One of the biggest struggles I’ve dealt with in life, multiple times actually, has been losing friends. While sometimes this was mutual due to us naturally changing and growing apart, there were some friendships during my high school years that I grieved immensely. I sometimes make the case that losing someone still alive is more difficult than losing someone to death. When someone dies you’re forced to accept the reality that they won’t ever be in your life again. When someone willingly leaves your life you hold out hope that somehow, someway that person will return to your life and it takes a lot longer to accept that they’re gone.
I think I bought into the “friends forever” mentality a lot more than most people and retained a loyalty to people I cared about a great deal more than they seemed to keep towards me. I was also incredibly sensitive and able to be hurt quite easily. I’m sure this isn’t uncommon among teenagers as hormones heighten emotions, new experiences open up worlds of possibilities, and everything somehow just seems more important and dramatic. I often keep that thought in mind as a high school track coach. I never downplay my athletes’ feelings regardless of how “insignificant” something in their life may seem as I remember (despite being almost 33 years old) how emotional things felt to me in high school.
I have been fortunate to retain a few great friendships over the years. One friend, Lindsey, I’ve actually known since we were in diapers as my mom was her babysitter for a period of time. She qualifies as my “oldest” friend in terms of longevity. Ours is an interesting friendship in that I don’t know that we’ve ever considered each other “BFFs” but we’ve always kept a connection and known about the important things in each others’ lives. We’re also each other’s go to person when a concert comes to town that we need a friend to join. I recently attended her wedding and went to a youth football game to see her one daughter cheer, and it was a reminder that you can maintain lifelong friendships through new phases in life.
I was able to visit recently with my best girlfriend, Alecia, as her mom bought a ticket to fly her in from Chicago for a long weekend. She and I have been friends since high school when cross country, track and a lot of the same classes joined us together. Unfortunately we’ve spent more years physically apart (she moved to Chicago to attend college) than we have in the same state which means our actual hangouts post-high school have been severely limited. I’m sure that’s why I go through spells of really missing her and curse the airline companies for tickets to Chicago being so expensive. We went out to breakfast and caught up on each other’s lives and I was certainly sad to say goodbye. Ours is a friendship that can pick back up like we haven’t gone over a year without seeing each other. I realized driving home that one of the reasons I love hanging out with her so much is that she’s 100% focused on the conversation. In a world of technology and mental stress it seems harder and harder to find people to truly engage with for an extended period of time and I’m glad I have that connection with her.
I have another friend, Ashley, who I have actually been coworkers with twice. During college I worked with her at the Deb Shop, a juniors’ clothing store no longer in existence, and we both work for the same healthcare organization now. She’s not someone I ever hung out with outside of work a whole lot, but with who I’ve always retained a good connection to nonetheless. We were recently Skype messaging during work and reminiscing about those years at the Deb Shop and our antics when we were young and dumb. It was a reminder of how nice it is to have people who know past versions of you, who can remind you of past fun times, things you’ve overcome, and still be able to connect to the person you are now.
While the three friends I described above came into my life during different periods, and our in person interactions have waxed and waned over the years for various reasons, they have retained their friendships with me. The most important element of those friendships is that I can tell all 3 of them anything, and there will never be any judgement. They accept me as me, flaws and all, and I think that is the key that allows people to grow in life and retain old friendships. I have come to cherish my interactions with them, particularly the in person ones, even more the older I get as I realize truly connecting with people gives a lot of meaning to life.
Do you retain close friendships with anyone from your high school or college years or even younger? What do you consider the most important element to retaining a lifelong friendship?