One of the best things about getting older is that you get to have Old Friends. You know, those people who are so much more than mere Facebook Friends.
And as Boomers enter the “autumnal” stage of life, it’s a joy to enrich our lives with Old Friends, who may have been there all along.
Many modern relationships seem like Kleenex, useful for a while then discarded. This post is about how to stay friends for life against the odds.
From Cradles to Crones
One of my best Old Friends is Kitt. We found each other in seventh grade, circa 1967, at Barnum Junior High School and have been buddies ever since.
I’m kinda tall; she’s kinda not.
My nose is often in a book; hers covered with paint.
My voice is self-conscious and muted; hers is full of raucous, spontaneous laughter.
We’ve canoed in the Canadian lakes, “Cheated the Cheat” River white water rafting, worked dead end jobs, celebrated promotions and graduations,…
We raised kids and raised hell, loved and lost. And, through it all, we’re still friends.
You know the kind of friendship I mean; the one that stands the test of time.
There is no neediness or manipulation, just good humor and laughs. Pure gold.
Kitt and I just got home from an autumn trip to England. It’s a place where I lived for part of my life and returned to many times.
I’m still charmed by the bucolic scenery and ancient buildings, but what really mattered to me was the chance to re-connect with my English Old Friends – to take in their familiar faces, now a little fuller and softened with time, and to rejoin a conversation that has been suspended while we lived oceans apart.
Kitt signed on as my traveling companion after shyly admitting to me at our High School Reunion that she had never been overseas.
And though we had not spent more than a day together in the past twenty years, we made a plan to spend ten days mooching around Old Blighty with no fixed itinerary.
It was grand. No more than grand, it was fabulous. From Jane Austen Country to The National Portrait Gallery; from Stonehenge to the London Bridge; from Fortnum’s to Liberty’s. We made every precious moment of every day count.
A Formula for Lifetime Friendship
Real friends share a wide-angle view of the world. Whether it’s rowdy conversation or companionable silences, country walks or city shopping, toast and tea over the Sunday Times crossword or a night out at the trendiest restaurant in town – they’re happy just to be together.
There is a sensation that time has stood still while you were apart and you can pick up right where you left off.
This deep bond doesn’t just happen by chance. The seeds of long-term friendship take careful tending over the seasons of life.
Step One: Young Punks
It starts when you first meet with a spark of recognition that before you stands another soul with the potential to really know you – inside and out.
And in that moment you realize that male or female, tall or short, younger or older, left-brained or right, this person “gets you”, holds your attention, makes you laugh, creates an island of good humor, peace and pleasure that is like a tall drink of water on a hot, humid day.
Step Two: Trouble and Strife
You and your potential friend for life, must spend a period of time struggling through a shared experience. You cheer the ups and wallow in the downs of:
- working for a bad boss;
- making it through the eighth grade;
- raising children on foreign shores; or
- holding on tight through a messy divorce.
Your survival melds you together for life with a golden alchemy. When you eventually are forced to go your separate ways, the times that you went through will remain common ground forever.
Step Three: Midlife Malaise
Next, you must surmount the difficulties of remaining connected over time and space. Life moves on and quickly too. To keep a friend for life, you must make the effort to renew and re-energize the friendship through whatever means you can.
Sometimes it’s a cursory Christmas card, an email message from out of the blue, or better still, a handwritten letter. A postcard sent from an unexpected place. A Sunday morning “voice from the past” phone call to trigger fond memories.
There are more ways to re-connect than ever before. You can spread silliness with Facebook, YouTube videos and Skype. These are great tools but not without their drawbacks. They are by no means a substitute for a smothering a smiling face with big hug.
Step Four: Golden Opportunities
Finally, you have to maintain your motivation to meet again. This doesn’t happen by chance either – someone has to make it happen. It could be at a high school reunion, a wedding, a funeral, a stopover on a road trip or a long awaited adventure.
Kitt and I spent our last day hiking the coastal path along the White Cliffs of Dover. If you have three minutes, you can visit the White Cliffs here.
We’ll Meet Again
We’ll meet again
Don’t know where
Don’t know when.
But I know we’ll meet again
Some sunny day.
Vera Lynn, 1939
Music and lyrics by: Ross Parker and Hughie Charles
Vera makes “meeting again” sound like serendipity. But someone has to make a plan and execute it.
If this sounds suspiciously like work, and it can be, it is worth the challenges of setting aside everyday life… and work… and families… to further the cause of lifelong friendship.
You don’t get to choose your family, but you can and do choose your friends. Don’t let loose of them!
Nurture your friendship well and the glow will keep you both warm for a lifetime.