A few weeks ago, I went to my annual skin check up. I had a funky mole discovered and removed (twice!) last year and it was time to get back to the dermatologist. As I sat in the waiting room, resisting the desire to be on my phone, I watched two women come out from the clinic. They were both so lovely, hair perfectly in place, dressed in monochromatic colors with jewelry to match and coats with fur hoods.
They happened to be octogenarians.
It was clear they had come to the appointment together, one in support of the other, and while the woman in all purple stood to the side to lean her cane against the wall and put on her coat, the other talked with the receptionist about scheduling the next appointment.
“How about January 14, 2022, at 10?” the receptionist asked.
The friends looked at each other and smiled, “I’ll clear my calendar,” quipped the woman in the corner.
Y’all. What is it to have a friend for the ages? Yes, we have our pals who do life with us now. Babies. Playground dates. Girls’ weekends. But what of the friends who will be there decades from now? Who’ll attend our doctors’ appointments and help us file medical claims and commiserate over grandchildren we don’t get to see nearly as much as we’d like?
How do we maintain friendships as we grow older?
Remember what brought you together.
A walk down memory lane is good for more than a few laughs. In some of my most treasured friendships—the ones that feel like we’ve known each other forever—it can be hard to remember how we met and became friends in the first place. Take time to reflect with your friend on what brought you together. Maybe you were sorority sisters in college or met at a breastfeeding support group or worked in the next cubicle and began to grab bagels for her from the break room. Whatever it is that knit you together, remember together.
Make space for new memories.
As beautiful as those cherished memories are, making room for new is a vital part of progression. Two dearest friends came into my life when we all resided in the same small Virginia town. Now, we’re hours apart but continue to forge new memories. Sometimes that looks like girls’ weekends at the beach. In pandemical times, it’s more like an outdoor picnic at a historical site. Making new memories means we’re not leaning too hard on the original ones, and gives space for the friendship to mature.
Label limits in your current season.
For everything there is a season. A time to call and a time to text. A time to Marco Polo and a time to Vox. Okay, okay. You get my point. But truly, when we’re drowning in babies and virtual school and off-site work, we may not have the capacity to give anything else to our friendships, dear as they are. And years from now, when we’re swimming in financial aid applications and caring for aging parents and planning our spouse’s retirement party, our capacity to give might look different. Setting boundaries is what allows us to continue to show up as a supportive, present friend for the long run. It’s okay to share that you are not in a position to connect or offer support in your current season.
Avoid social and life stage comparison.
Her house may be bigger. Your career may be more demanding. Her children may be delightfully well-mannered. Your friend circle may be smaller. Her business may be more successful. Your vacations may be less adventuresome. Her family may be blended. Your marriage may be going on 20 years. She may sneeze and get pregnant. You may have an exceedingly difficult fertility story.
When we compare our life seasons (and our bank accounts) with that of our friends, it cheapens the relationship at best, and makes it little more than a “gotcha” game at worst. Our social standing will change. Our seasons will surely progress, often at different speeds. It’s up to us to reflect on the advantages of our own life experience and remember that our trajectory will look different from our friends.
Give & receive.
We won’t always take. We won’t always give. The long-lasting friendships, the ones that age in beautiful, sustainable ways, will have seasons of both. When a relationship is authentic and balanced, there will be times to offer and to accept the offer. Remarkable friends continue to support each other through the years, recognizing that lifelong relationships aren’t transactional, they’re transformational.