The Friends We Made Along the Way

Lately I’ve had a few things kicking around in my head that seem obvious, but I feel the urge to put them down in words on my blog for personal record and clarity. This one’s about friendships.

I’m 40 years old now and have seen quite a few relationships come and go, blossom and whither. I often think about what can help friendships get started and, more-so, what it takes to keep them going. Even if the right pieces are in place, some friendships eventually fade for a variety of reasons, but I feel like I’ve gained some insight since childhood on what has the capacity to sustain friendships for the long term. I still fail at this often enough myself, of course.

How it Started

Most friendships seem to be instigated by either a chance encounter, life circumstances, or some unifying social group. I think about a chance encounter like striking up a conversation with a stranger in a coffee shop that turns into an extended conversation, which results in the exchange of social media profiles and eventually a long-running friendship. We just happened to be in the same place at the same time and happened to interact.

Life circumstances accounted for most of my childhood friends. My best friend during elementary school was a boy who was in the same class with me, and we mutually tolerated/enjoyed each other’s quirky personalities and shared some common interests. Even if we weren’t always in the same class, we still attended the same school and lived in the same town, so it was easy for our parents to drive each to the other’s house, or meet up on the playground at recess.

Unifying social groups could be topical conventions which bring together like-minded and commonly-interested folks, predisposed to have at least a few things in common with each other by virtue of attendance. Whether it’s the campus ministry I participated in during undergrad, or a conference for people who make websites, these settings provide a lot of social shortcuts that can help strangers accelerate the whole getting-to-know-you part of a new relationship. I’ve made friends online this way where the unifying social factor was a mutual friend that started a podcast. I’m not religious anymore, but I still have quite a few friends I made during those college ministry days or in past church congregations.

I’m a Firestarter

“We have a lot in common.”

Common interests are like starter logs. They can get a friendship going, but you need more than that keep the fire burning. Most of the friendships of my youth and early adulthood were defined by common interests because so many young people wrap up their identities in their interests. Grunge rock. Making stuff. Beach life.

But most people don’t like all the same bands for their whole lives. Most people don’t want to do all the same activities, visit the same places, read the same genres of fiction. People change, and with personal change comes a new, or at least shifting, sets of interests. It’s entirely possible that your interests may shift with your friend’s, but it’s also possible you’ll run out of things to do and talk about if that’s most of the scope of your friendship.

I’m pretty sure that’s why my best friends from high school aren’t even acquaintances of mine today. We all went to separate colleges at different times and, when we came back together after an extended time apart, we’d all been shaped by new experiences, influenced by new people, and our tastes had changed in different ways. Those common interests were just about all we had between us, so there wasn’t much left when they no longer aligned. I don’t morn the loss because I recognize that none of us really did anything to split up the group. We just grew up and grew apart.

“Well, I gotta keep it going keep it going full steam”

If common interests are the fire starters, shared experiences and proactive communication are the fuel and oxygen, respectively.

With legal adulthood came increasing autonomy. Now I could travel, make some (limited) financial and social decisions on my own, and generally explore the world around me a bit more. I didn’t need my mom to drive me to my friend’s house to socialize. My friend and I could decide, together, that we wanted to drive up to New Jersey to see Weezer in concert one college summer. I’m not in to Weezer as much anymore (though their first two albums will always be some of my favorite music) and my friend was never as big a fan as I was, but we will always have that trip. We will always have that time spent traveling, sharing in the choices, consequences, and rewards of those days. Shared memories have the ability to unite us in ways that don’t change with our tastes.

But that same friend and I rarely talk anymore. We were best friends for years (and I dare say we could still pick right back up and have a helluva time together), but because the lines of communication have long run silent, we just don’t keep up with each other. There are loads of factors that can disrupt communication; with this friend I think it’s because we shifted into different stages of life. But what differentiates that friendship from the ones I still count as strong and active is that my still-healthy friendships include regular, two-way communication.

“I felt so symbolic yesterday”

I don’t think I’m saying anything profound here, and I’m certainly not speaking from a place of expertise. But I dunno, maybe it’s the kind of introspection that comes with the awareness of one’s own aging.

Thanks for reading, friend.