10/16/2012 05:21 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

So Glad Not to Be in 8th Grade

SPECIAL FROM BetterAfter50

When I was in elementary school, even though I was pretty chubby and awkward. (Note: I did not write "pretty, chubby and awkward.") I wasn't the kid that got picked on. My girlfriends and I -- Susie, Elaine, Merry, Ellen, Joyce and my best friend, Laura, who lived down the street -- hung out on the playground and after school. In those days, there was no pressure to excel in soccer or lacrosse (thank God). We mostly played Jacks, Four Square, Cat's Cradle, and Chinese jump rope. None of those involved running fast, and I was competent -- at least up until "kneesies" with the Chinese jump rope. I never could jump very high.

To use a modern term, these girls were my elementary and middle school BFFs, but they were not my friends in the true sense -- they were just the girls I played with. We were not mature or confident enough to be really honest with each other. No one ever even called Susie out for peeking through her fingers at "blindsies." I never talked with them about how I felt about anything important. I never confided that anything was hard for me, and I never felt they had my back.

Rather, I felt I had to watch my back. Once, when three of us were playing together, my two friends turned on me, laughing and pointing at what must have been a nicely-defined camel toe in my stretchy pants. "What are you looking at?" I questioned, and they just stared and giggled. "Everyone's got one," I told them defiantly, and we all laughed, even while I felt sick from the betrayal. The difficult moment was diffused, yet 44 years later, this is one memory I can't seem to shake.

And I wasn't so nice myself. At camp, there was always a girl in the bunk we picked on (they rightly call it "bullying" now) and I happily participated in the short-sheeting, Dippity Doo on the toilet seat and dunking the "out" girl's hand in warm water. Over the years, there were plenty of times I was mean and exclusive when the opportunity arose.

So, why at (almost) 54, am I lucky enough to have the best girlfriends? We support each other.  We have each other's backs. We trust each other with our biggest secrets. We keep confidences. We openly admire good looks and tactfully tell each other what isn't working. If I were walking around with a camel toe these days, I just know one of my girlfriends would set me straight.

As we mature, girls who suck at being a friend become women who are naturally experts. I am not sure how it happens, but thank God, it does. I love my girlfriends, and here are just a few reasons why:

1.  They get me. I wasn't excited to tell my husband that I spent a half hour of my day watching a two-minute "how to" YouTube video on folding a fitted sheet into a perfect square. Instead, I sent the link to my best friend. I knew that she would be thrilled to get this critical life information. Sure enough, she didn't disappoint. "OMG!! I am an expert fitted sheet folder! I am so happy!" she texted me a day later. And I know I can count on her to give me a lesson next week, without judgment, when I have completely forgotten how to do it.

2.  They make me feel young and reckless. A Wednesday night martini with the girls just FEELS different than a Saturday night one with the husband. It says, "Screw the rules!" and after 50, it feels really good to screw the rules.

3.  They think it is totally normal to... not remember if I saw that movie or read that book; be scared to death of the scale; polish off a sleeve of Oreos; be both too cold and too hot in a five-minute period of time; be driven nuts by your mother; desperately need a Diet Coke; be in a really bad mood if I can't exercise for two days in a row; need a glass of red wine while cooking dinner.

4.  They can listen without offering advice.

5.  There are no pretenses with a good friend. Good friends can be honest with each other. You both know and accept that no one has a perfect life, and together you can gossip about how much you hate those who pretend they do.

6.  They give me perspective. They remind me that there is no one right way to mother, that there are many forms of success, there are many paths to a meaningful life and that sometimes, other people's recipes are better than your own.

7.  They give me awesome book suggestions.

8. We keep each other healthy. We walk and bike and run together. We get out in the fresh air. They tell me about the best yoga classes, where to buy the best Greek yogurt and the latest in diet trends. You need lots of friends to keep up with all of this stuff.

8.  They care. They call. They comfort.

9.  They make me laugh. Even better, they allow me to make them laugh.

10.  They read my stuff. And thanks for that, because without you, I wouldn't have so many readers.

My girlfriends are awesome. I'm so glad I am no longer in 8th grade.

Read more on Better After 50:
My Paramour
What's Important?
The Limits of Empathy
Remembering Who We Are