By Mary Lou Sanelli

I met S., who is responsible for making me laugh more than any other friend, in my dance class. I loved this young student with an old soul. We became friends. We’ve had lots and lots of fun over the years.

Naturally, there’s been lots and lots of tears, too. She cries easily and, as is my nature, so do I, but we consider this a good time. Our tears are so unlike what we are inclined to think of when we think of tears. In a sense, they are as important as our talking.

But I’m older than S. by 21 years, which makes for tears she hasn’t even begun to cry yet. And I can feel a certain impatience set in when she talks about marriage. It’s as if a part of me watches her skitter off into fantasy land, and I feel it’s my duty to guide her gently back to reality, while also remembering what matters: acceptance of where we are, individually, at this moment in time.

The alternative is that I become her mother. But she has a mother. I’m her friend. I have to act like a friend, even when I don’t feel like a friend because I feel like her mother.

Either way, there’s no gentle way of phrasing, “You can’t even hope that he’ll know how you feel if you don’t tell him. And, yes, you will have to clearly explain the complexities of your emotions again and again with no guarantee that he will understand, remember what you said, or not be bored out of his mind. (If he closes his eyes, no, he is not still listening, he is sleeping).

The writer Phyllis Miletich was my older friend. I made her laugh in the way we laugh when what we really want to do is roll our eyes. She gave me great advice: “Don’t try to make your husband your girlfriend. You have girlfriends for that.”

When I shared this advice with S., I saw the look in her eyes. I’ve seen this look before, many times. It says, “I am still in search of the perfect love.” S. is balancing a lot: a toddler, a career, a husband. And she’s struggling. She’s struggled before. But nothing like this. Last time we met, she mentioned marriage counseling.

I didn’t know what to say. My thoughts on the subject felt too agelong for me to share in the moment. I could not say then what I have sat down to write today, which is that the most enviable married couple I’ve ever witnessed is a couple of robins. I stop right here.

In fact, I’ve started and stopped writing this three times. As many times as I try, all that comes to me, I fear, sounds over-simplistic.

Yet, how many humans take the time to do nothing but that wonderful round-dance in the nest to smooth out the kinks before lining it with whatever softness they can find? Or, most amazingly, manage to couple for life. “You don’t need a marriage counselor,” I thought. “Just watch the birds.”

But on that day, I couldn’t say this to S., she was too upset. I could only look at my glass of red and wish that I could voice all that I was thinking.

Finally, I said, “I watched a female let the male bring food to the nest and then squawk until he left. He seemed to accept without question that she just couldn’t deal with her hatchlings and him at the same time.”

A look passed between us, the kind only good friends can share, and then we both burst into laughter.

Mary Lou Sanelli works as a writer and professional speaker. Her latest book is A Woman Writing. For more of her work, visit marylousanelli.com.

“A SHARED SPACE” is an ongoing reader-submitted column. To share your story, email coconnor@midweek.com