"You'll feel better if you talk about it." Then they lean in eagerly, proffering an inquisitive ear.
But we are not all the same. Not everyone desires to upchuck their emotional guts. Some find such withholding to be unnatural, unhealthy. If only they knew what the other side thought of them . . .
In Betsy Lerner's memoir, she recalls her misunderstanding of her mother's staid, dignified bridge group, chafing and clashing against their expectations while yearning for their approval.
But in 2013, as her mother, Roz, was recovering from an operation, the author resolved to make peace. She began her campaign by infiltrating the bridge circle, intending to break through the ladies’ polished surfaces and gain a deeper understanding of their inner lives, and, she hoped, her mother’s.
Sitting with Roz, Bette, Bea, Jackie and Rhoda (the club had five members, in case one had a conflict), she eavesdropped as they bid, passed and took tricks. For years, she had imagined that during card play, the women let down their guards, spilled secrets, groused about their spouses and worried about their children.
Instead, she found, to her disappointment, they did not ever “trash anyone” or “share a deep feeling.” Their commandments were: “Thou shalt not pry. Thou shalt not reveal. Thou shalt not share.”
To her surprise, this was no wine-fueled contemporary "book club."
Week after week, these women met, played bridge, and kept conversation way above the depths.
With Bette, she brought up a tragedy that her mother had always refused to discuss: the death of Ms. Lerner’s baby sister, Barbara, in 1964, from pneumonia.
Had the ladies known about it? the author asked. “Everyone knew,” Bette replies. Had her mother spoken of it, during all those bridge Mondays? “Not once,” Bette says.
Ms. Lerner found such reticence callous. Yet, gradually, grudgingly, she came to accept that TLC did in fact exist in the pre-TMI world. Just because a bridge luncheon didn’t operate like a therapy session didn’t mean it wasn’t therapeutic, she saw. For the ladies, it was a safe, neutral zone where they went to recharge as they weathered life’s blows, keeping up appearances and their spirits as they trumped, finessed and ate kugel from china plates.
She writes, “I never thought I would say this, but I think the Bridge Ladies are brave.”
"Talking it out," I have found, is not always magically cathartic. For a number of issues, hashing them to death will not help. These women craved stability and structure; when life threatened their balance, they were able to re-attain their equilibrium with a weekly ritual amongst their comrades.
Yes, in an ideal world, we could be vulnerable with one another without fear. Brené Brown has started the revolution; perhaps a wholehearted future awaits us. But we should respect the previous generations' means of perseverance, when presence was needed more than words.