Keeping Friends a Long Time

Anti-Aging Psychologist, Dr. Michael Brickey

Host: Anti-Aging Psychologist Dr. Michael Brickey

Guest: Jeffrey Zaslow

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Jeffrey Zaslow

Which of your friends have you known the longest? How long have you known that friend? Does the length of that friendship make it valued? Keeping childhood friends when you all still live in the same city is quite an accomplishment. It’s even more impressive when your schoolmates are scattered all over the country. Jeffrey Zaslow, author of The Girls from Ames, documents the lifelong friendship of eleven girls form Ames Iowa who maintained close friendships for more than forty years, despite being scattered all over the country.

I had hoped reading The Girls from Ames might give profound insights into the glue of long friendships. Instead, it was like watching an episode of The Waltons. Simple truths. There are no magic bullets, friendships require a commitment and the follow through of being there for your friends. Graduating from high school poses a big challenge to childhood and high school friendships as so many people go away to college or move away to take a job or follow a lover who has moved. I found it interesting that as people get older, friendships are easier

  • easier because we are more likely to have money for travel,
  • easier because after childrearing is no longer consuming our time we have more time
  • easier because we have less wanderlust and less need to try everything and more need for roots
  • easier because we have more maturity and better understand the value of friendship.

Those who no longer work full-time have even more time for friendships. I find that a very positive message. Indeed if you start a friendship at 50 and live to 100, that is still a fifty year friendship. That extra maturity also gives us more insight and empathy, for example providing more support to a parent her son or daughter/your friend dies. In the meantime, the ideal situation would be to have a grandparent, parent, or mentor who alerts us to relationships we should be paying more attention to.

What held the Girls from Ames together was a friends forever commitment they made to each other before they were even high school age. That is probably quite rare and most friends for life friendships are in twos or threes. I suspect that people from very small towns feel more bonding and commitment. People who have intense experiences with a church, sport team, or other organization probably are more likely to bond. People from unique schools that instill school loyalty are more likely to bond as well.

While Jeffrey Zaslow is probably correct that women’s friendships tend to be face to face, focused on sharing their lives, and emotional, while men’s friendships tend to be side by side doing things, there are many exceptions. A sizeable number of men have no interest in sports, poker, and macho pursuits and many men would cite women as their best friends. Indeed, as sex roles are becoming less distinct, the nature of male friendships may tend to become more like women’s friendships.

It will be interesting to see if Facebook provides the face time friendship requires. There is considerable research that finds people with friends live longer, healthier, happier lives. But that research doesn’t say anything about how long those friendships have to be. I note that there have been several movies about friendships that start when people are quite old. Examples include Morgan Freeman and Jack Nickelson in The Bucket Brigade. In the Bucket Brigade Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman are very ill in a hospital and write their list of things to do before they die. While ostensibly men doing activities, they wrestled with meaning, purpose, relationships, and the angst of dying—face to face emotional heart to heart talks just like women have.

Research on friendship finds that as people age they tend to be more selective about friends and focus on a smaller number of quality friends and on family. This is as it should be. Youth is the time to try many different things including getting to know people from different backgrounds and cultures. By fifty, we have a pretty good idea of what relationships are likely to lead to quality friendships and what relationships are likely to be shallow. Thus the middle years and beyond are a time to focus on quality. But I would add a caveat. Salespeople know the importance of always seeking new customers. Otherwise, attrition will leave them with fewer and fewer clients. Likewise we need to cultivate some new friendships at every age so we don’t find ourselves with a paucity of friends.

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