I’ll be honest: the last time I had a girls’ weekend was around 1980, when I had a summer beach rental with friends in Avalon, New Jersey. Back then girls weekend happened every weekend in the summer, when we’d patiently wait in Atlantic City Expressway traffic Friday nights to get to our threadbare apartment a few blocks from the beach.
If it were a movie, the soundtrack would include Jackson Browne, Climax Blues Band, the Bee Gees and our very bawdy parody of “On the Way to Cape May.” The most iconic scenes would be a drunken toga party (popular after “Animal House”); a raucous evening of dirty word Scrabble; disco dancing to Thelma Houston at the Whitebrier Bar; the pot smoke and Tom Petty music that drifted constantly from a neighboring rental known only as “The Zippo House;” a guy nicknamed “Bulge” who hosted a grain alcohol-soaked party each year to celebrate his divorce anniversary; and the time two of my friends pulled a third friend’s boyfriend into the shower with them.
While our Avalon weekends had a girls-gone-wild vibe at times, they had another pulse, which started faintly but grew stronger with each passing summer as we moved through our 20s. The late-night hookups on the beach, the pina coladas and Tom Collinses, the hours of pre-Whitebrier preening, the confidences, the gossip and strategizing…all the while we drifted, then paddled furiously, towards our unspoken goals of love, marriage, children, homes, stability. Once that happened the togas and disco dresses were mothballed in memory, replaced with wedding gowns, maternity clothes, practical mommy gear, back-to-work clothes from Banana Republic, flattering midlife wardrobes from Chico’s and Talbot’s.
For me, girls weekends had become a frivolous indulgence, available only to women without jobs, children, chores, financial obligations or guilt. I heard stories about other women who indulged in spa getaways or drunken ski weekends with their Bunco pals, but demurred when I was invited anywhere.
But without a fulltime job for the first time in years, and with a 13-year-old happy to spend a weekend with just his dad, I finally gave in. Last weekend I joined my friends Jane and Susan at Jane’s cottage in West Yarmouth, Cape Cod for a middle-aged “girls’ weekend” of beach walks, kayaking, movies, food, conversation, wine and gossip…everything except men.
On Friday we met up at the Cape Cod Canal with Jane’s friend Kathy for a four-mile walk; in late afternoon we set up chairs and a small folding table on the beach for Mike’s Hard Lemonade, artichoke dip and conversation. Our only admirer was a duck-sized seagull who loitered nearby and wouldn’t move, even after we threw shells at him.
Saturday morning we took a beach kayak up the Bass River, blessed by a refreshing breeze and brilliant sky. My arms got tired easily but I kept it up, drinking in the pure air and the views of gracious white homes, green lawns tumbling down to weathered docks, sleek powerboats and humble dinghies along the river.
At the dock we talked with a 94-year-old woman who had lost her middle-aged daughter to cancer two years earlier to the day. Clutching a small white paper bag, she had come to the dock to throw nonpareils, her daughter’s favorite candy, into Bass River, where her ashes had been scattered. She spoke lovingly to her daughter’s spirit as her aged hand reached into the crisp white bag again and again. She pasted a tender smile over her pain.
Later came a walk on the beach, where we marveled at an abandoned sand village of empty horseshoe crab shells; five miles of biking and a great fish dinner. The moon was full that night and its light sparkled on the ocean when we left the restaurant at 9 p.m. We turned in at around 11 p.m., around the same time we’d be going out during my last girls weekend. But before that, in a nod to the ghosts of our younger selves, we enjoyed shots of orange liqueur.
And I realized, as we move through middle age and savor our families and the wisdom gained since our 20s, how time with friends is still good for the mind and soul. It’s no longer a luxury.