Make New Friends, But Keep the Old
“Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future. Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.”
– Mary Schmich (in that cheesy, yet true “wear sunscreen” speech that turned into a top 40s hit in the late-90s)
We solidified our friendship doing the requisite college Eurorail trip — racing through European capitals, snapping photos in cathedrals, drinking cheap wine in dimly lit restaurants with checkered tablecloths, and crashing our aching feet onto thin hostel mattresses at the end of each day. Our friendship formed fast, as such friendships do. It was the fall of 1997, a fragile time between childhood and adulthood, ripe with untarnished optimism about what the days and lives ahead would bring.
Last week we met for dinner, sharing burrata, pork ragu, and bruscetta over a wooden table in a quiet corner of a modern restaurant. We don’t live in the same place anymore — in fact, we’ve almost always lived in three distinct time zones over the past 16 years — but yet, I felt like I was with family when I slid into my seat at the wooden table. “How’s your dad doing,” E asked A. And A teared up, telling us that his heart continues to get weaker and weaker. We talked about the details and what it meant for her and everyone in her family. We’ve followed her loved ones’ lives over the years just as we’ve followed hers. “How does it feel to be home?” A asked me, and we talked about my constant struggle to reconcile my West Coast home with my Midwestern roots. They patiently listened to the same old conversation we continue to have year after year — not judging, just being there. “I think I might be in love again,” E told us. And A and I felt sisterly joy for her new beginning.
These women have been a steady force in my life over the years. I feel like I’m at home…wherever I am…when I’m with them. They know what I dreamed about and feared when I was younger and untouched by the reality of life and work and responsibilities. They were with me when I chopped off my hair for the first time. They know I’m a terrible dancer. They know my family. They’ve been to the house I grew up in. They met my grandmothers, who are no longer here for new friends to meet. And because of all of this, they’re able to remind me of who I am when I feel lost. They know me in a way it’s really, really hard to get to know someone as a grown up.
Last summer The New York Times published an essay about why it’s so hard to make new friends after 30. The essay centers around the point that “as external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other.” This doesn’t mean that making friends after 30 is impossible — some amazing people have come into my life after 30 who will undoubtedly be friends for life. But when it comes down to it, the first people I’d call in a crisis have been in my life a long time. I saw another one of them for breakfast this morning, and driving to meet her and her daughter, I realized I hadn’t seen her in five years. She’s still one of the first people I’d call if I needed someone. There is no catch up with her. We’re always caught up when it comes to the things that matter most.
So what’s the lesson? “Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.” Make new friends, but keep the old…