So much of life right now is confused and tentative, but the pandemic that has brought such general fogginess has also brought clarity in some ways. We’re more aware than ever that we need friends, though not just any friends will do. “All of us are at the point in our lives and going through so much right now that we need to think about, who do we love? Who do we want to nurture?” said author Amy Ferris last week in a NextTribe event on friendship in the season of COVID. It’s time to be selective, time to make sure we realize what makes a good friend and how to nourish that relationship.
Even though we’re isolated right now, we don’t have to be alone.
One of Ferris’s good friends, a new good friend, is Marta Kauffman, the co-creator of Friends and Grace and Frankie, and the two of them appeared together at our event. Kind of a case study in the potential of friendship and confirmation that it’s never too late to make life-changing friends. When you think about it, Kauffman is kind of an authority on friendship given the fact that her two most successful TV shows are based on the nature of this fundamental relationship.
Ferris and Kauffman call their friendship “miraculous.” That’s because they live on opposite coasts, and have never met in person, having just found each other during the pandemic. But their friendship shows us how quickly deep bonds can form, if you’re open to it. They report that they almost instantaneously realized their fondness for each other. At our event, their humor and synched energy offered viewers, especially those looking for new friends or needing closer connection, hope that even though we’re isolated right now, we don’t have to be alone.
Here’s an edited, condensed version of our hour-long conversation:
Anatomy of a COVID Friendship
How did you two meet?
Amy Ferris I obviously knew who Marta was. We have a couple of mutual friends. I’d post something on Facebook, she’d respond and I’d respond to her. We actually decided we should have cocktails [over Zoom], and to be really honest, it was like love at first sight. It’s so nice to find women of a certain age, 40 and up, that you really connect to.
Marta Kauffman: I had read Amy’s book, Marrying George Clooney, which I loved. And I found Amy’s voice so unique and so special and so profound. And hilarious. My favorite combination on things. When Amy and I met Zoom to Zoom for the first time, I felt like I’d always known her. It felt familiar and comfortable, like we’d gone to camp together. I imagine the day I get to meet Amy in person, I’m going to throw myself in her arms and cry like a baby.
Were you looking for more friends at the time?
MK: I wasn’t looking per se. I’ve always felt it’s more difficult as we get older to make new friends. I have friends I’ve met many years ago, like family to me. New friends are hard to make after a certain age. When I saw the possibility of a new friend I got all excited; I think each friend brings out a new piece in you.
AF: We were supposed to meet in L.A. but of course with the pandemic that didn’t happen. We were going to have drinks with a mutual friend. In a very bizarre way it’s almost better that we didn’t because our friendship has become so fucking powerful the way it developed. There’s no bullshit. We seem to kind of honor each other. When my husband was in the hospital, Marta was right there, texting me, asking, “Are you OK? What do you need?”
Do you think being in the middle of the pandemic brought you together faster?
MK: We are all so isolated that it was ripe for a new friendship to develop out of that isolation. It was fodder for a new friendship, in some ways. It was crucial and invigorating.
AF: We’re all going through so much shit right now. We’re all isolating, trying to figure out who we want to be and what we want to be and who we want in our life and who we don’t want in our life. Becoming friends with Marta has a lot to do with the fact that you get to know somebody when the scaffolding is down. No one’s immune to what’s going on in the world.
And did the Zoom platform help you connect more easily?
MK: I think the Zoom experience is intense, more intense than sitting across from each other at a nice rest with a glass of wine. You are face to face, eyes to eyes. I think because of that, the walls are more transparent.
The Grace and Frankie Model
Marta, what’s the difference between the friendships shown in Friends and the friendship of Grace and Frankie?
Like all good friends, Grace and Frankie bring out the best in each other.
MK: Friends was about the time in your life when your friends are your family. Before you had your own families. One of the reasons the show had to end is they were all having families of their own, and we all know you can retain some friendships but you also spread.
Grace and Frankie is about that time in your life after your family has grown up. You’re no longer needed by them in an everyday way. It’s that time in your life when you realize you can start over at any point. You can make new friends at any point; you can start a new business at any point; you can make toilets and vibrators; you can have sex and do all these things. It’s from that later perspective that you’ve been through so much of your life, a portion of your career, raising your family. It’s a whole new chapter.
In Grace and Frankie, they knew each other for so long but were so different. Then they come together as friends. What cements their friendship?
MK: I think they bring out the best in each other. They temper each other without interfering with who they are. They don’t put up with each other’s bullshit too much. They can be honest about it and they say it, but they lift each other up and support each other. Bottom line. They went through this parallel experience and they were there for each other, and they just love each other. Part of me feels it doesn’t always have to make sense. Friendships don’t always make sense. Sometimes people just meet their soul mates and who knows why. Grace and Frankie needed each other.
Do you write that kind of friendship from your own experience?
MK: Once we came up with the basic idea for the show, it was about the relationship between Jane [Fonda] and Lily [Tomlin] as people. That started to tell us what the show would be and what the relationship would be.
We were talking in the very early stages, and one of the things we wanted to explore is sexuality in women of a certain age. Jane was telling us about things besides Viagra and Ciallis to help men’s erections. She was talking about one man she had to give injections to, and Lily said, “You have got to get younger boyfriends.” We thought there it is. There’s the beginning of that relationship, and because Jane and Lily love each other, it makes it feel very honest and real.
My Friend, My Life
Why do you think friendships get more important for women as we get older?
AF: I think because we get fucked over so much more.
MK: I think there’s a couple reasons. Who else can understand? It’s with women that I feel most myself. We tend to support each other in ways that is not always true with male friendships. We listen, we cry for each other. As we get older and we think what we’d like our lives to look like, what we want is the comfort and familiarity of women.
How do you find friends at our age?
MK: Right now you can’t meet people at the grocery store, but in the past, I’ve spotted someone and I’ve thought, I want to be that person’s friend. It’s an energy. Just someone who has light.
AF: There are people with a certain energy and there are also people with an energy you don’t want to go near. Oh, stay the fuck away. Hopefully as we get older, we get wiser, we become more intuitive. A friend says that you know yourself better so you can choose your friends authentically. I think as women we need to be honest with ourselves. Not all women are the women we want in our lives. Not all women are great women, not all women are kind.
The Keepers and the Dementors
So is it common to get rid of friends at this stage of life?
I don’t know how much life I’ve got left in me, but I’m not giving any of it up for a bad friendship.
AF: We are at a point in life where we can shed friends It’s important that we stop taking bullshit or letting people treat us badly. If we learn anything from this time, being in the middle of this pandemic, it’s what do we want to fill our life with, and who do we want to fill our life with. Who are we going to share our stories with? A lot of friends in our life don’t give us what we need.
MK: When I turned 60 I learned a very valuable lesson: I don’t have to finish every book I start. It was so liberating. There are too many wonderful books out there, there’s no need to put myself through hell just to say I finished. That’s true of people as well. The ones who don’t make me happy, don’t bring me joy, the ones who are toxic. I don’t need to finish that. What I need to do is start with the new women, and read them as a book.
We have a comment from someone who says that a therapist told her everybody is a psychic straw and they either suck or they blow. They’re additive or they subtract from you.
MK: I’ve also found as I’ve gotten older there are people in my life that I call The Dementors. The ones who just suck the life out of you. I don’t know how much life I’ve got left in me, but I’m not giving any of it up for that.
So what makes a good friend? I’ve read one definition of a friend–someone who knows all about you and loves you anyway.
AF: We’re all so fucking imperfect. And that’s one of the things I love about Marta. We’re not afraid to be messy. “Oh my God, I’m going through this or what a fucked up day.” I’m not afraid to share the things that suck in my life. I also love that Marta is a woman who cheers other women on. She genuinely is rooting me on. That to me is extraordinary.
MK: You can be fucked up. And that is fine by her. I feel I am someone who doesn’t always let the cracks show but with Amy I felt with her I could do that.
I guess it’s important to make sure we surround yourself with these kinds of people who can let you be messy.
AF: Conditional anything sucks. Conditional love.
MK: A good friend says, “How are you?” And when they hear the answer they say, “How can I help?” But they also say, “I need you and here’s how you can help.”
AF: A good friend is someone who champions you, who loves you and sends you a gift because you’re hurting. A good friend picks up the phone, and even though you haven’t spoken in a few days she doesn’t say, “Hey how come you didn’t call me back?” I think a good friend reciprocates, she holds you when you’re hurting. Good friends bring out your joy. They want you to be happy and really want the best for you.