When I was in high school, I spent a lot of time driving around with my friends, looking for the party or getting food somewhere. We were too old for slumber parties, but not too old to spend the night and stay up too late talking. We probably spent too much time talking about each other, but mainly we just talked. I remember getting together with girlfriends for dinner the night before prom. With apologies to my prom date if he’s reading this: dinner was more fun. For three years, we helped each other figure out how to be teenagers, and we perfected the art.
And then, college. Obviously we went to class and there were boyfriends to deal with, but I can’t remember a time in my life when I’ve had more time to spend with my friends. We lived together, and in my memory it’s just one long conversation. There was some drama, but I’ve also rarely laughed as hard. I’m not sure that my college friendships haven’t been every bit as valuable in my life as my actual education. These were the first friendships among women, not just girls. They had that gravity, even if we didn’t know it then.
After college, there was still a lot of time to hang out. Though my friends and I had jobs, they were the kind of jobs that required our time, but not our full attention. What we were really doing is trying to learn to be adults, and one of the best parts was doing it together. Man, that was fun. Some of these friendships were more fleeting for me — we didn’t stay in one place for all that long — but they weren’t any less important. I got together with a friend last week who I last saw when were both living in New York after college. Right on cue, we stayed up talking until 1:00 a.m. Better than therapy.
Somewhere along the way, things shift. It’s not that your friends become less important, it’s that you have a lot of other important things going on as well. Jobs become careers, boyfriends become husbands, babies come along and become children with their own calendars. I don’t mean this to be another blog post about how we’re all too busy to live. Being busy with family and a career isn’t something to complain about. I just mean that where once you had five hours to sit around watching movies and drinking wine, now you have an hour to meet up. It used to be that friendship meant total immersion. But what does it mean now? This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.
I’ll readily admit that I miss the casualness of being friends when friends were the main things in life. I never lie around on my friends’ beds anymore, helping them decide what to wear. I don’t rummage around in their parents’ pantries for candy while I watch movies (on VHS obviously). I don’t crash on their couches because it’s too late to go home. It’s taken me a long time to accept that friendship, at least where I am in my life, has to happen in a different way, but isn’t less meaningful for that.
I guess what I’ve learned is that while time is one of the currencies of friendship, it isn’t the only one. Shared experiences, empathy, humor, love and care can add up to something pretty powerful, too. My closest friends these days are people with whom I share all of those things, even though we’ll meet for cocktails after bedtime instead of taking an eight-hour road trip together. Or we’ll talk on the phone instead of going for a run.
I’ve also learned that some of the old friends are friends for life, no matter what’s changed since the friendship began. We’re in different places, living different lives, but some days I’m lucky enough to be reminded of this: there are women who I would still happily have a slumber party with any day of the week.We’re just the same as ever, except (as recently noted) now with station wagons.
Near and far, old and new, it’s different now. There’s no denying it. But friends and friendship matter every bit as much as they ever did. I would say “if not more,” but there is no more. They’ve always been — continue to be — as important as breathing. I’m so thankful for that, and for them.