If you are lucky, you will have a friend in your life who will listen to you go on and on about your complicated marriage, who will sit patiently and nonjudgmentally as you spin in the same circle, like a cat chasing its tail, for ten years. She will discuss it with you over dinner and while sipping cocktails with you at a bar; during long walks with you and your dogs; over the phone when you need to rail about your discontent. She will look at you with love instead of pity, with sympathy instead of attempts to fix. She will offer you more patience than you deserve. When you tell her, everything feels impossible, she will fold you in her arms and say, I know. She will text you more heart emojis than you can count.

If you are very lucky, you will have another friend who will hear you waffling between staying and going, regardless of how maddening you must be, how clear the decision has to be from her perspective. She will remind you how much she likes him, unwilling to vilify, acknowledging that even the right decision is heartbreaking. Even though she lives 1,500 miles away, she will stay in touch all the time. She will make you feel you aren’t crazy, and acknowledge that it is hard, so hard. She will allow you to arrive at your own pace, never pressing. She will lean in close when you are finally able to whisper the words, I think I want a divorce. She will whisper back, I’m supporting your divorce. She will text you later, I love you x a billion.

If you are extraordinarily lucky, you will also have a friend who provides regular escape from your house during the pandemic, who invites you over every week to the haven of her backyard, replete with a paradisaically refreshing aqua pool. Over beers, she will kindly remind you how unhappy you are when you try to pretend you aren’t, and that this doesn’t make you a bad person. She will gently nudge you to call her divorce attorney just for information. She will give you a recommendation for her lovely acupuncturist and excellent insurance agent and will personally refinance your house for you after he goes. She will bring out champagne after your divorce hearing and applaud when you shoot the cork across the pool.

If you are lucky beyond reason, you will have one more friend who is a little older and a lot wiser, who acts as a mentor, big sister, and fairy godmother all in one. During hikes, she will assure you that you are talented, beautiful, and worthy. She will come to your house with fresh pastries, lattes, and books when you are feeling lonely. She will keep the faith that great things will happen to you. She will invite you to join her family for the holidays. She will text you regular check-ins: No need to respond. Just thinking of you and sending hugs. One time, autocorrect will mangle her note so that it reads, Let me know if you are tired of all these chickens, and you will both crack up when you text back, I need a bunch of chickens like I need a hole in the head.

These are the friends who will jump on a Zoom call to bear witness as you take off your engagement and wedding ring for the very last time. They will drop off pussy willows and fresh eggs and a giant bag of oranges you didn’t know you needed, but that you devour over the sink like you are starving. These friends will sit with you when your ex comes back for the first time to pick up some things, and will hold you while you sob after he leaves. They will mail you bath salts and cards with inspiring, but uncorny, messages. During Covid, they will dress in every layer they own to be able to sit with you in person even when it’s 20 degrees outside. They will remind you how awesome it is to have female roommates when they come to stay in the guest room for a week to keep you company.These women friends will text with you as you set up your first date, gladly receive the address where you’ll be, wait for your home safe message, and giddily follow up the next day, asking for details, hoping for the best for you. When dates go bust, they are the friends who will say, Well, one more f***ing personal growth experience! These friends remind you that with every one, you get better at knowing what you don’t want. And also, what you DO.

Anne Pinkerton’s poems and essays have appeared in HippocampusSunlight PressModern LossRiver Teeth‘s “Beautiful Things,” EntropyStone Gathering, The BarkArs Medica, and the anthology The Pandemic Midlife Crisis: Gen X Women on the Brink, among others. She received an MFA in creative nonfiction from Bay Path University. Her memoir will be published by Vine Leaves Press in 2023. You can find her on Twitter: @aapinkerton, Facebook: @AnnePinkertonWriter, and Instagram: @AnnePinkertonWriter

Read more from our collection of personal essays about friendship at midlife.