• Barbarella
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Friends are generally of the same sex, for when men and women agree, it is only in the conclusions; their reasons are always different.

-- George Santayana

I knew they'd say yes. No woman in her right mind would turn down wine, chocolate, or cheese, and I was offering all three intoxicating pleasures along with a bonus fourth -- stimulating discourse with like-minded ladies. The Evite I'd received indicated this event was for "women and brave men." To suit my motives, however, I insisted that each invitee leave her courageous counterpart at home. The five of us had never been together sans men, and I was curious to test the dynamic. If things went as I thought they might, I would have myself a bona fide coterie that -- as a metropolitan woman -- I craved. I'm finicky about females. This may have something to do with the fact that I grew up with three sisters and no brothers -- boys were a novelty, to be collected and examined, while all girls suffered my comparison to the standards of blind loyalty and biting humor set by my siblings.

People who like themselves have no need for pretenses, and women who are content in their own lives lack the competitive urge to be catty. Each of the women invited out on this momentous Wednesday was satisfied in her job, happy with her man, and confident in her opinions. Our only poverty, I believe, was the dearth of a positive experience with a group of other women. I used to think that girls, with all of their insecurities and competitiveness, made bad friends. But that's only because, as a young woman, I was insecure and competitive. Before I figured out who I was and what I wanted, I was incapable of fostering real friendship, and I have the relationship carnage to show for it.

The tasting event was called PMS Wednesday (opportunely timed for me), put on by the female-owned Tango Wine Company. There's no underestimating the comfort of being around fellow members of the fairer sex when one is bloated and crampy. Men, for all their sympathy and reverence, just can't relate to the trials and tribulations of tampons. But this outing wasn't about my hormones and temporary anemia; it was about feminine camaraderie and forging friendships.

Bringing together a group of people who barely know each other is like baking a cake with uncommon ingredients---- you're unsure how each part might react when mixed and heated. And I had exotic, strong flavors to blend with.

Jen, my horror-movie partner, is a dirt-bike-riding redhead who works in a machine shop. She's shy and quiet in a crowd, but unrestrained and outrageously irreverent once it thins out. Rosa, black-haired and red-lipped, is as elegant and handsome as the flower for which she is named and possesses in her stem the same sharp defenses. She is soft-spoken, poised, and always glamorous in huge bangle jewelry and solids accented by very pointy, spiked heels. Janet's shiny straight hair is auburn with light-blonde streaks, representing her varied passion for art, reading, politics, and entertaining. Authentic, thoughtful, solid, and forthright, Janet makes no attempt to veil her opinions. Both Rosa and Janet are executives for major corporations. Amy is aesthetically suited for her career in outside sales. This petite blonde bombshell's closet is a feminine river of soft and satiny silk. Amy is a dedicated foodie and doesn't hesitate to travel by plane for the sole purpose of dining at a nice restaurant about which she's read.

Then there's me. I could be flattering, but we all know Barbarella is the control freak -- the active ingredient in this bowl, the yeast that makes the dough rise, the salt that draws out the flavors. I had to be careful; I know from experience that it's easy to add too much salt and that once you do, the dish is ruined. In this case, it turned out that a dash was all that was needed.

Jen and I arrived promptly at 5 o'clock and grabbed the first two glasses of wine and nibbles of chocolate before the rest of the chairs had even been set out. We watched as the place filled up with gals in office clothing and the occasional guy in a tie. Janet, Amy, and Rosa appeared in quick succession.

Conversations flowed in and out, minus the awkward deluges and droughts that plague many first meetings. Like the string section in an orchestra, a few of us would seamlessly break off to form sidebars and then slip back into the greater harmony right before the next crescendo.

"I feel like an idiot," I said, after returning to the group from a lone excursion to fetch cheese. In answer to their puzzled expressions, I explained how I'd seen someone I thought I knew and called her name several times to no avail. I finally poked her on the shoulder and said, "Erin? Hey. Don't you know my sister?" The girl had paused to stare blankly before shaking her head and saying sorry. "I hate when that happens, I should have just kept to myself," I complained to my friend. "I feel stupid."

"Don't," snapped Janet. "It's her fault. I mean, she shouldn't be walking around with such a common face."

"Yeah, fuck her, that common face ," said Jen. The air grew quiet. Amy and Rosa waited and watched, as though gauging the air for any hint of tension. Janet and Jen's comments were absurd, some might even say offensive. In the next second, all five of us burst into laughter. The underlying message was clear: "No matter how irrational I have to be, I've got your back."

The noise in the store had grown loud, so we caravanned to a more intimate establishment for dinner. As we waited for our food, Janet described how, during meetings with arrogant older men, she regains the upper hand by reminding herself that sometimes "they fail to recognize my large mental penis." The laughter continued. At some point in the evening, each woman at the table professed her satisfaction and glee for her seat there.

"Usually, when you first meet people, you put filters up," Janet told me later. "You don't want to say something for fear it might offend someone or sound stupid. But that night, I felt like I didn't need any filters. I could just say what was on my mind. When I went home, I told Andrew, 'Either I'm funnier than I think I am or these people get me.'"

I knew what she meant. Something had felt easy about the evening. When I got home that night, I recounted my adventure to David as excitedly as my niece would describe meeting Ariel the mermaid in the flesh. "There was nothing negative. I mean, I can appreciate a good rant, but it was really nice to have an evening of discussion without anyone stinking up the air with their dirty laundry or foul sentiments."

"I told the woman who was cutting my hair about how cool it was to be around a bunch of women where no one's trying to get the most attention," Jen later told me. "Conversation came naturally without anybody pushing it. So often, women get together and bitch about stuff; but everyone there was so happy, stoked about what they do for a living, and in healthy relationships." When I asked Jen what she thought of another woman we had met at the event, she indicated that she didn't think the woman was quite ready for the rest of us. Responding sagely, she said, "I don't think she's found a comfortable her yet."

Basking in the post-conjoinal bliss of our night out, I wondered if this schoolgirl crush we all seemed to have on each other would fade, and then I dismissed the notion as I began rooting through my DVDs and thinking about which wines to pull. This Friday, I've got a hot date to watch The Color Purple .

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