My best friend Maria is 70 years old.
That bit of information sometimes comes as a shock to some. She’s older than my mom by almost a decade, and she’s older than me by more than three.
I know it’s an uncommon dynamic, but our friendship is one of the most important relationships in my life.
It’s not a mother-daughter relationship — I have a mother that I’m very close to and she has a daughter that she’s very close to. We talk almost everyday, about what’s going on at work and with our families, about cooking and current events, you name it. We met 14 years ago when I started one of my first “real” jobs after college and something just clicked. It was about a year after Katrina, so we initially bonded over the shared experience of starting over and rebuilding. But it quickly grew into something much deeper.
Maybe it’s because she doesn’t act the way most 70-somethings do. She’s vibrant and fun and, since she religiously started doing Jazzercise a few years ago, almost seems to be aging backwards. Of course, it helps that she has great genes — her sweet daddy is 97!
Maybe it’s because she’s from an Italian family who shows their love in meatballs and red gravy (which also happens to be my love language). She’s a fantastic cook who “collects” wonderful people.
I’ve made so many friends around the country because we’ve all gathered together around Maria’s table.
Maybe it’s because our personalities are very similar — we are both empathetic to a fault and have “never met a stranger.” We share a (sometimes deprecating) sense of humor and have ended even the heaviest of conversations with “Let me tell you this one thing that’ll make you smile before we hang up.”
Maybe it’s because we’ve shared so many big moments in our lives together. Maria has been there during the biggest events of my life. She was there to console me during my first truly horrible heartbreak (and each time that particular old flame would resurface over the years and rip the scab off all over again). She was there to encourage me when I struggled through one of those “must get out” jobs and was there to celebrate when I landed my almost dream job. She was there to comfort me when my dad died unexpectedly (and because she’d also lost a parent at around the same age, she understood the nuances of my grief). She was there when I swiped right on the love of my life and supported us starting our life together. She was there at my surprise engagement party after my husband had proposed. She was there as a reader at my wedding. She was there during health scares and a rocky fertility journey. She was there to cry tears of joy when we announced our pregnancy. She was there in the hospital the day we welcomed our son into the world. She was there during my maternity leave to watch the baby just so I could shower in peace and walk around Target alone. And she also brought a gift card so I could get a mani/pedi while I was out.
Maybe our friendship is as strong as it is because she’s just been there, because we both make it a priority to show up for each other.
There are so many reasons we have the friendship that we have, I could never list them all. But I am so grateful for it because I know how much she’s helped me grow as a person. She has 32 more years of life experience than I do and has lived an incredible life, so I’ve been lucky enough to benefit from a lot of the advice she’s shared with me over the years. (Of course, I probably could’ve listened a bit more sometimes!) She’s never preachy and she never makes me doubt myself or my decisions, even if it’s something we may disagree on. I think we’d both credit open, honest communication without judgment as key in making our friendship what it is. We accept each other unconditionally and love each other like family.
I know our friendship may seem odd to some people, but it’s one of the things I value most in my life. I’m proud to know her and prouder to be her friend.
May we all be so lucky as to find our own Maria.
Do you have an unlikely friendship with someone?