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Finding a balance between 'I' and 'we'

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On a Friday evening in mid-August, spirits run high as 10 women, friends since junior high school, gather for a mini-reunion. It marks the first time everyone has been together since high school. Relaxing in one woman's large ranch-style house, they - we - talk fast and late, eager to catch up on several decades of news.

We have come here from eight states, from California to New York, Florida to Minnesota. Only one member of the original group of 11, now living in Georgia, isn't here.

On the most basic level, reunions offer a memorable way to renew acquaintances with long-ago friends and to observe, firsthand, the fascinating variety of choices and opportunities that shape marriages, families, and careers. At the same time, reunions can serve a deeper purpose, measuring larger social changes as decades roll by.

For our generation, those changes have been profound. On this particular evening, we look back in awe at the stability and relative innocence of our 1950s Midwestern upbringing, before the tumultuous changes of our college years in the 1960s, including Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique," began revising the social order.

As a warmup, we share pictures of our families. We laugh as we thumb through a photo album dating back to junior high. We also study yellowing copies of the high school newspaper, which several of us edited.

But reality proves more interesting than reminiscences. Lighthearted "Remember when?" stories give way to more serious conversations about marriage, divorce, children, and especially the well-being of our parents.

Again and again we come back to the subject of marriage. We also reflect on the differences between our parents' unions and our own. Among our parents, only one couple was divorced - an amazing record by today's standards. Four of those couples celebrated golden anniversaries. Within our own group, four women have been divorced. Three have remarried. One was widowed in June.

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