Childhood friendships are delightfully simple. If someone is nice to us, we like them and want to be friends. If they’re mean to us, we don’t like them and don’t play with them. We forgive easily and forget quickly. We share our toys. We share our secrets. We can be goofy or silly without judgment from each other because we’re, well…nine.
Grown-up friendships are more complex. We have co-workers who are friends at work but we rarely see socially. We have “group friends” that we see at high school reunions or mass-invite holiday parties. We have good friends that we occasionally see over dinner, a day of shopping, or on the tennis courts for a couple of hours of friendly rivalry. Then we have best friends.
A best friend often knows more about us than do our husbands or our mothers. She knows our family dramas and where all the bodies are buried. She knows we eat Milk Duds in our car when we’re dieting. She knows we tell the truth about our age, but lie about our weight. She makes us laugh. We don’t have to filter what we say, do, eat, or drink. She’s who we call at 2 a.m. when we need to talk because we’re fighting with hubby (again) over his stunning, 35-year-old business partner who apparently has a uncontrollable tic that results in her touching his arm every five freakin’ minutes. She’s the one who doesn’t roll her eyes when we’ve maxed out our Visa card for the fourth time and can’t figure out how that keeps happening. She’s that person we can tell everything to.
We can, but we shouldn’t.
A fundamental premise about a best friend is that we love her. Because of that, there are certain things we may think, but we don’t say. Ever. Just as there are things we shouldn’t do (steal her promotion, buy the car she’s been saving up for, sleep with her son), there are things we should never say.
- “No, actually, you can’t pull off that look” when you know she really loves it. She’s discovered thrift stores and has been wearing used, Bohemian styles for weeks now that she thinks look Boho chic, but you think make her look like an aging hippie. First rule of midlife friendship: If she likes it, you like it.
- “You’re more like your mother all the time.” She frequently complains that her mother is overbearing, nosy, and critical. Nothing and no one ever pleases her. You may have meant “Your mother is beautiful and you look more like her every day,” but she’ll hear “You’re becoming a controlling buttinski. And for God’s sakes, stand up straight and stop whining.”
- “I know you’re mad at your sister, but you were at fault too.” No, no, and no. Your BFF is never, ever at fault. Your role is to provide validation that she’s right and the other person is pond scum with bad breath and hairy armpits. You don’t need to throw gas on the fire with a verbal diatribe over her opponent’s faults, but you do need to assure her that no matter how stupid or silly the fight was (or who was actually wrong), your loyalty is unquestionably to her.
- “What’s your stance on me dating your ex?” Bad question. Bad. Simply put, her previous husband(s) are off-limits. It doesn’t matter if she remarried happily making a life with her new man. It’s a cosmic rule that her ex will remain her ex, forever. And if you were to date him, what would you talk to her about the next day? How good he is in bed? She either knows that already and doesn’t need the visual of you and Biff enthusiastically exploring the Kama Sutra like they used to, or she thought he was a lousy lover, but is now thinking maybe it was her. If you absolutely can’t refrain because Biffy is just so delicious, grab him, pack your stuff, and find a condo in Botswana, never to cross paths with your now ex-bestie. It’s the kindest thing you can do.
- “You keep complaining and asking for my advice, but you never do anything.” This is a tough one. She repeatedly complains and whines about how rotten her husband’s kids are, but how he “won” the little brats in the divorce. The tiny tyrants are disrespectful, messy, and entitled, and this is not what she signed up for. You’ve spent hours (okay, more like months) on this subject, and you’ve made dozens of helpful suggestions, but nothing ever changes. But it’s not your role to direct her life. Your job is to be there for her. To talk. Listen (yes, again). Support. She’s undoubtedly got a booty load of people who have The Answer and who are more than happy to tell her what she “should do.” There may be lots of reasons she doesn’t act. Don’t assume you know what they are. She doesn’t need more advice. She needs a best friend. And a good bottle of wine.
- “Your kids/grandkids are out of control.” Nobody likes to hear they’re raising future losers. Even people who generally don’t like children think their offspring is cuter, smarter, and more talented than everybody else’s. And baby boomers have discovered the joys of grandchildren. Without question, ours are the cutest, most adorable, smartest ones ever born. “Yes, I know Billy never makes it to class at his middle school. He’s not cutting class because he’s a juvenile delinquent. He’s just bored because he’s so smart. The school needs to offer a better curriculum.” “Little Jennifer never wears those slutty outfits her friends wear. She’s a good girl. Oh, that denim miniskirt and pink lace thong in her back pack? Those aren’t hers. They must belong to a friend.” Not many things will tank even the longest-lasting friendship faster than pointing out that Billy will be living at home at 30 and that Jennifer goes all trampy Tina on the school bus every morning.
- “I think your husband is cheating on you.” This is where “Shoot the messenger” came from. After all the dust settles, and the truth (whatever or whoever, it is) comes out, he may have cheated on her, but you ruined her life by telling her about it. And God help you if it’s you he’s cheating with. Confession may be good for the soul, but it’s hell on friendships.