COMMENTARY: The Treasure of Old Friends

In my lifetime, I’ve had the good fortune of having a handful of good friends.

Each of my four teenage daughters have many hundreds. At least that’s what they call every Facebook connection they collect like trophies. The list of those kinds of friends includes people they barely know, some they don’t know at all, and even some people they don’t like.

They also have lots of real friends – people they actually know and spend time with. They profess to “love” and “miss” quite a few and, though it defies the meaning of the word “best” they each have a rotating group of best friends often referred to a BFFs (best friends forever) or BFFLs (best friends for life).

It’s pretty obvious to an old codger like me (using the word codger proves how old I am), that their use of the labels “friend” and “best friend” represents a diluted and naïve concept of the intensity and longevity of friendship.

In relationships, “forever” is, outside of rare exceptions, a romantic illusion borne out of real but transitory emotions. From the perch provided by decades of experience, it’s pretty obvious that none or only a few of today’s BFFs will be in their lives for very long.

This is not to say that these relationships aren’t important or that they don’t provide all kinds of needed comforts such as companionship, validation, support, fun, and caring counsel. But just as lasting and meaningful love is hard to find and sustain, true friendships are rare and, therefore, precious.

Generally, the intensity and longevity of almost all friendships are tied to context, place and time.

Except for friendships with relatives (if you’re fortunate to have any who really are your friends), friendships rarely make the transition from one major stage of our lives to another.

And though we may feel affection for old friends who once played a central role in our lives, unless we have been in regular contact, many of the qualities that made the relationship so special (shared joys and grief in real time, common experiences, intimate knowledge of our thoughts and feelings) just aren’t there anymore.

The insight of age is that even our best friendships usually morph into memories.

Fortunately, the emotions that define these memories are easily re-awakened and enjoyed with even infrequent contact.

Communicating with “old friends” can enrich our lives by  bringing our pasts into the present, reminding us of who we were and how we became what we are.

The irony is that Facebook, which seems to promote a watered down version of friendship for my kids, also makes it possible for me to re-connect with a small army of far-flung folks who once played a major role in my life — and I’m glad for that.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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Comments 11

  1. Going through the distancing/loss of a couple of 20+ year friendships, I appreciate this perspective. I’m trying to be happy that they happened instead of sad that they’re over.

  2. From an older codger than you I wholeheartedly agree with your commentary. Past friends have left me with wonderful memories but it is sad when an email or phone call no longer gets a response.

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  3. This summer I am going to TWO 50th reunions for high school graduations. One is for the high school that I graduated from, and the other is for my grade school friends in another state. I have been to certain reunions with each, and have Facebook contact with friends in both groups. But the grade-school friends are the ones that I most vividly remember and cherish the most!

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  6. Michael,
    I’m blessed to have some notable exceptions that prove your rule. My two closest friends, aside from my sister, have now been my friends since 1970 and 1966; since neither of them has a sister, they claim us! The one I’ve known since 1966 is also my “birthday twin,” and when we were little girls, people used to ask us if we were twins, or at least sisters. The four of us now live spread out across the southern United States, but make it a priority to get together two or three times a year, and we talk, text, and/or Facebook at least weekly. None of us can imagine life without each other, and we count our blessings constantly.

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