Friends, Part Two.

(This is a picture of friends from elementary school, taken at our 20 year high school reunion last summer.)

I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago about what friendship means at four. Some old friends are visiting this weekend (Hello Nguyens!) who have me thinking about friends at forty.

I often hear people around my age lament that it’s harder now to find and forge true friendships. We all remember the bond we had — hopefully still have — with the friends we made in high school and college. Of course, in those days, we had long, decadent, empty days and nights to fill with idle chatter. My high school friends and I used to aimlessly drive around talking and end up at Krispy Kreme when the “Hot Now” sign was on, and that felt like a great night. In college, my roommates and I used lie around in our house, walk around town, or even sit in inner tubes on the sweltering roof of our house and talk for hours. (Procrastination creates tons of unscheduled time.)

Back then, our whole world was within easy reach, and our friends were at the center of it. It’s almost hard to imagine having so much time and so much to say. Maybe that’s why those friends will always feel like family to me.

These days, time is short and life is busy. Many of us have family far away, and it takes a lot of time (and money) to visit and make sure those bonds stay strong. Old friends are spread out across the country, and keeping in touch (beyond a Facebook hello) takes real effort, especially when you factor in competing toddler sleep schedules and time zone differences. Keeping friends close is a challenge, but a blessing. Something we do only if we’re very, very lucky with the people who we hold most dear.

The process of making new friends seems much more complicated these days. Do the spouses get along, too? Do the children? Do you have any overlapping free time at all? And then how do you know who might be a real friend, not just a chatty social friend? Those lazy hours we used to spend getting to the bottom of things have been replace by hurried drinks, dinner parties that never happen often enough, and family outings where we spend half our time making sure that nobody’s kids are fighting (much) or playing in traffic. It’s harder, and it takes longer. And even after you get through what I think of as the “dating” phase of making friends, it remains a challenge to carve out quality time. And then friends move, or you move, and you start all over again.

Having said that, I think I’m learning that the rhythm of friendship remains the same, even when the pace has changed, and a more complex life sometimes means that there are more ways than ever to encounter like-minded people. New friends, near and far, surprise me with their abilities to make instant connections. Women I’ve met just in the past few years have become trusted confidantes with similar taste and interests, and (thank god) similar senses of humor. Folks who started as just the parents of John’s classmates turn out to be a wonderful network of supportive friends who can be counted on in any emergency. And people I met ten years ago, even those I never see as often as I’d like, are dear, dear friends — suddenly old friends — with whom I will gladly move to the home when we’re all 80. Maybe then we’ll finally have enough time to talk.

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