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May 2, 2022

Friendship: Love that Lasts

Linda Hopkins

Photography By

Dreamstime Images
Most adults have a broad circle of acquaintances and a much smaller circle of close friends—you know, the ones who would drop everything to drive us to the airport or the hospital; the ones who show up with soup when we’re sick, Kleenex (and emergency hugs) when we’re sad, and champagne when we’re celebrating. Do […]

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Most adults have a broad circle of acquaintances and a much smaller circle of close friends—you know, the ones who would drop everything to drive us to the airport or the hospital; the ones who show up with soup when we’re sick, Kleenex (and emergency hugs) when we’re sad, and champagne when we’re celebrating. Do you ever wonder what compels them to stay?

Friendships are voluntary. Unlike marriage partners or family members, friends have no obligation to stick around. They don’t sign papers or take vows. They’re always free to go. So, why do some friendships flourish while others fade away?

Most people think friendships are based on mutuality—things they have in common like hobbies, children, specific interests, or causes. While friendships are often initiated through a shared activity or interest, that foundation can be fragile, because people’s interests, activities, and schedules change. 

The epitome of BFFs

When I think of “best friends,” I have several, but the truest example is my Atlanta friend Beth. We met in nursery school and are in our mid-60s now, so you do the math. Beth and I attended school and church together through eighth grade then lost track for a few years during high school and college. We reconnected down the road, picking up where we left off. We’ve been down separate paths over the decades, and we are vastly different in some ways. Yet an invisible thread connects us—our upbringing and shared history, of course, but more important is a long record of acceptance, reliability and mutual caring.

She has seen me through every happy and sad occasion of my life, sharing my joys, bearing my sorrows, never judging my mistakes. She keeps in touch, knows what’s going on in my life, and is supportive of my hopes, dreams, opinions, and crazy ideas, whether she agrees with them or not. And, of course, it works both ways.

I will never forget seeing Beth at my door when my husband passed away in 2001. She brought food to my hotel room the night before the funeral (I had not eaten or slept in two days), wiped my tears, and tucked me in bed—yes, tucked the covers around me like no one other than my mother has ever done—before turning out the lights and heading to her own room.

We’ve had a few misunderstandings over the years, but we’ve always addressed them with kindness, compassion and forgiveness. Regardless of the miles between us, time between visits, challenging life events, or shifting circumstances, she is my friend, and I cannot imagine life without her.

The choice 

Time has taught me that I can have friends who are vastly different from me in age, appearance, lifestyle and beliefs. Take my friend Nancy. She’s an outdoorsy, shorts-and-flipflops kind of girl from upstate New York. I am a “fancy” girl with a Georgia drawl who dresses up and applies lipstick to go to the gym. None of that matters.

We met on Hilton Head Island in 2008 when I was sent to interview her for a local publication. Of course, we share a few superficial interests such as a love of sushi and a rousing game of Yahtzee, but that’s not enough to sustain a 14-year-going-on-lifetime friendship.

About eight years ago, she moved to Tennessee. I rarely get to see her or spend time with her now, and neither of us is a big phone talker. It would be easy to let the friendship ride off into the sunset, but we have chosen to hitch our horses to the same post (texting and sharing images of our daily lives, with an occasional phone chat for good measure). Why? Because we genuinely enjoy each other and treasure the ease of our relationship. The bottom line: friends are friends because we want to be.

Staying power

What I saw in our 2016 political arena and more recently in the pandemic response has driven home the necessity of respect and tolerance within the friendship circle. I have friends of many persuasions, and I can proudly say that I still have those friends, mostly because I choose to stay out of certain conversations—in person and online. Yes, I have an opinion, but I value my friendships far more than any political party, social issue, or clever meme. It doesn’t mean we can’t have a lively discussion, but I have found that friendships have a better chance of survival when we can close a subject or simply agree to disagree. It also helps to be curious about and consider my friends’ upbringing and life experiences, which, of course, influence spiritual beliefs, political leanings, social standing, financial attitudes, family attachments, etc. Understanding and respect form a firm foundation for any relationship, especially friendship, which lends itself to an easy exit if the ground gets shaky.

I look around and see the closest friends in my life today and am amazed by the eclectic group of people who have chosen to stay. Ironically, these lifetime friends are not necessarily the ones who call or text every day. A few do (like Beth), and the communication is appreciated. But just as important are the friends in the background—the solid ones I may not speak to every day, but who would come running should I need them.

And then there are new friends. At a certain age, it’s easy to close the circle and overlook a potential new friend. Most recently, I stumbled upon an angel. Although I was introduced to Robin only a few months ago, it feels as though I’ve known her my whole life. We’ve laughed about our crepey necks, cried over past losses, and commiserated over life’s daily challenges. Our interests, talents and backgrounds are somewhat different but compatible, and the commonalities are undeniable. It may be too soon to tell, but I believe she and I will “grow old” together.

For me, the most important criterion in friendship, old and new, is the ability to communicate freely and not withhold parts of myself. Of course, there is reason to discern how soon to disclose personal details and how much to tell, but most times, I find that opening up is worth the risk. “Me, too,” is such a rush, isn’t it? A real friend will accept you just as you are and keep your private information private. As my 30-year confidant Karen often says, “It’s in the vault.”

Friendship is to know and be known. It is pure love with no strings attached.

How To Create Friendships that Last

Maintaining a long-term friendship takes time and effort, which may ebb and flow as changes occur and life’s demands shift. Here are some tips for developing lasting friendships and keeping them fresh:

  • Get real. If you want to be loved for who you are, stop pretending to be someone you’re not. Open your heart. Let your hair down and show some vulnerability: dare to reveal a fear, a dream, a secret, or a mistake. By acknowledging your weaknesses, you invite conversation that feels supportive and safe.
  • Celebrate the good times. It’s easy to be sympathetic when your friend is struggling, but it’s equally important to celebrate each other’s accomplishments and good fortunes. There is no room for petty jealousy, comparison, or competition.
  • Accept differences. Cherish the things you have in common but honor your friends’ idiosyncrasies. For these are the qualities that enrich relationships and render each one irreplaceable. When we look deeply into the heart of another, we often find that we are more alike than different.
  • Honor communication preferences. You can establish and maintain closeness through phone calls, texts, emails, video calls, instant messages, and social media platforms. With so many options for keeping in touch, it pays to discover which one or ones your friend prefers. Of course, there’s no substitute for sharing time and experiences, but the ongoing flow of communication is essential.
  • Respect time and energy. Equally important as discovering the desired mode of communication is understanding how much contact is enough. Too many touch points can feel smothering or annoying, especially when a response is expected. Too few communications can signal a lack of interest in maintaining the friendship. Aim for the sweet spot, which will vary from friend to friend.
  • Hold the advice. If your friend is calling to discuss a problem or a pending decision, more than likely he or she simply needs to be heard, not lectured or advised. Listen with the intent of understanding rather than crafting a response or solving the problem. Your first response should always be empathy with a side of kindness and compassion. Express concern where appropriate and offer counsel only when asked.
  • Be there as best you can. Friendship requires emotional give and take. Be sensitive to who is most in need of an ear or a shoulder and be there—if not in person, always in heart and spirit.

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