Recently, I have been considering the value of time-tested friends. As I have grown older, my need for secure and lasting friendship has also increased. While I have a large number of acquaintances, I crave for my inner circle of closest friends. Somehow, I need friends to complete me. I want to spend time with them, though I may not necessarily see them on a daily or weekly basis.
In this post, I write about the character of the relationship I have with my long-lasting friends. At the end of this post, I offer a seven-point checklist detailing the main characteristics that are important to me. As my thoughts unfold, I hope that you will identify the components that you consider essential for your friendships and that you will be encouraged by what you find. I invite you to share your insights via the comments.
In our lives, there is a natural turnover of friends with each passing decade. In a decade, we may turn over multiple friends. As an experiment, I spent a few moments recalling those who were in my life, ten years ago, and ask “Where are they now?” Those who have retreated from my circle of friends tell me that one or both of us have changed.
In my case, having a stress breakdown, becoming depressed and leaving my work made a significant impact on my ability to maintain my friendships. One or both of us has found it impossible to sustain what we had. Losing people from our experience of life is natural, if painful at times.
Keeping long-term friends is also natural, and I call these friends “sticky friends”. These sticky friends, once made, stay with us long-term. We share a resilience that enables us to build a loyal and robust relationship together. In a 2015 article, How relationships help us to age well, published by The British Psychological Society, authors Laura Soulsby and Kate Bennett consider the substantial evidence that relationships help us to age well.
What I am interested to learn about what creates and sustains friendships. So, how do we keep connected for the long haul? And what are the threats?
In 2016, The Guardian newspaper published a thought-provoking article, “Do people start losing friends at a certain age?” The piece, curated by Sarah Marsh, begins with the idea that after the age of 25, we begin to see a decline in our friendship count as life changes around us.
A change of status, such as a relocation or illness, or a drastic upheaval, such as acquiring sudden wealth or committing a serious crime is frequently the main reason for the severance. Yes, I did have a friend who committed murder, but that is for another post, maybe. Significant sudden change rarely leaves our world untouched, and when it does, we must expect collateral damage.
At one time, I felt that I should have as many friends as possible. These friends were people I knew from our shared experience, perhaps through work or some other kinship circle. Some I saw regularly; others less so. For instance, I might see someone at an annual conference or when travelling. Friends I made in this way were easy to relate to, and with whom there was common ground.
The common ground might be a shared history; for example, my school friends. I left school nearly fifty years ago, so there are not many left now. I wrote about losing a friend in a previous post, How Life Transitions Affect Us. Those that remain assume a higher value.
Or, the shared experience might be a family connection. I’m proud to be part of a natural family that has stayed in touch with each other. My twelve cousins meet together once or twice a year, in what I call our tribal gathering. Our genes bond us.
Whatever the circumstances, bonding experiences will chime with our values and deepest needs. It is from these experiences that our sincerest friendships arise. Some of those with whom we share meaningful moments will become time-tested friends. Sticky friends emerge from what is shared.
My illness and eventual retirement caused me to think deeply about my friends. I wrote about my journey to peace after retirement, in my post, Retirement re-calibration. At the end of 2017, I asked myself searching questions about the nature of my relationship with my friends.
Conversely, I suspect that the same queries arose about me. Was I toxic? Did they want to be near me with so many issues? Of course, most of my time-tested friends just hung in there, not knowing whether I would emerge from the ‘dark night of the soul’ or not. Change tests relationships.
In a 2017 article published by Psychology Today, Temma Ehrenfeld writes about the health benefits of friends in our older years. Ehrenfeld postulates that local friends trump distant family in meeting our friend needs. Interesting.
To round off this post, here are seven characteristics that have shaped my understanding of our sticky friends:
- Sticky friends have travelled with me on the long road to today;
- Sticky friends are small in number;
- Sticky friends are mainly contemporaries;
- Sticky friends offer reciprocation, as I do;
- Sticky friends are low maintenance;
- Sticky friends can withstand long silences;
- Sticky friends stand by me, to encourage and support, in all weathers.
In my next post, I write about the importance of face time and how social media is no substitute for time together, though it adds a useful dimension to keeping in touch.
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