Care & {Keeping} of Friends

Best Friends.

We all have them… since childhood we’ve treasured them, made the mad, made up, made mud pies, gone to dances, gone to college, gone overseas, grown up, grown out, grown apart…

Sometimes, those best friends are a treasure for a fleeting time in our lives, and then things naturally progress to bigger and better things. That can be okay. But, there are other times when a simple lack of planning, lack of effort, lack of time, lack of interest, get in the way of the beautiful possibility of lifelong companionship.

{The Tin Man, Wicked Witch, Scarecrow, Dorothy, Toto and Glinda…}

Don’t always cut those glittering ties of childhood memories just because you’ve grown up. Sometimes, it’s worth it… sometimes it means the world to hold on to what was once dear, and make it dear again. And, I’ve found that there are some simple steps every friend can take to maintain these important connections.

{Meet “The Three”}

A Blonde, a Brunette and a Red Head: Hannah, Rachael and Samantha. We were more than the perfect punchline – we were soul-mates. Queens of the roost, we were all the oldest of our siblings. Hannah, the oldest of 9, Samantha, the oldest of 8, and I, the oldest of a measly 4. (My parents were under-achievers. Obviously : )

Hannah and I – friends since I was in the 1st grade, and she was in kindergarten – “let” Samantha join our group at the age of 14. We were inseparable. “The Three” enjoyed the same classic novels, became experts at Junior-year chemistry, were the harshest of fashion critics, cruised newly-licensed in cars with the tops down and scarves in our hair, listened to our parents slightly-warped records, ate ice cream with reckless abandon, put-putted, had picnics in the park, fell in love, went to camp, competed in school, painted our bedrooms crazy colors, fought, annoyed our little brothers, made-up and then…. went to college.

Me, close to home. Hannah, in Massachusetts. Samantha, in Virginia.

Our delightful little story could have ended there. In fact, we all felt it slipping away at times. New friends, different settings, changing interests, careers, boys, too many miles. It started to add up.

But, we fought back. We deliberately chose to press against the “natural” order of things, and their tendency to become disordered and dissolve. It took work, but it ended up better than we could have imagined. And so, even after two weddings, one of us in D.C., one in rural Ohio, another in Europe, we still are close…

Everyone seems to have one of those old friends that knows them better than anyone else. Try these tips to make that road to lasting friendship as bump-less as possible:

1. Give one another space. We’ve heard of “helicopter” parents, but helicopter friends can be just as bad. Even if you talked every day for 18 summers, that kind of contact is hard to maintain (and often unwanted) when you’re at different schools, different places in life, with new responsibilities and a job in front of you to do. Be okay with silence. Be okay not knowing her every move. Sometimes, it is that space that preserves a relationship.

2. Invest the time to catch up. You’re busy, they’re busy. You’re in for the weekend to see your parents, he is visiting grandma and has a long commute. Stop. Get a coffee. Take an hour to talk about life. Even if it is just the short version, jumping in with both feet and sharing the stories and joys and sorrows of the past three (or six, or 10) months with one another face-to-face makes a huge difference. It builds a bond – much better than a phone call – helps you remember why you loved each other’s company so much in the first place.

3. Find out how they’ve grown. This step might be the most important of all. When you’ve gone through a transformation, sometimes the energy to bring an old friend up-to-speed doesn’t even seem worth it. For example: When Hannah came home from college on the East Coast, lots of our friends poked fun at her for her new sense of style, turns of phrase and academic pursuits (An english/theater major?!). They also teased her with outdated stories and old nicknames.

Now, these weren’t mean people, but they weren’t giving Hannah any room to grow. The OLD Hannah is all they knew how to relate to! But, I could tell she was getting frustrated… but why bother telling them she’d found new passions, new interests and discovered a fun new style? I decided to ask her, and Samantha, an important question next time we sat down together.

Name three things that are different about you; three discoveries that you’ve made about yourself since you’ve left.

This question was a game-changer. Learning just those three things – free of judgement, no comments or comparisons or “But remember when you said you HATED skinny jeans? What Happened?!” – made all of the difference in our relationship.

Once afraid of the kitchen and anything but athletic, I had learned that I loved running and competitions, and adored trying new recipes. And Hannah had uncovered a love for Italian, and a talent and passion for art and poetry. Because we helped one another discover these things, we had each other’s backs. We didn’t accidentally hurt each other’s feelings by making jokes about my cooking abilities, or Hannah’s elementary school sketching skills, and in just a few minutes we had dug to the core of what our usual conversations circled around but never quite reached…

That was an OLD us, but now, we were introduced to the surprising, fun, fresh young women our best friends had become.

{Samantha and I Skype with Hannah, who is living in Orvieto, Italy}

Around the Holidays is a great time to re-connect with old friends. Make sure you take some time to do so this season! Do you have a dear friend that has persevered through life with you? Tell me about it!

P.S. More about friends will follow in coming posts – including some of Hannah’s amazing work! That whole English/Theater thing… yeah, it paid off.