I was talking to my almost 9 year-old on the way home from school the other day, reminding her that I was leaving for dinner with some friends when her dad got home and that I wouldn’t be back until after she was asleep. This is always a touchy issue with her, because clearly no one else but The Mom is able to put the right number of lavender drops in the diffuser so she can have peaceful, magical sleep, and what if her hair is too tangly for her to brush thoroughly without assistance?
“Why can’t you be home before I go to bed?” she asked.
“Well, it has been almost 6 months since I have seen these friends, and we have a lot of catching up to do,” I explained.
Her: “Oh. Well I haven’t seen K (her BFF) in way longer than that.”
Me: “You saw her three weeks ago.”
Her: “I don’t think so. I think it was much longer ago.”
This went on for a few miles, and after a few minutes of silence, she asked, “Why don’t we ever see [Friend A] and [Friend B] anymore?” She was talking about MY friends, people she barely remembers life without, and whom we have not seen in more months than I can remember. I could not answer her, and thankfully the baby turned her attention away from the expectation of a response from me. Honestly, I don’t really have one.
I have read numerous articles lately about making and keeping friends in your 40s–why it’s so hard, why it’s so important, and why it’s so contingent upon a billion different factors, and while much of the advice from these women with their apparently huge friend circles rings true, the truest thing for me is that sometimes, even with a step-by-step plan and foolproof suggestions from actual people with actual friends, there is no guarantee. Some friendships stand the test of time and turmoil, and some friendships are temporary. Some people stay and and some people disappear.
Before I make it sound like I am alone and friendless, let me say that I have a small circle of friends that I would stake my life on, people I could call on at any hour, in any season, with any problem–if I did that kind of thing, which I do not, really, but that is not the point of this story. The point is that there are a faithful few I know aren’t going anywhere. I also have a solid group of people whom I inherited from my husband–guys and wives and kids who are part of my life because I married a man who has maintained a core of Best Friends since he was 17 years old. I love this about him, about them, and I am grateful for the connections his devotion to these people has brought to my own life.
But I cannot lie. I envy my husband. I envy the ease with which he has maintained these friendships for 25 years, the stories they tell, the memories they share and continue to create. I’m not without stories, but many are disjointed, broken up over time, or quite recent in origin, and in many cases, concluded. The series has ended, and there are no more entries, no additional volumes or extra chapters. See, I…do not make friends easily. And apparently I do not always keep them easily. Because I am the common denominator, I assume the reason for this is, well, me. But I don’t know. Relationships are hard. People are involved, and people are difficult and complex. Hard seasons have strange effects. Maybe this is a girl thing, because I know my husband’s stories, and some of his friends’ stories, and they have stuck around for each other all these years, but I really think you just never know when the mountain life gives you to climb is going to make someone else run for the hills.
I am on the side of a mountain now. It is not some lovely sloping fall-foliage covered Appalachian, either. This is a rocky, ice-encrusted beast of an Alp, and it is mostly terrifying. From where I cling, I can see those safe hills, and as much as I’d like to run for them myself, I have this fierce hope that God has higher things in store for me, bigger plans in mind. And He uses mountains for those plans, not hills. Still, it’s nice to have company. Mountains are hard. And so instead of trying to adhere to someone else’s guide to middle age friendship, I am offering a guide for my friends, old and new and maybe even currently hillbound, to friendship on the side of this mountain with me. And if not me, not now, maybe you’ll find yourself on some other mountain with some other friend someday, and you’ll remember these words:
- This thing I’m going through–that my family and I are going through–it sucks. In the great scheme of All The Things, it is currently The Worst. Are there worse things possible? Of course, but they are not happening to us right now. This is. It consumes me a lot of the time, and it colors everything I say and do and think and feel. Nothing you say about all my blessings, or the things that could trump this on a scale of 1-10, bless your heart, will make the way I feel less of a reality. So if you can’t agree with me about the enormity of the suckage that is this situation, please for the love of all things holy do not tell me that it’s “really not that bad.” Don’t make me feel like I am overreacting, and please don’t say things that lead me to think you believe I caused this madness. Please talk to me about my kids, or mindless television, or food. And if you CAN say with me in unison, “This SO SUCKS for you guys,” thank you, and then let’s talk about my kids and mindless television and food.
- I mostly don’t want to talk about it. Except when I do. I will let you know. If you ask me a question about it and my answer seems short or abrupt, or even a little defensive, please understand that it has nothing to do with you. Whatever you asked me, I have probably already covered it in my mind a thousand times; the version of the answer you get is just where the wheel happened to land today. There will be days when I want to talk about it a lot, and while I would love for you to solve it for me and make it go away, let’s agree to remember that you can’t. Just knowing you are willing to listen to me and pray for me as I sort through this rubble is good enough for now.
- I am sorry for being so thoroughly consumed by this that I sometimes (or often, and maybe even always) forget to ask about you, reach out to you, and nurture you like I should. There aren’t enough words for how guilty I feel about this, and unfortunately, not enough guilt to change the fact that on some days I am so mired up in my heaviness that I just can’t remember to ask about your stuff. That could change tomorrow, or an hour from now, or maybe not for several more months (this is a big mountain, did I mention?), but I hope you will not hold it against me. I hope you will tell me anyway, and then not take it personally when I don’t ask again tomorrow. If you know me, and I hope you do, you know I would prefer to always be doing the loving on and looking after My People; this place I’m in, where I need you, is hard for me. It makes me weird. Bear with me. And if you can’t, you just can’t, because maybe you are on a mountain, too, I get it. I hope you have friends who are obviously not me who can make that climb with you, and I hope when we both cross our respective summits we can meet up and talk about the view.
- My mind is a war zone right now, and my husband and kids and our routines are my safe house. It’s almost foreign to me to make plans outside of the paths I’ve worn in the dirt that is my life. I crave these familiar routes and it is hard to abandon them for “fun” and “distraction.” If you tell me to show up on Tuesday at Applebee’s at 6, I have a better chance of success than if you ask when I am available and where I’d like to go. If you show up at my door on a Saturday afternoon or wander into my office on a random weekday with takeout from Arby’s, even better. If you end up on my couch with a six-pack or a bottle of Kendall Jackson or a really cold Diet Coke, I may never let you leave. I may not be the best company you’ll have this week, but I’ll be the most grateful.
Is that it? No, of course not. Every day there is a different outcrop, another sheer wall of stone I have to scale. The weather changes, the elevation gets sketchy, I forget that I am not in control and I get schooled by the mountain yet again. What do I know? Well, I know that when I look around and see that you are around, somewhere, maybe not right next to me, but waving from a ledge nearby, or reaching down a hand from a safe plateau that’s just a little out of my reach, or waiting at the top to celebrate this climb with me, I feel like I can keep going. That thing you said that made me remember who I was created to be, that text you sent that made me laugh, the song you shared, the hundred cards and notes and messages that collectively shout “YOU ARE NOT ALONE!” –these are worth more to me than I will ever be able to tell you.
My daughter asked me the morning after my friend outing if we had a “fun time.” This is an important consideration when you are a kid, and while I was able to answer “YES!” without hesitation, I could have told her more. But I don’t have to, because I know that in time she will see what else matters: the fun, yeah, and laughter, and love and acceptance and “I get it” and “I’ve got your back” and “No worries, I’m on it” and all the shouts into the darkness, near and far, signaling the light that not even the biggest mountain can hide.