Friday, March 28, 2008

Hold on to Your Friends

All in all, some pretty good advice:


From Friday's Globe and Mail
March 28, 2008 at 9:11 AM EDT

A reader writes: My wife and I have been very close friends with another couple for more than 30 years. We are all in our late 50s. We have shared and supported each other through the births of our children, the deaths of our parents, health crises and career changes. But over the past three years they started spending weekends away in a small trailer.

Being curious, and based on cumulative facts gleaned over time, we Googled some of their camping locations. It seemed our friends had become naturists ... nudists. Then we saw their picture in a naturist magazine. Now, we are not prudes - skinny-dipping is not foreign to us. Our problem is that it seems our friends have decided to move on to a new chapter of their lives without including us. Do we tell them we know or do we simply ignore the whole thing and hope they will eventually take us into their confidence?

The answer

Regular readers of this column will know I'm all about hanging on to old friends. Recently I quoted Polonius from Hamlet: "Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried/Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel."

But on the other hand, there's such a thing as taking a hint. And it does appear, at first blush, your friends are kicking you to the hamper like yesterday's boxers.

Sometimes we need to peel off old friends, like a pair of too-tight jeans, in order to grow and evolve.

I discovered the truth of this when I went away to college.

My high-school friends knew me as "crazy Dave." Class clown, streaker, stoner, shoplifter, bookworm, the long-haired hippie freak in ratty jeans, wire-rimmed glasses, and my dad's army jacket. I was also "no-date Dave" - in all of high school I had one date and the whole thing was a lecture on why I never got dates.

But to the downy limbed beauties of Middlebury College in Vermont, I wanted to reinvent myself and be known as Dave the haunted, slightly troubled troubadour; Dave the romantic poet; Dave the playwright, dropping aphorisms and bon mots like President Johnson dropped bombs on Vietnam. Above all, Dave "the lover."

To my amazement and everlasting joy, they bought it. I'm not one to kiss and tell, but suffice to say for the next four years the new Dave was perhaps among the happiest young men on the eastern seaboard.

But my high-school friends would never have allowed this metamorphosis to occur. They would have mocked my scarf and pretensions. They wouldn't have allowed me to "fake it until I make it."

Maybe your friends are thinking along similar lines. Maybe they're worried that (warning: tortured metaphor approaching) unless they untether the belt of your friendship, they'll never be able to drop their old selves to the floor and step forward into the sunshine of a brave nude world.

To get a sense of whether this could possibly be the case, I spoke to Stéphane Deschênes, owner of the Bear Oaks Family Naturist Park in Ontario, and member of the Federation of Canadian Naturists.

He said you shouldn't take your friends' secretiveness personally. They're probably just nervous about your judgment.

Naturism is about many things, he says, including equality: "When you're naked you can't express your feelings of social superiority over others through your clothing."

But when most people think of nudist clubs or societies (don't say "colonies," they don't like that any more: it sounds too much like a cult), they tend to think (or maybe this is mostly me) of alfresco sex; unbidden, total giveaway erections; and not knowing where to look when you're talking to someone.

(Personally, if I were a nudist and a hot woman, I'd get a tattoo on the upper part of my left breast, saying: "If you're reading this, you're probably not listening to me. Shall I repeat what I just said?")

There's still a stigma attached to it, and Mr. Deschênes said a lot of naturists find it hard (cough cough, sorry) to tell old friends about their new clothing-optional lifestyles.

He says he didn't tell a lot of people at first. When friends found out after he appeared on a cable TV talk show extolling the virtues of doffing your duds, many asked him: "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because it wasn't like I'd taken up golf and could ask them, 'Hey why don't you play a few rounds with me?' " he says.

It's a ticklish thing and continues to be ticklish at times. He says to this day when people invite him to pool parties they sometimes nervously ask him if he plans to, you know - that is, if he wouldn't mind wearing a suit, please.

But he says that, especially if your friends have contributed to a naturist magazine, they're probably quite passionate about it. And he predicts that if you approach them, "you probably won't be able to get them to shut up about it."

In all likelihood, they'll feel a huge sense of relief, and be more than happy to welcome you into the fold, should you so desire.

So yes, I would say: doff your reticence, approach your friends and whip out your knowledge of the new direction their lives are taking. Just say you saw them in the magazine and start talking about that. If you wind up nudists - well, I have to say it sounds like a fun way to spend your weekends. Send me a postcard.

Of course, there's a chance your friends' evasiveness might have nothing to do with naturism. And I can imagine a horrible, embarrassing scene where you're all standing around naked sipping Cuba libres and they say: "No, it wasn't that we were embarrassed by our naturism. We were just bored of you guys."

But that doesn't sound like the case here. Mostly because of the timing. If you're as close to your old friends as you say, it's just too big a coincidence that they started being evasive about the time they became naturists.

If you approach them with open hearts and minds, I predict you will soon be a happy foursome once again, perhaps playing nude gin rummy in the sun.

If you do go that route, one last note, courtesy of Mr. Deschênes: Naturists love being nude, they love playing basketball and frolicking in the buff, but they're practical about it, too. They understand the need for clothing as protection: "I like to tell people," he says, 'Wear an apron when you're arc-welding or frying bacon.' "

Now that, my friends, is what I call good advice. And don't forget lots of sunscreen.
David Eddie is a screenwriter and the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad.


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