“Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”
― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
15 years ago I met a girl in an airport bathroom (a story that I wish I could say was more scandalous than this auspicious beginning implies). We were on our way to a week long political youth conference in DC and New York, along the lines of model U.N. but I maintain cooler, that turned out to be a great time and we stayed in touch afterwards. A decade and a half later, we are still in touch and make time to see each other whenever our travels take us into one another’s orbit. She’s come to London a couple of times in the last three years, including this past weekend, when she arranged a fab dinner party to introduce Jeff and I to two other couples as well as the guy she’s dating. No surprise, we loved them all.
It got me thinking about friendships, specifically friendship in adulthood.
Growing up military brat, there was always a fluid nature to many friendships. Depending on where I lived I was surrounded with and went to school with other brats and, given the nature of the work, it was likely that one of our parents would be shipped across the country or the world in less than two years from the time we met. As a result, I and many brats I know tend to be able to make friends very quickly. We are more likely and able to progress through the phases of friendship quickly–we need to! The emotional intimacy and sustaining fun of friendship is a requirement of life, but we didn’t always have time to spend years and years cultivating relationships. We tended to single out the people we would get along with quickly, join forces quickly, and stay bonded until divided by circumstance.
On the flip side, when a friendship was broken up by a government directed move, it was often the case that it simply came to a successful end and didn’t continue. There has been an uptick in thinking and writing in recent years about “friendship breakups” but I’ve not really experienced this phenomenon in a negative way. Most of the friendships I’ve had that ended came to a natural and organic close as a chapter in life (shorter than most civilians due to the nature of our parents work) ended. I grew up partially before the internet and finished university before mobile phones became the pocket sized universes of information they are now, so this undoubtedly contributed to friendships winding down too. In an age of Whatsapp I imagine things are different now; they certainly are for my siblings–my 11 years younger than me sister seems to be operating in a totally different world than I did. I dread to think of the disconnect if Jeff and I have kids!
I don’t want to suggest that I grew up with a “disposable” attitude towards people, because that’s not accurate. But I am used to the idea that not all relationships are supposed to be or need to be permanent. Sometimes you need certain people at certain times (and vice versa), the need ends, and you both move on positively.
In adulthood, however, without the crucible of adolescence, school, sports teams, or other social tools made to get people together into groups, I don’t find as many opportunities to forge new friendships. I’ve stumbled into a few incredibly rewarding ones through blogging (hi, Caitlin!), work, and travel, but it’s a rarer thing now. It takes more work and effort than it did in a Department of Defense high school scene, and of course these days I have a partner, a full time job, errands to run. So do they! Adulthood is busy, and it can be hard to find the time to grown and nurture new friendships. On the plus side there are now more tools than ever to stay in touch with the people I already have in my life–it’s a rare week that doesn’t include a transatlantic call of some type. In my childhood, that would have been an expensive and complicated thing, these days it’s the touch of a button.
Alternatively, I have a handful of friends that I made years ago that were and remain the vital relationships of my life. My two best friends I made in middle school and, scattered as we are, I plan on them being in my Girl Squad until the day I die. One has asked me to be the executor of her will, she’s also been slated as godmother to any hypothetical children since before Jeff and I got married–before you ask, he’s 100% onboard. He refers to X. as his sister-in-law because he knows she is family to me and has been since I was 12 years old. Katarina is my other squad captain. We are the guardians of one another’s secrets, mutual cheerleaders, and constructive critics. We’ve been reading each others’ writing for the better part of two decades and one of the proudest friend moments of my life was being asked to be a first reader of the manuscript that landed her an agent. I am a ridiculously fortunate woman.
But I still appreciate the opportunity to meet new people and check in with pals who may only flit in and out of my city once every few years. We may not talk every day or even every month, but we bonded for a reason and can find a lot of joy in circling back to one another.
3 thoughts on “Friendships in Adulthood”
This is so interesting — It hadn’t occurred to me (!) how differently you see friendships because of moving so often. I’m delighted to know you and be a friend and am someone who very deeply values her friends…for decades.
I’ve also learned to be much warier of “friends for life” after losing 3 friends here in NY, one of whom I spoke to every day, even in our 30s. A true friendship can also withstand occasional conflict/disagreement — because both of you so value the larger ongoing relationship (like marriage) you’ll work through it. The 3 pals I lost refused to do that. I miss them still, but sometimes — as you say — you outgrow the patterns (subservience, for example) and they refuse room for growth.
When I make a new friend, it feels like one the greatest gifts in the world!
I know I’m more of an acquaintance here, but I like following people electronically. 🙂
I think I’ve had a similar disposable-friendship attitude- to the point where even family relationships are pretty disposable (currently cutting off various extended family members). I don’t have friendships where I call someone every day or even multiple times a week, but I do have people that I know I can fall back on and pick up where we left off, so that’s good.
Always a delight when you check in!
My relationships are very similar to what you describe. I have few connections with my extended family at all, and even within my immediate family we’ve had our periods of tensions when I’ve felt the need to drastically streamline my interactions with some family members (actually in a bit of that now, to be honest). Never easy, but I’m much better at boundary maintenance than I used to be.