I know some people who refer to virtually anyone they know as a friend. I’m not one of those people. I might use that shorthand occasionally, when the details of my relationship with someone is immaterial to the conversation. But to be my friend, we have to have some sort of intimacy. I need to have shared something more than just superficial with you. And vice versa. By my definition, I count my friends using the fingers on one hand. Which sounds a little sad, doesn’t it? There are lots of folks I like, but just liking someone doesn’t mean we are friends. Or does it?
I think of Jen as my oldest friend. We met because our rooms were on the same floor freshman year at college. This fall we’ll have been friends for 27 years. We’ve been through a lot together. And even though we currently only live about 15 minutes from each other, I rarely see her. Her kids are older than mine and we are in very different places in our lives. The love is there, but the time isn’t.
My friend Sandy lives 400 miles away. We talk on the phone nearly everyday. We have kids the same age. We have a lot of life circumstances in common. Our families vacation together. Though I’ve only known her for five years, I think of her as a sister.
But my friend Nancy is the one I’ve truly known the longest. I’m not sure when we actually met – maybe 5th grade? Which would put our friendship at 34 years or so. But she lives across the country and our contact is minimal. Still, she’s the person from the earliest part of my life that I’m still in contact with.
I see the friendships my kids are making, and it’s interesting to me to observe the criteria for friends. At their age, friends are a product of proximity. And when it comes down to it, isn’t that the basis for all friendships, at least originally? I see K get manipulated by friends – they threaten to withhold their friendship, or to not invite her to a birthday party. One kid in her class tells her daily where she ranks on her personal friend scale – one day she’s #1 and the next day she’s fallen to #3. A few days later promoted again. I hate that. Friends are critical to happiness, but I want my kids to have the skills to choose friends who will bring them joy, not pain. So much of parenting is fostering self-esteem in your child, isn’t it?
Of course, friends can be virtual too – and I guess I’ve shared some intimate things in this space. I’ve certainly been the recipient of it too, from many who read this blog, and even more who haven’t.
How old is your oldest friend? Or rather, how old is your oldest friendSHIP? And while we’re talking, how do you define friend, anyway?