It’s easy to be a good friend when life is running like a well-oiled machine. When your actual life is almost as good as your Instagram feed claims it is, who wouldn’t want to meet you at the beach for a weekend getaway or get tickets to Hamilton when it comes to town? Who wouldn’t want to pop over for a relaxed potluck dinner and a game night that stretches into the wee hours? These are the good, happy moments you collect and stow away—the moments that create a history and solidify a friendship. That make it solid.
Until it isn’t solid anymore. Until one of you gets a divorce. Or gets sick. Or moves away. Or one of your kids has a crisis that makes him — and by extension, you — difficult to be around. These are the earthquakes that can crack even the most solid of friendship foundations. These are the moments when you learn who your true friends are. These are the moments when fair-weather friends fall by the wayside and real friends show up.
The ones who show up when life gets messy–when we can’t afford to go out like we used to, when a sick loved one keeps us busy as a caregiver, when we experience our own health crisis. These are the real ride-or-die friends. The ones we cherish the most, the ones who cross over the boundary from friend and start feeling more like family. Sometimes it comes as a surprise when you realize who these people are. Sometimes the people you were sure would show up for you don’t, and the ones you never imagined could make the time somehow find a way to be there for you.
There’s your high school bestie, whom you don’t talk to every single day, but in a pinch, she always, always shows up. Your schedules criss-cross in ways that make it almost impossible to actually talk sometimes, but whether it’s via text, a rambling voice message, or an email, you make sure you connect. When she travels anywhere near where you live, she stops by or you drive to her. When one of you is in a crisis, you drop everything to connect. And every time you do talk, even if it’s been months since your last conversation, it’s as if no time has passed at all. You pick up right where you left off, and because of your shared history, you immediately understand all the nuance and backstory that can be loaded behind the briefest of sentences.
Judgment isn’t a thing that exists between you, but neither are lies. You know everything about each other, even about each other’s politically incorrect sexual fantasies. You’re a hair’s breadth away from being actual siblings. And you know, without a doubt, that you can count on her to show up.
There’s the local carpool friend who you’ve spent some great moments with, but you haven’t known each other long and your kids’ jam-packed schedules prevent you from being physically together very often. The majority of your communication consists of coordinating carpool, and yet, when you’re struggling, somehow they find a way to carve out time from their own hectic schedule and check in. They text to let you know they’re 10 minutes out and they’ve got a casserole with your name on it because they know you haven’t been home to cook because you’ve been at the hospital too much taking care of a sick relative. Or they find out both of your kids have a stomach virus so they drop off crackers, bananas, applesauce, and Gatorade.
And then there are the friends you’ve never even met in real life. You met them in an online group, and you know you can count on them for words of encouragement when your day is swirling around the drain, trying to pull you down with it. This is the group that rallies around its members and proves that virtual friendships are every bit as real and meaningful as in-person ones. When you had a rough Christmas one year and admitted to the group that you could barely afford your electric bill that month much less a decent Christmas for your kids, they pooled their funds and paid your bill and bought your entire Amazon wish list for your kids. You’ve never even met them in real life and yet they show up in the most incredible ways. And you, of course, would do the same for them in a heartbeat.
Life is a dumpster fire sometimes. Sometimes it’s a tiny fire, easy to extinguish, and sometimes it’s a raging inferno that needs a fire truck and a hydrant, and even then, in the end you’re left with a charred shell and must rebuild. There are friends who show up for both types of fires. There are friends who, though their lives are every bit as hectic as yours, still find a way to show up. And they make all the hard times and crises, no matter how big or small, more tolerable. Your life may never look like a gleaming Instagram feed.
But that’s okay, because you have friends who show up anyway.