Over fifty? How to be a good friend - Nancy Ford Dugan

            Try not to notice how tired everyone looks. You do, too. Ignore cosmetic surgery enhancements taken to address how tired they look. Don’t stare at trout pouts or facial areas that appear blotched, swollen, frozen, or waxy. Try not to wince at how painfully tight some of their skin looks. Instead, tell everyone they look great. Ask them if they’ve lost weight (unless of course they’re over sixty; that could signal health issues).
            Compliment new hairstyles. Never ask if they are losing their hair. If they bring it up, listen politely. If they ask for solutions, mention hormones and Rogaine. Deny you see any evidence of fewer strands. If necessary, strategically and sensitively put on your sunglasses to shield the glare coming off their bald pate.
            Answer all questions from loquacious friends that start with, “Have I told you about…?” with a resounding “Yes!” Try to simultaneously exude both concern and topic awareness to avoid having to hear the story all over again OR from having to hear it in the first place. Your fifty-plus friends can no longer remember who they told what. Spare yourself too much information. Experiment with a cheek-pulling Savannah Guthrie smile. It may momentarily startle your friends enough that they’ll stop talking to see if you are all right. It’s a stall tactic and a showstopper. And as a bonus, it may also tuck in your jowls.
            Agree to be executor of your friends’ wills. It will give them peace of mind. And besides, what are the odds you’ll outlive them?
            If a friend decides to go on a long-awaited Fiji vacation while their parent is in hospice care, say, “Enjoy your trip” instead of “You will regret this decision for the rest of your life.”
            When your friends discuss the intricacies of their pets’ bowels and provide endless, excruciating details, visualize waves splashing on an empty sunny beach, perhaps in Fiji, until they change the subject.
            Rather than give unsolicited advice that will be unwelcome and ignored, save your breath. Tidy up your bathroom cabinet, tossing expired Neosporin and face creams, whenever your friend phones to discuss the political intrigues of his nonprofit board.
            Share your stress fracture boot with your friends as their bones, too, decline. Compare calcium alternatives and charts. Discuss whether to go the Blythe Danner or Sally Field prescription route.
            Attend a play a friend is eager to see even though you aren’t particularly interested in it, and it’s a lot of money. She’ll appreciate it and would do the same for you. Meantime, you may actually enjoy the show, assuming you can hear it over her spirited snoring in the second act.
            If you receive unspaced, three-page emails that resemble an ancient cataract-defying scroll and require hours of respacing to review, try simply responding, “Thanks for the update!” rather than commenting on the myriad details. If the gist of the email is to praise the accomplishments of children, a simple “You must be thrilled!” may suffice. Therefore, avoid sending long, unspaced emails.
            When a fifty-plus friend tries to turn you against one of your other fifty-plus friends, just forget it. They will, too.
            Listen intently to your friends’ dreams, if they have any. People over fifty tend to have sleep issues and want to talk about it. Instead, steer them to talk about their dreams, which will be more engrossing than sleep apnea, trust me. Their dreams may provide you with valuable insight into their psyches. Have fun privately bungling the dreams’ potential symbolism.
            Don’t point out that our tolerance for alcohol declines with age. Try not to make judgmental or alarmed facial expressions when they order yet another round. Just be sure they get home safely.
            Gently point out to your confused Boston friend that Hamilton The Musical’s diverse cast is intentional.
            Turn away when a friend seems unaware that placing her stubby fingers inside her nostrils after dinner is revolting. She’s been doing it for years and isn’t going to stop now. Expect it to get worse.
            When a friend complains about discarded drinking straws cluttering the once-pristine beach near his second home, refrain from mentioning the climate damage caused by his Escalade SUV and frequent exotic cruises.
            Send “care” packages before or after friends’ surgeries: books if they can read, food if they can eat, flowers if they can lift, or cozy socks if they like that sort of thing (note: the latter represents a very small percentage of the population).
            Take your valuable time to listen to a friend’s podcast. Even though you didn’t enjoy it, tell her you especially liked the music. Come up with something complimentary when she tells you she didn’t write the music: recall a particular moment or phrase, and say it moved you, or it was interesting. It won’t kill you to focus on something positive even if it was godawful. It isn’t lying exactly since it moved you to bang your head against the wall in frustration. And it is interesting that she thinks anyone would voluntarily listen to this podcast.
            Avoid accidently slamming car doors. The slam sound apparently causes intense physical ear pain to your newly-wearing-hearing-aid friends, as evidenced by their profanity when you unwittingly do it.
            Should a friend say in passing that they forgot to send in their annual donation to the Alzheimer’s Association, do not point out the irony. Simply observe.
            If one rainy morning you notice a friend’s mother waiting patiently in her wheelchair on the sidewalk outside your friend’s house, walk over and hold your umbrella over her tightly curled hairdo until your friend runs out to get her. Resist the urge to sing to the tune of “MacArthur Park,” “Someone left their mom out in the rain.”
            Connect the dots on a friend’s latest firing. Realize it can’t just be coincidence or ageism or sexism. Admit they may actually have “performance issues.” Try to remember how they operated when you worked together early in your careers: they exaggerated their contributions, they pissed off coworkers. Is that so bad? Help them with contacts and job leads. Encourage them. They really need a job.
            Tell embarrassing stories about your clumsiness, broken appliances, and social faux pas. It will cheer up ailing, unemployed, or grieving friends who need distraction and may understandably enjoy the misfortune of others.
            Stay loyal to your longtime tennis partner even if they are now unable to run side to side. You haven’t run to the net since you were forty.
            Cut your over-fifty friends some slack. They are running out of time. And so are you.
            Marvel at their swagger.

Nancy Ford Dugan’s short stories have been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize and have appeared in over forty publications, including The Diverse Arts Project, Dream Catcher Literary Magazine (UK), After Happy Hour Review, Blue Lake Review, Caveat Lector, Crack the Spine, Cimarron Review, Cobalt Review, The Healing Muse, Passages North, The Minnesota Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, Glint Literary Journal, The MacGuffin, Epiphany, Delmarva Review, Hypertext, The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, Lowestoft Chronicle, Maryland Literary Review, Paragon Journal, Penmen Review, Slippery Elm, Superstition Review, and Tin House’s Open Bar. She lives in New York City and previously resided in Michigan, Ohio and Washington, DC.