This week is the second of a two week period that my friend Karen and I are the same age. Our birthdays are two weeks apart, making me exactly fifty weeks younger than her. I was fascinated by this as a child, and loved being her age for those two weeks.
Our friendship is an interesting one, in that we have never lived particularly near each other. Growing up, she lived four hours away in Maryland. I stayed in Virginia for college and she headed to Chicago. In a brief time when were were both out of college, we were geographically closer than we have ever been. She was living in Maryland, I was in the northern part of Virginia and we could easily meet in Washington, DC. However, before long she was accepted into graduate school school in Glasgow, Scotland, and we haven’t lived in the same country now, for more than ten years.
Despite the distance, she is still one of my closest friends. I recently ran across an old journal from elementary school. In one entry, I was reflecting on a very good day and commented that the only thing that could have possibly made the day better was if Karen lived closer. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that closeness is not really about proximity, as much as it is about the bond that you have with someone.
I think that three things are key to maintaining an adult friendship, whether with a far-away friend or a next door neighbor.
- Having a strong friendship culture. I’m referring here to artifacts and history. I could call it “inside jokes,” but that cheapens it. It isn’t about making others feel left out because they aren’t part of your friendship. Instead it is about having traditions to celebrate together. Karen and I had many craft projects when we were young. We made dolls and bears and other creatures out of leftover scraps from her mom’s sewing basket. Two tiny dolls we made are still in circulation today. Luckily, they are the perfect size for mailing back and forth. They make appearances when a plane trip isn’t possible; a constant reminder of our friendship.
- Understanding the Age of Obligation. From our mid-twenties into our forties and beyond, we’re busy. Scholars of adult development summarize these years as the Age of Obligation. They are the prime years for advancing and building your career, having children, building a home. In other words, there are countless demands on our time and it is often harder to find time for non-obligation-y things. While this doesn’t mean that you should simply give up on setting aside time for friends; it does mean that time may be less frequent or in shorter bursts. In another thirty years Karen and I may be able to Skype (or mind meld, or whatever we are doing then) in the middle of the day, for hours. Now is not that time, and that is okay. It is just part of the phase we are in.
- Making the time you do have together, quality time. Be present. Resist the urge to multitask (physically or mentally) when you have time to visit. The dirty dishes will wait, as will your work e-mail. Reminisce about that shared history, talk about your worries and hopes and dreams about the future. When you have the luxury of time together, simply be all there.
So . . . cheers, to one of my oldest, dearest, furthest-away,-yet-closest-at-heart, friends. Here’s to the last few days of being exactly the same age!
What are your tips for a lasting friendship (with the person next door or someone across the world)? I would love to hear your take on this in the comments below.