“Same” is the most important word in our vocabulary. It’s just a shorthand expression of empathy, I guess, and it means: “I know how you feel.” It means: “You are not alone.” It means: “You are not insane.” Or maybe: “You are insane, but so am I.” Say it when the babies are babies: “I’m so tired I hope I get run over by a truck.” Same. Say it when the babies are children: “I feel like it’s the movie ‘Groundhog Day’ and all I do is wake up and make allergen-free cupcakes for the entire fifth grade.” Same. Say it when the babies leave for college: “I cried in front of the twin XL sheet display and she was like, ‘Oh my God, Mom!’” Same.
I hear you. I feel that. We’re in this together. Yes, you’re weird, but I love that about you.
A good friend makes you feel like you’re okay in a fundamental — maybe an existential — way. “I hid in the coat closet for some of the birthday party,” you say, and your friend says, “Of course you did!” It’s what you watch for when your kids are making their own friends, isn’t it? The ones who say: “You’re amazing! You can do it!” about every single thing: drawing a three-dimensional cube, climbing the maple in your backyard, overcoming disappointment or despair, passing a college neuroscience final.
The world can be scary and unnerving, but friends are our water wings, our cheer squad, our bodyguards, our packing peanuts. Friends pilot the plane that’s skywriting the words YAY, YOU! across your universe.
Life is too short to be tepid. How does your butt look in those jeans? Your butt looks like a zillion trillion dollars. Your butt looks like a mythological charcuterie board. Your butt looks like the plums that were in the ice box and, forgive me, yeah, I ate every last one because they were so earth-shatteringly delicious.
Brag about each other with your heads bent forward, as if in gossip. Light the candles and open the good wine (or the good juice because your friend is trying to drink less). Remind yourself it’s purely discretionary, friendship. Nobody has to be here, so let’s make it worth our while. Say, “You’re perfect.” Say, “You’re doing everything right,” even if what they’re doing is being left for a younger woman, parenting a child through mental illness, driving an elderly parent to Jazzercise or (literally) dying. “You got this.”
“That just totally sucks!” is another useful thing to say, either on its own or followed by “How can I help?” Show up. Show up with food. Show up to watch the children, even if one of the kids has a concussion and needs everyone to lie in the dark on the floor in sleeping bags, listening to quiet elevator music. Say, “I hate that couch so much I was actually hoping someone would barf on it.” Say, “I was hoping you were just going to order a pizza.” Say, “Stay as long as you like.”
Say, “That’s completely normal!” about a child’s incontinence or fear of grass or weirdly hairy wrists. Until the moment when, asked for your honest opinion, you say, “Actually I’m not totally sure.” You say, “Do you want company at that appointment?” You say, “Text me the minute you hear more.” You say, “I’m coming over with cheese and chocolate.”
Try to learn from your mistakes. “Unsolicited advice is the same thing as judgment” is a truth I understood too late in the case of one damaged friendship. We don’t need to be perfect to stay in each other’s lives, though. We can swim toward the shore of longevity through the unnerving shallows of our children not getting along with each other for a day or a month or a year. We can screw up and apologize and be forgiven. We can forgive and reorient and move forward. We can grow apart and set new boundaries and still want to spend time together.
We can bend ourselves into the shape of a safety net, into the shape of a trophy, into the shape of absolute acceptance. We can laugh together and cry and drop off a quart of lentil soup. And we can cherish this finite time we’ve got on the planet with our most chosen of chosen people.
Catherine Newman is a writer. “We All Want Impossible Things” is her new novel.