The Crush Letter No 18

. 16 min read

Hello Crush,

Happy Fourth of July! I hope that you are celebrating with those you love - family and friends.

Today I am thinking about friendship. I believe that many of us under-value our close friends, under-develop our skills at making and maintaining friends and under-prioritize our important friendships in relation to other imperatives. Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck recently wrote an article where he asked his readers to imagine being single forever. A sucky thing, he posited, but you could still have "a pretty bitchin' life." (Just ask me.) But then Manson asks you to "Imagine that tomorrow, you lose all of your friends and will never have any friends ever again."  No friends for the rest of your life?  "Well, let's just say that these are the things that suicides are made of," says Manson. (He's never subtle.) (Manson's article The 5 Levels of Friendship is behind a paywall here, but here is his related insta post.)  

I'm also digging in on friendshp this week. Let me start by saying thank you for being one.

In This Letter.  +The Dish on the Midlife Friend Audit (Part 1). You need good friends. But who is good?  +Love/Sex/Moon Magick. Hey There, Lover!  In her third column, our resident Wiccan Lynn Eaton takes a deep dive into The Lovers tarot.+5 Things That Turn On PrimeCrush contributor Lady Verity. +DEVOUR.  What to do, read, watch, listen to & know about this week.  Starting with Evie Arnaude's review of the classic novel The Lover by Marguerite Duras. +Our Song of the Week.  Because love is touching souls.

The Dish on the Midlife Friend Audit. You Need Good Friends, But Who Is Good? (Part 1)

You need friends. I wrote about how critical they are to our lives and happiness in Six Ways to Find the Friends Who Count and Why You Need Them in Letter No  7. In that article I cited Eric Barker and the shocking stats he published from an epidemiologic study of 300,000 people to determine fatality correlations. They considered the usual lifestyle and environmental factors: drug and alcohol intake, smoking, sleep, etc, etc. Only two things made a huge difference: frequency of social support and how integrated they were in their community. In other words, friends. In the recent book by psychologist Robin Dunbar Friends: Understanding the Power of our Most Important Relationships (Little Brown and Company, 2021), Dunbar writes:

“It will no doubt get me into trouble with the medical profession, but it is not too much of an exaggeration to say that you can eat as much as you like, drink as much alcohol as you want, slob about as much as you fancy, fail to do your exercises and live in as polluted an atmosphere as you can find, and you will barely notice the difference. But having no friends or not being involved in community activities will dramatically affect how long you live.”

So, you need friends. But you don’t need to be everybody’s close friend. As I argued in the Six Ways piece, you need a friendship budget.

Halfway through the pandemic, I joked to a then-boyfriend that if the pandemic was good for anything, it was for considering who belongs where in your circle. If they belong at all. “Because if you can’t use a pandemic to shake yourself free, you’ll never lose them.” (PS: he and I took optimal use of the pandemic to lose each other.)

Pandemic aside, though, typical midlife transitions - a move, becoming an empty nester, retiring, trauma - can and should cause shifts in your friendship circle. As Kate Murphy says in her New York Times article “The Pandemic Shrank Our Social Circles. Let’s Keep It That Way,” a brush with mortality forces you to re-prioritize. That’s a good thing.

Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck wrote about what he calls the five levels of friendship. “Because few stop to think about the quality of their friendships and whether or not they’re surrounded by assholes.” His levels go from “Hey, It’s That Guy” to “We’re Practically Family”.  I recommend it here.

I tend to think in concentric circles myself, with the innermost circle representing those whose heart I carry with me in my heart (to steal from the great poet e.e. cummings).  This is the model my Mother taught me in my late teens after someone I had climbed up mountains for when she needed me had not (metaphorically speaking) sauntered down the block when I needed her to reciprocate. My characteristically matter-of-fact mother said, “She’s always been self-involved. Maybe she shouldn’t be in your innermost circle? I think you want to keep her as a friend, but knock her back a ring or three. I bet she doesn’t even notice.”

Here are some things we should all consider as we determine which friends we are giving our most to - who belong in the center of our circles.

1. How do you feel when you are with them?

This has become one of my most important barometers, and it’s a new thing for me.  It’s something I picked up from reading Logan Ury, author of How Not To Die Alone. It’s a dating book, but her approach is equally useful for reflecting on friends. Ury says stop going on dates with checklists and educational, financial and physical criteria. That’s “evaluative” dating and it’s the wrong mindset.  Even common interests aren’t relevant, she said.

What is? Having an experiential mindset, according to Ury. In other words, how do you feel when you are with them?  Ury offers up a “post date eight” assessment - a series of eight questions to ask yourself that explore how you felt during the date - things like did you feel “stiff or relaxed?” “high energy or drained?” “curious or bored?” “listened to or talked over?”

These are just as relevant when considering who to keep close as a friend. Here is how I feel when I’m with my closest friends: Expansive. Fun. Curious. Stylish. At ease. Listened to. Understood. Weird (the good kind). (Not all of these things all of the time, and every once in a while none of them. But usually some of them.) When I walk into my friend kt’s kitchen, I can literally feel the tension in my neck imperceptibly release. I know that I can bring every part of me there.

You know the friends you’re reluctant to share your wins with because they can’t be genuinely happy for you? Friends you do a lot of self-censoring with? Friends you need to recover from? You can’t afford to have them in the circle closest to your heart.

2. Are They Someone Who Shows Up for Their Friends?

Some people get the importance of friends. They organize their lives in a way that allows them to honor their important friendships. Others just don’t fit friends in. They have (or leave) no space for friendship.

The people who show up are the most important. Of course sometimes even the most devoted friends have a conflict, but if it is truly critical and you need them, you should feel like the ones in your innermost circle tried to move mountains. Who reorganized their day to find you a lawyer when you got pulled over for DUI in a city hundreds of miles away (like Austin, TX, and nobody got hurt …)?  Keep that person.

The 30’s and 40’s find a lot of us at the crux of the killer combination of careers, heavy-duty child rearing, aging parents and marriage, for instance. Those are tough years for friendships, even for those who value it. One of the gifts of hitting 50 was that some of that eased up and left more space.

But let’s be honest, some don’t value friendship. Not really. In the world of my day job I am surrounded by people who, as Arthur Brooks wrote in his article “‘Success Addicts’ Choose Being Special Over Being Happy, value their own exceptionalism above most everything, including their relationships. There are some people you can love and admire without putting them in your innermost circle. Success addicts are them.

You’ve got to play the long game in friendship, and you’ve got to cut others the slack (and understanding) that you’d want them to do for you. So on some level you might be asking yourself about a friend, is this a crunch period or do they just not value friendship? It’s not always immediately evident, but this gets answered in time. The bottom line is that we all need friends in our innermost circle who have intentionality around friendship.

3. Convenience, Shared Interests and Transactional Relationships

Don’t confuse proximity, shared interests, the parents of your child’s best friend, the funnest person you've ever met or a big rolodex with the qualities above. We need helpful neighbors, friends to play golf with, car pools, to have fun, to network  — but we also need friends who make us feel good and show up for us. Reflecting on who is what is the mark of this wisdom thing they say we get as we mature. You can't prioritize and "inner circle" (yes I just turned that into a verb) anyone who is not doing the latter regardless of whether they do any or all of the foregoing. I spent my 20's and 30's believing that anyone who I had fun with was a best friend. And then I noticed who showed up for me at (and after) my late husband's funeral at 41. Fun is not the same as true. (Though sometimes you get lucky.)

Shared interests are a terrific basis from which a deeper friendship can grow. But it is not enough on its own for you to get the kind of soul-fulfilling experience you get (and need) from friends who make you feel seen+beautiful, and who show up for you over time.  On the other hand, some of the friends you’ve had the longest and shared the most important moments with now have lives and interests that don’t resemble yours. Maybe your life has gone from afternoons at 4H Club meet-ups in the country to late nights at jazz clubs in New York City, while she became a country vet. But if she still shows up and makes you feel seen, find the thing you can do together now. Two-stepping at the local dive. Scrabble. A walk. There is something. Find it.


The important thing to remember about doing a friend audit is that by being conscious of who to keep closest, you are doing the grown-up and important act of being a friend to yourself.  Who you hold close reflects who you are (now) and who you want to be, and it determines what kind of love and support will be reflected back at you.  And by recognizing that your life and your friends’ lives have evolved into a place where some might be moved “out a ring or three” (as my Mother put it), you are also opening up space to move the friends you need and deserve now into the center.  See you later, Soccer Dad. Step right up, Thelma & Louise.

In my next article on Midlife Friendships I’ll go further into how to “consciously unwind” (thanks Gwynnie) friendships.

CRUSH Readers have sent in a lot of appreciation for our articles on friendship, (and we'll keep them coming):

The Dynamics of Friendship: Can Singlehood Withstand the Trials of Friends with Kids? By Lauren D. Weinstein. {The Crush Letter No 10/ May 01 2021}

6 Ways to Get the Friends Who Count. Why You Want Them. {The Crush Letter No. 7 / April 15 2021}

“Don’t Touch My Hat.*” Midlife Men & Friendship, Depression, Loneliness. {The Crush Letter No. / April 3 2021}

Doing Nothing With Friends. It’s Not Really Doing Nothing. Review: The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy. {The Crush Letter No. 2/ March 4 2021}

Podcast Review: Dying For Sex. Molly Kochan’s Journey of Sexual Healing is Really A Story About Friendship. {The Crush Letter No 13/ May 17 2021}

Love/Sex/Moon Magick. Hey There, Lover! By Lynn Eaton

Lover. Cat lover? Music lover? My lover? In the Tarot, there’s even a card for that: The Lovers. But before we jump into the card’s possible meanings, a bit of background information is necessary.

The Lovers card traditionally means a romantic relationship, but it can also indicate a great partnership in your career. If you are trying to decide on a course of action, this card reveals that the choice is an excellent and positive one. If the card is reversed though, it can mean to be aware of what your expectations are in the relationship. Have you put someone or something up on a pedestal? Is it perfection or a mirage?

Tarot conjures many emotions and images. It’s supposed to do that. Carl Jung has a whole book dedicated to its imagery and meaning. And there are literally thousands of other books and blogs about the subject. I haven’t written a book, but I have been reading tarot for over 25 years and have developed my own philosophy about the cards:

  1. Tarot is not fortunetelling. It’s merely a way of tapping in to where there may be answers to questions.
  2. If you have a question, ask it. BUT…If you don’t want to know the answer, DON’T ASK THE QUESTION!
  3. “Universal Override” is my concept of what happens if the cards seem to be responding to something other than the query posed. It’s the Universe’s way of telling you to pay attention to this area of your life.
  4. There’s no wrong (or right) way to shuffle the cards. Some readers get all snippy about this. I’ve been to readers who barely allow querents to touch their cards. Not me. Shuffle away!
  5. Tarot cannot tell you what to do. It can offer possible outcomes of choices though.

So…Lovers, Card VI of the Major Arcana. Major Arcana? Briefly, it’s the soul’s journey. What Joseph Campbell coined as “The Hero With A Thousand Faces.” In many tarot decks, this card depicts nudity and sensuality. The original pairing and coming together in passion and partnership and commitment.

I have dozens of decks of tarot cards: Robin Wood, Motherpeace, Gilded Tarot and Crow Tarot are my most frequently used. I’ve laid out the Lovers from each of these decks and laid them out side by side. They’re all unique, as lovers and their relationships should be. But they also have commonalities.

This is a representation of the Perfect Relationship. Yin and Yang. Sun and Moon. Darkness and Light. Positive and Negative. Partnership. Harmony. Love. And Sexuality.

When Lovers come together in Perfect Harmony and Balance, the Universe sighs with contentment and passion. The climax and release of togetherness.

But what if you want to decide between two lovers? Can tarot help with that? Yes.

Place the Lovers card onto your surface: It could be a table, the floor, your bed. Shuffle the remaining cards and think about your choices. When you feel they’re ready, choose a card for each choice and lay one card, face down, on each side of the Lovers. Turn the cards over one at a time. The cards displayed should give you insight into what lies ahead for you with each person.

But be careful! If you don’t want the answer to that choice of yours, don’t ask the question!

Male Dancers: Lady Verity's 5 Things

5 Things That Turn Me On: Lady Verity

Crush Contributor Lady Verity is the author of the recent popular PrimeCrush piece French Kiss: French Girls Do It Beter, Right? and A Turntable and a Candle: F_ing Classics.

Name: Lady Verity

Is this your real name: No.

Occupation: Writer & poet.

Current relationship status: Married.

5 Things That Turn Me On: Lady Verity

Male dancers: Only once was I struck by beauty. I stopped in my tracks and stared at one of the most beautiful men I ever saw. He’s a professional contemporary dancer and teacher in New York. Male dancers are hot. They’re in fantastic shape, highly disciplined, and focused too, because you can’t dance and check your cell phone at the same time.

Serge Gainsbourg: Always a little world-weary and bedroom-eyed, he was a great artist who made outrageous remarks in interviews and sometimes showed up drunk at his performances. His ballads are a huge turn-on, and his voice is seductive perfection. He looked like he just made love or was just about to.

Red Cartier gift box: A gift he picked out because he was thinking of you, and he’s not cheap either which is always a turn-off.

Château d'Yquem in Paris: Bread, cheese, chocolates, and a bottle of Château d'Yquem just makes a person’s clothes start coming off.

Florence: Florence IS art. It’s in museums, on the street, Renaissance statues in the squares, on the facades of buildings. It’s cozy-shabby-chic and it’s where Dante first saw Beatrice on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. Florence is easy and unrushed. It just happens.

We started all this with my 5 Things. Then CRUSH Readers came, and we've had 5 Things from  Liza Lentini, Bob Guccione, Jr, Jane Boon, Ali Waks Adams and 5 Things from Craig J.

What turns you on? In this recurring column where we share five things that light our fire. We'd love to hear from you! (Yes, you!) If you’d like us to send you a template to fill out, it’s really easy and fun, please email me at You must be a CRUSH Reader! (PS you can publish under your alias.)

DEVOUR {things to do, read, see & have}

Read. The Lover By Marguerite Duras.  Review by Evie Arnaude.  Published in 1984 in her 70th year—and Duras’s 48th work—The Lover reads like the exhale the author had been waiting to take her whole life. It likely, truly was. Characterized a novel, and understood to be a mostly memoir, The Lover tracks a French teenage girl’s bright sexual awakening in the hands of a Chinese businessman nearly twice her age. Set in 1929 prewar French Indochina, the two meet against the backdrop of sweaty, smoky Saigon, a physically tiny teenager wearing a man’s hat and gold lamé shoes, a sensual dichotomy, much like the two that make up the main plot of the story.

Translated from her native French, Duras keeps the language thoughtful and sparse, the result is something poetic, dreamy and masterful.

As with many great novels, the re-read casts a reflective mirror on ourselves. When I first read The Lover, at roughly the same age as its heroine, I asked not one single question and cast no judgement. Not even the fact that a 15-year-old girl becomes sexually involved with a 27-year-old businessman, not about all the trappings and dangers, nor the potential for emotional shrapnel on either side, or what the affair itself reveals about its participants. I accepted it for the recollection that it was, that the lover did not exempt love from the equation. In spite of the ongoing controversy around The Lover’s validity, I accepted the “novel” as the author’s truth. Because that’s the entire point. At 70, Duras looked back at her 15-year-old self and jumped right back in, reflective, and wholly kind and compassionate to both lovers—the girl and the man—understanding the tenderness between them without judgement.

Read. How Do You Ask Good Questions? By Tyler Cowen in Marginal Revolution. When I read these really good tips on how to ask good questions, I thought "wow, doing this well could improve every relationship and conversation I have." Also I'd be a better listener, better thinker, better writer, better friend, better lover ...

Go. Sade Night at General Lee's Cocktail House. If you're in L.A., Sade Night is back. Be a smooth operator and go. Then you really have to tell us. I'm so jealous.

Read.  NYT's 50 Reasons to Love Joni Mitchell's "Blue."  Blue, released in 1971 when she was only 27, was Mitchell's fourth studio album, written and produced entirely by her.  Among many other accolades, it was named third in Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.  Blue is a poetic untangling of the nature of passionate relationships.  There are lots of hints at juicy details in the NYT article (and then you kind of had to piece things together). It was written during a heated love affair with James Taylor (who was very much addicted to heroin at the time and played guitar on four songs on the album), which love affair took place on the heels of her break up of her long love affair with Graham Nash - and on the heels of her having fled to Greece, she has said, to escape the pain of that unwinding, as well as the limelight that had just begun to envelope her, a woman who had lived "in a box of paints."  (Where she had yet another love affair.) Blue has some of the most poetic lines in rock. "You're in my blood like holy wine." "only a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings and fly away" "I want to talk to you / I want to shampoo you / I want to renew you again and again." "crown and anchor me / or let me sail away" and "He loved me so naughty left me weak in the knees."  (That last one Nash, who Mitchell ended things with by note from Greece (where she had picked up with another lover), humorously gloats was written about him. (Who wouldn't.) )

In the NYT article 25 musicians, including former lovers James Taylor, Graham Nash and David Crosby, share personal revelations about Blue, its making and how she and the album changed their lives. For instance, Crosby admits that the first time he heard Blue "I felt like quitting the business and becoming a gardener." He goes on to argue that "The music is where she's just vastly superior to Bob [Dylan] ... They're both brilliant poets, but she's 10 times the musician and singer that he was." (So is her old lover implying she deserves the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Dylan?)

Song of the Week. "You're in my blood like holy wine." In the video linked to below, Mitchell is singing Case of You from Wembley Arena in 1983 at the age of 40 with a deeper voice and (what seems to me) a more zen energy than earlier live versions. This performance is over a decade after Blue was released. There seems to be, over a decade later, some form of acceptance of the intensity of her great love affairs with Nash and Taylor (and more) - love, loss and of the limelight. In other words, time has done some healing from a life lived very much outside the paint box.  (Of course, I might be reading a lot into it.)

There have been some moving covers of this exquisite love song, like this live one by Brandi Carlile at Madison Square Garden that she dedicates to her wife. But my favorite cover was sent to me by my friend kt, a music impresario, and it is by Prince here. If he were alive he no doubt would have been interviewed in the NYT article celebrating Blue's 50th anniversary. (Such a loss.)

To watch the video below on youtube go here.

(To link to this fabulous video on youtube see the link above.)

Love is touching souls, as Joni says. Surely you've touched mine just by being here. Happy Indepence Day, dear CRUSH Readers.  Have fun!

Dish Stanley XO,

The Crush Letter
The Crush Letter is a weekly newsletter from Dish Stanley curating articles & intelligence on everything love & connection - friendship, romance, self-love, sex. If you’d like to take a look at some of our best stories go to Read Us. Want the Dish?


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