Whenever a women's expo or craft fair comes to town, it always makes me laugh at the booths listing wares that we as women are supposedly desperately wanting: goat lather soap, Zumba workouts, Montana-made syrup, and so on. And though I love to do Zumba in the shower while eating pancakes, I'm pretty sure what I really want is not at the expo.
Unless I'm with my friends.
In the last 11 years — while living in four states, three time zones and five homes — I have had a ton of experience making and keeping friends. Across this great continent, I’ve observed that I have consistently needed five types of friends to keep me sane and balanced.
First off, I trust your husband is hopefully your friend — best friend, even. However, he is not, never will be and never should be your all-in-one everything. No person should ever be burdened with fulfilling your every need, wish and whim for companionship. You will still need other women, both older and younger, to mentor you, serve you and look up to you.
- My favorite and dearest friend is the Old Friend variety, who is like your favorite T-shirt: comfy, worn-in and, no matter what your mood, totally appropriate. This Old Friend knows your crazy family history and can write a pamphlet on why you are the way you are and how they like you anyway. She’s probably seen you in your underwear, heard you sobbing over the phone or held you while you despaired over new-mom woes. You don’t have to worry about being far away because, somehow across the miles or around the block, you are still best friends and comfortable in whatever state your friendship is in.
Here's something to note: Sisters make great Old Friends.
- Another essential friend is the Deep Friend. She’s the one who is like a therapist, only cheaper — and probably happy to eat ice cream with you as you delve into what makes a marriage really groovy. The Deep Friend is perfectly at peace with dissecting your family background and how that formed the person you are now. She loves discussing the world; religion; and how to have a better, happier and richer life. She is worth her weight in gold — or Prozac.
- Your Mentor Friend is often the age of an older siblings or even your mother. Even though she might say the same things your mother does, you don’t roll your eyes or search for the number to the local mental hospital. It sounds so right and true and a lot less annoying coming from the Mentor Friend. You mother probably sends her a script, but who cares? The Mentor Friend commiserates and validates your concerns. The Mentor Friend says, “I’ve been there,” without sounding condescending. She watches your children because she misses her own and she makes sure to remind you often to make time for yourself. Sure, she might be slightly outdated when you compare her to all your hipster sisters, but the Mentor is one irreplaceable friend.
A subset of the Mentor Friend is the Younger (Sister) Friend. To her, you are the mentor and the voice of reason when all pooh breaks loose with small children. As the Mentor Friend, you get to share your hard-earned lessons, helping steer the Younger Friend toward the light at the end of the nursing or toddler tunnel. It is insanely rewarding to share the small tidbits of wisdom that someone once delivered to you when you were buried under laundry and sporting under-eye bags the size of Manhattan.
- Our next friend is one of my current favorites: the Surprise Friend. Finding this person is like visiting your local thrift store looking for a cool Halloween costume and you find J.Crew pants for $2. Surprise Friends are like sprinkles on the cake of life: colorful and unexpected. The Surprise Friend is the one you meet at a play group or school meeting and your first reaction is that you have nothing in common and she probably has socks that cost more than your entire wardrobe.
Then you find out, as time goes on, that she’s not as shallow or weird as you originally thought and the notion of spending time with her sitting on a park bench watching your children hang by their toes doesn’t make you gag or feel like getting a root canal. You find that the Surprise Friend is actually funny. And smart! And not shallow! And she’s even willing to share her gold-plated socks!
- The last and most-important friend you can have is one that took me many moons to collect. She’s one that many don’t realize is a necessity. It’s You. You should be one of your closest friends — and no, Dr. Phil did not pay me to say that. I hope that little voice in your head is like a great coach and not the mean girls from 6th grade, inherently critical and smarmy.
I’ve trained myself to control my inner dialogue so that when I lose it and holler at one of my children for hitting their sibling (again) my first response is not, “You’re a loser mother,” but instead, “You will do better next time.”
Some women still feel this adolescent need to always be with someone, texting someone or planning daily mommy play dates. But it’s OK to just be — to be with yourself and your thoughts and have awkward conversations like:
- You: “Hi.” Self: “Hi.” You: “How ar—” Self: “Fine.” You: “Are you going to work out at th—” Self: “Eh, probably not.” You: “Really? You know how good you feel afterw—” Self: “I know. I should... OK, I’ll go.” You: “Awesome! You're gonna lose 10 pounds!”
And though I am a certified extrovert who has a habit of slightly oversharing and is a lover of people, I think many women need these distinct relationships to make their lives richer and happier.
But I do know that it has taken many types of women over many years to help me be a better person, a better mother, a better wife. I need them. I need their wisdom, their laughter and their genuine humanity to rub off on me.
And that is far more useful that goat lather soap.
-Elizabeth Hill, KSL.com contributor