the beginning, because he was a good dancer. (Laughter)

She got everybody's phone numbers and just started doing group text. Okay, how about doing this, about doing that? And John was really the one that always showed up. I mean, I have kayaks. And so John would, you know, show up where we were kayaking. And I love to entertain. So you know, I've had him and his daughters over. So yeah, it was just sort of like a group text type of a deal. And whoever showed up, showed up.

JOHN: That's sounds like my recollection too, as far as how things evolved. At the beginning of the dances, people would kind of mingle around and the guys would have to go out and pursue the women because they were in short supply.

JANE: Yeah.

JOHN: And so quickly, the guys, they develop friendships.

JANE: John is a really, really nice guy. I love how he has a fabulous relationship with his daughters. I've met his daughters; I danced with his daughters at contra dancing. So for me, I really didn't want to mess up contra dancing by anything more than just having friends there because I loved it. I just loved going and seeing the people and having such a great time. And for me, I was not going there as a way of meeting people to date. I, like John, have always danced and just love it. So for me, it was an outlet to dance. And I just wanted to keep everybody there on that level. But you know, it was fun. It's fun, you know, flirting a little bit. I mean, it's just, you know, you just, you just have fun. But for me, it was just always to go there and have friendships and have a good time.

JOHN: Yeah. And that's, that's the same for me at this point. You know, I've thoroughly enjoyed my friendship with some of these people that I've met, you know, at the contra dancing, and would enjoy doing other things also. So maybe we'll go on maybe a trip at some point in the future, or …

JANE: Yeah, we've all talked about going on a trip together. And yeah, you're right. I love having a man at an event. It gives a different perspective, it gives a different vibe. And just the conversations are different than just sitting around with a group of women.

JOHN: I think it's healthy too. I think it's very healthy, healthy to have a relationship, you know, good relationships with males and females.

JANE: I sort of thought that you were in a relationship, John. Yeah, I was thrilled for you. I thought that that was great. But it turned out that it wasn't meant to be but no, I don't think that it on my end, it would not have affected it at all. I'm like, you know, the more the merrier. You just want to see your friends happy. And I think that that's what we're all sort of striving for here, is just to be happy and enjoy the rest of our lives. So it would -- yeah, that would not impact our friendship at all.

JOHN: In fact, I think it -- staying friends, if I was in a relationship with another female, it would probably strengthen our bonds, because I would be able to get perspectives from my female friends, which would hopefully help my relationship.

JANE: Oh, that's interesting. Yeah. Uh-huh. Yeah. I think people are missing out if they feel they cannot be friends with somebody of the opposite sex. I really do. They just bring a whole different perspective to life. And I think that that's something that we all can benefit from.

JOHN: I agree. I agree a hundred percent.

LAURA:  So Jane and John are quote-unquote, just friends. Though it seems to me the word “just” implies that a friend relationship like theirs is somehow less than a romantic one. And that reminds me of a voicemail I received.

SUSAN: 07:49
Hi, Laura. This is Susan calling. I met a very nice man who I had a lot in common with but didn't feel a romantic connection. I could tell, however, he was attracted to me. Before our third date, I thought I should say I found him very nice and interesting but felt no spark. I asked, “Would you still be interested in a friend?” He said he was very disappointed but still open to friendship. What happened? Not a peep from him. I can understand he must have felt hurt. But on my end, I feel rather dejected. We were texting a lot for a few weeks. And then I was dropped like a hot potato.

LAURA:  08:29
I asked Jane and John to weigh in.

JOHN: Maybe he already had a lot of female friends, and he was looking for something else. So -- but he probably missed out. Right? So …

LAURA: Yeah.

JANE: Yeah! Yeah.

JOHN: there's, there's always room for more, right? So he probably missed out on a good, real --potential relationship.

LAURA:  I can't see turning down an opportunity to be friends with somebody that I get along with just because it didn't work out in the romance department. But John, are you giving us insight into the male brain here?

JANE: (Laughter)

JOHN: So on the male side, you know, there's always the enjoyment of, you know, other activities too, but that's not -- when you move into that direction, it can cause problems with a relationship and so, it might or it might not. And you know, we're all -- we're all of an age where it's like, okay, we can just enjoy life. So if another male goes out, you know, on a trip, just as friends with a female partner, and they enjoy each other and you know, intimate ways, it could still be a friendly relationship.

LAURA: Yeah.

JOHN: And it doesn't have to go any farther than that. That's my perspective.

JANE: Mm-hmm.

LAURA:  Would that require a conversation? If you're going with somebody who's in a just-friends category, but you're being sexually intimate -- is that what you're referring to when you say intimacy?

JOHN: Yes, I would think yeah, there would need to be, you know, advanced conversations about that.

JANE: Yeah, that needs to be a conversation, the expectations of both parties.

LAURA:  Okay, we’re all in agreement on that. That's great. It strikes me talking to John that generally speaking, maybe men tend to compartmentalize more. And so if they hope that you are going to be more than just friends, and you say you want to be in, in the friend bucket, then they don't want to put you in any bucket because they had you pegged for the more-than-just-friends bucket.

JANE: Mm-hmm. And yeah, and then they're going to lose out because who knows, maybe eventually it would go from something more from friends. But why have expectations right away, when you meet somebody, as to where they're going to fit into your life? I find that that's very narrow-minded.

LAURA:  Personally, I think Jane and John prove that friendships can be a fulfilling arrangement all on their own. No romantic spark necessary. So what happens when your romantic partner is also your best friend, but right as you're breaking ground for your dream home, he bails? We'll hear how one woman copes, and thrives. She chose dinner parties for her true friends. That's after the break.


(Soundbite of dinner party)

LAURA: I'm walking over to the stove in this open kitchen, in this beautiful and big but still cozy house.

(Soundbite of sizzling)

LAURA: Mmm, wish you could have also smelled that sauce. The talented home chef is tonight's host. Let's call her Lindsey. She's 59. And she's calmly finishing with dinner prep while her nine guests enjoy wine and appetizers.

(Soundbite of dinner party)

LAURA: They’re all connected to Lindsey through work or their kids, though they didn't necessarily know each other before tonight, Lindsey has made these dinner gatherings a new tradition in her post- divorce life. Before the other guests arrived, Lindsey told me how these comfort meals came to be. She began by saying something that in all my interviews for this podcast, I've never heard before.

LINDSEY: We started dating our first year of law school, moved here after law school and we got married a couple years later, and had what I thought, honestly, was a perfect marriage.

LAURA: A perfect marriage.

LINDSEY: Honestly, we were a team in all things. He was a very rare person in terms of truly equal. You know, he would go to the grocery store as much as I would. He was a very equal partner in parenting our kids. He was a wonderful listener. He was empathetic. He loved my family, my mom and dad, my siblings. I loved his -- still do. And we were -- we were just a team and a unit. We were a unit of five that, we were happy. We never really fought. We would discuss if we had different opinions, but and I had a -- I was in a line of work that was really demanding, with travel and long hours. And he was so supportive and never resentful. And his parents lived in same town where we lived, and they would always take the kids on Friday nights. And so we would have date nights, and we would go to dinner or to a movie or cook at home. And that was you know, just winding down from the week. That was typically our night.

LAURA: So you made an effort to connect.

LINDSEY: We did. We did.

LAURA:  But then out of the blue, Lindsey's husband of about 29 years said he was unhappy. They tried counseling but after dropping their youngest off at college, he revealed that he was in love with someone else. He and Lindsey had already started building what was supposed to be their dream home.

LINDSEY: So he left. And the next week my brother was diagnosed with cancer, and he died three weeks later. And then my father died seven weeks after that. And so there was this period of about 12 weeks where I didn't know which end was up. But we were -- at the time, you know, building a house just seemed like the absolute last thing that should take priority, and it really didn't. I just kind of put it on hold. But it was, ground had been broken. The contractors were working. I hadn't told any of them what was going on because it was so new and so fresh. But in my grieving, you know, and I was just gone a lot because I was down with my family. And finally when the dust had settled on that, I had a meeting with my architect -- who was a woman, and I went to go meet with her because we would meet whenever I was in town. We would meet to talk about the next phase.

And the house had a garage. And she said, you know, “The next time you come, you need to bring your husband because,” she said, “I don't mean to sound sexist, but a lot of times guys have a real strong opinion about how they want their garage to be.” And, and I just looked at her and she said “What?” And I said, “Well, there's something you need to know.” And I said, “He's gone.” And I said, “I'm sorry, I don't know what to do. I don't feel like I can make any decisions.” And she said, “You don't have to. Why don't you take a month and just figure out if this is really what you want to do, if you want to keep going.” And she said, “We'll meet for coffee in a month.”

And so we did. And at that point, I had decided that this was my dream, too. And I have worked my whole life and had lived in a way that allowed us to save and to do this. And so we met for coffee, and I said, “I want to go forward.” And she said, “Well, then, can I make one immediate design change?” I said, “Yeah, sure.” She said, “Can we knock down that wall between what was going to be your closet and his closet, and just give you a really big closet?” And I said, “Well, yeah, I don't really have that much to put in it, but sure.”

LAURA: Oh, I love it.

LINDSEY: And then there was a time when it was my birthday, and the house was under construction. It was almost finished. But it wasn't quite finished. And I decided I was going to throw myself a birthday party. It was a birthday party and a kind of a housewarming party, but also a gratitude party.


LINDSEY: Because the people who came were people who had -- I was so grateful for. She was there, of course, the architect was there; but my friends and my family and you know, people who when you go through something like this, and you know you have friends. But the support that I felt, I was just so grateful. And so that night of my birthday, quasi birthday, housewarming gratitude party, was one of the best -- it was the first night since he had left that I remember feeling really joyful.

LAURA:  17:10
Aw. You built this house, you had a gratitude party. And you were also accustomed to having Friday night special. So tell me about the evolution of what you call the Friday night dinner parties.

LINDSEY: 17:21
Okay, so my daughter called me one day, she lives in New York. And she said, “Mom,” because she knows I love to cook. And she knew I had this house and that I love having people over. But she said, “I've just gone -- last night I went to this dinner party, and it was so much fun.” And she said “It's people that I barely knew, but I know them. And they have my email address.” And she said, “What they do, it's a married couple. What they do is every quarter, they send an email to pretty much everybody they know. And they say, “it's Friday Night Dinner Time. And the first 10 people who respond back to the email can come to the dinner party.” I said, “Oh my gosh, I would love to do that. But I don't even know how to go about it.” She said, just make a list of the people you know, and just send an email and pick some dates, and just see what happens. So I mean, I've lived here for a very long time. And so I put together a list of people, some of whom I had not seen in years, like 10 years.


LINDSEY: By the time I sent out that invite list, I think it went, by the time you count couples, to over 100 people.

LAURA: Oh, my.

LINDSEY: And the first 10 people who respond, and I gave four different Friday nights that I was gonna be doing this. And so people wrote me back, and people were so excited. And they would tell me what nights they could come. And then I created a spreadsheet with people's availability. And then I've created like a visual thing that I had, where I would put post-it notes on, like different days when people could come. And then I would write back and say, “You’re on…”

LAURA: This is your slot.

LINDSEY: Yeah, this is your slot. And I would ask for dietary restriction -- which is one of the lessons I've learned. I tried to do probably too much early on, in terms of accommodating all of that.

LAURA: Was there ever in your mind the idea, “oh, this could be a way for me to meet someone”?

LINDSEY: Yes. Yes, that was and in fact, my friends would say, you need to have your friend -- your single friends or even couple friends just bring somebody. But that hasn't happened.

LAURA: It hasn't happened.

LINDSEY: It has not happened. No. It has not happened. If anybody had said I was going to be single, and it will now it'll be six years in October, I would not have been able to envision that person. But I feel stronger and happier and actually, a really good friend of mine -- we went to dinner this summer and she said, “You're a different person.” And she said, “I don't think that you would have been this joyful and willing to try new things and do new things and put yourself out there for new experiences.” like the dinner parties or travel or, I mean, I've done some things that are outside of my comfort zone. And she said, “I don't think you would have done that. And aren't you glad that you have? You would have never wanted this to be the reason. But you have, and you're, you're good and you're solid.” And I am.

LAURA:  Pre-pandemic, Lindsey hosted dinner parties every few months. The one I attended is the first she's had in a couple of years. She's hoping it's the first of many more to come. So am I.

(Soundbite of dinner party)

LAURA: For better, for worse, in sickness and in health. These are some of the promises we make when we tie the knot. My neighbor Suzanne did, to Tom. She's in her early 50s. And they met on a river tubing trip after college. It was organized by their alumni association.

SUZANNE: He was really funny. He was cracking jokes, he had a big smile on his face, he was very open and friendly. It turned out that he'd had his wisdom teeth removed the day before. But he was like, “No, it's all good. I'm gonna go and have a party on this alumni trip, we're gonna go tubing, it's going to be fun, we're going to have a great time.” So he was just really -- he was, we were quoting lines from funny movies. And just, you know, he was with two other friends of his, and I was with one friend of mine. And the five of us were just like joking it up all day, it was. It was just really fun. He was fun to be around. Three years later, we got married.

LAURA:  So if you can, I know it's so hard to kind of, I don't know, label things as “oh, we were happy,” or “oh, there was -- problems from the beginning.” But if you can sort of give me an idea of your relationship.

SUZANNE: Um, when things were good, they were great. He was really fun to be around. He was super, super, super smart. I mean, he was very, very intelligent. And I really liked that about him. He was fun to talk to and had all kinds of really interesting ideas. But he was also difficult, you know. He had a challenging upbringing, some family dynamics that were, you know, weird or whatever. And he had a lot of inner demons that didn't realize were, you know, he had nothing to compare them to, you know, he had his nothing to compare his own experience to.

LAURA:  In 2016, Suzanne and Tom separated. It was one of those awkward and tense splits. Tom moved out of the bedroom and into the basement while they talked about divorce and division of assets. After about a year and a half, a house right around the corner came on the market. It was the impetus needed for divorce because Tom wanted to stay close to the kids. He bought that house and moved out of Suzanne's, and their divorce became final.

SUZANNE: He was in therapy and was trying to work on some of his anger-management issues. And he decided that he wanted to be friends with me. And I said, “Well, I don't know that I can just be friends with you.” You know, a lot of crazy stuff has happened. He did some bad things while we were separated. And, you know, I really was not sure if we could be friends. But, you know, I was willing to be friendly, because obviously we have kids together; we have, you know, 30 -- well, not quite 30, 25 years, you know, of history together at the time, and you know …

LAURA:  And you’re neighbors.

SUZANNE: Right. Well, that too. And, you know, and he wasn't a bad person, you know, it's not like all the good parts had gone away. They were still there. It was just, there was a lot of other stuff. And I was like, “I don't know if I can really be friends with you. But I'm not un-friends with you.” So I was like, “Let's just kind of take it one day at a time and see what happens.” And he would like, invite me over to watch a movie at his house. Like with the kids sometimes or even without the kids. He was like, if you want to just come over and hang out. I was like, “I don't know. I'm not sure if I'm really comfortable with that.” But, you know, we went out to dinner once and we, you know, just sort of hung out a little bit. And I was like, this is okay. And he actually at one point asked if I wanted to get back together, if I would consider it. And I said “No, I'm not. That ship has sailed.” And he was like, okay, you know, “I understand. I'm sorry to hear it. But you know, I understand.” And he had made a lot of progress with the therapy and so things were kind of at an equilibrium, if you will.

LAURA:  So your divorce was in 2018.


LAURA: Then, something happened.

SUZANNE: So Tom started smoking at a young age. And in the fall right around Thanksgiving or so of 2020, he got pneumonia again. And at first didn't tell me about it. But then I heard through the kids; I guess they mentioned it or something. And obviously, it was in the midst of the COVID pandemic. And so treatment was slow for – you know, getting appointments for things was difficult. But eventually, you know, he got scans done and stuff, and they discovered a mass in his left lung. I actually had breast cancer in 2010.

LAURA: Oh, I’m sorry.

SUZANNE: And so I had, both of my parents had also had cancer. My dad had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and my mom had breast cancer two years before I did. So, you know, I had experience with going through the cancer process, and you know, what it entails, and …

LAURA:  So the fact that you had cancer -- that, I mean, I dislike smoking as well. And I can see where it would be annoying and frustrating. But the fact that you were a cancer survivor, being around a smoker, that must have magnified …

SUZANNE: It was bad. I mean, it was just something and you know, like I said, I could never marry a man who smoked. And yet here I was, married to a man who smoked, and I was like, “Well, how did this happen?”

LAURA: Yeah.

SUZANNE: He called me, or I called him -- whatever. And I said, “I know you were having some tests done. Have you heard the results?” And he told me, and he was planning to get treated at one local hospital. And I said, “Well, this other local hospital is better for cancer treatment, I recommend that you go to this other one instead.” And he said, “I'm really bad at managing all these things.” You know, in our marriage, I had done all the paperwork, all the bills, all the everything. He was not good at logistics, and not good at daily minutiae. So I had handled all that. He said, “You're so good at all that stuff. Will you come with me to the appointments? Because they're going to say stuff, and I'm not going to know what they mean. And, you know, having to keep track of all the appointments and stuff, it's going to be really hard for me, will you come with me?” And I said, “okay,” because what am I going to say? I mean, you know, I couldn't say no -- you know, “Screw yourself, you're on your own.”

LAURA:  How much of this were you doing for yourself, how much of you -- if it was for him? Or how much of it was for your kids?

SUZANNE: Um, I don't know. I mean, I just, I mean, part of it was, obviously, for the kids. I mean, he's their dad. And I didn't feel like I could say to them, you know, “Your dad's sick, but I'm not going to help.” I mean, that just doesn't, couldn't do that. But I mean, also just for my relationship with him over the years. I mean, he really didn't have a lot of other friends. He wasn't close to his brothers and sisters. You know, he knew a lot of people, but he was not great about keeping in touch with them and didn't want to like, start calling people up and saying, “Hey, I'm sick, come help me.” So he didn't have a network of people that he could really rely on. And I didn't feel like I could just wash my hands and walk away.

It, you know, it gradually got worse. I mean, he was fairly stable. He had, you know, shortness of breath, but it was manageable. And he had this pain in his shoulder. But again, we started seeing a pain-management specialist. And that was, you know, more or less under control.

LAURA:  And you're saying “we.” So did you help him find these ne- , the nutritionist, the specialist …

SUZANNE: Yeah, yeah, all of that.

LAURA: So you helped him find them. You were his partner in this.

SUZANNE: Yeah. Yeah.

LAURA: I'm wondering, did you have legal documentation, or did you ever feel like you needed legal documentation in place during this?

SUZANNE: 28:48
Last year after he was diagnosed, I have a lawyer that I was using, you know, that my mom had used to write her will and set up a trust. And so I had used him to set up a will and a trust for me. And I said, “If you'd like, I can help you get in touch with him.” And so he set up a will and a trust for the kids, and I am his executor. And I had power, medical power of attorney and the trustee for the trust, and all that. We had all those documents made up last year.

LAURA: I don't know why, all of a sudden, that makes me really sad. I mean, or emotional because, oh.

SUZANNE: Yep. It was really hard. It was really hard. But I mean, who else was gonna do it? I didn't have any choice. I mean, I couldn't do anything else.

LAURA:  I would say that you did have a choice and you chose -- I mean, honestly, it was an act of love for your kids.

SUZANNE: None of this was supposed to happen. We weren't supposed to get divorced. We were supposed to stay married forever. Because that’s …

LAURA: … what you do.

SUZANNE: Right. And when we went into it, that was the plan. You know, we didn't go in thinking, “Oh, we'll be married for a while, and then we'll split up.” You know, we thought that this was going to be forever. So that didn't go as planned. And then he wasn't supposed to get sick, and he wasn't supposed to die. But that didn't work out that way, either.

LAURA: Yeah.

SUZANNE: So but, you know, I don't know -- there's nothing that I think I could have done differently, given the universe that I'm in.

LAURA:  Tom died in the summertime. He was 59 years old. And boy, that story gets to me, because it strikes me that Suzanne did keep the promises she made to Tom on their wedding day, even though the marriage itself didn't last. And that different kind of love enabled Suzanne to be Tom’s source of strength, his best friend. Feels to me like that's an especially powerful love.

END CREDITS: Dating While Gray is produced in partnership with North Carolina Public Radio. For more on the show, check out That's also where you can find links for sending voicemails and emails. I'd love to hear from you. I'm Laura Stassi. Thanks for listening.