Friendship, while as unique as its individual participants, usually includes the elements of love, kindness, humor, flexibility, reciprocity, and compromise. Since these are common elements of any good relationship, how does friendship differ?
Feeling the difference is easier than putting it into words. Friendship is a sweet spot that includes the ideal balance of intimacy and distance. The atmosphere is lighter than a relationship with a family member or a significant other. The friendship zone usually contains less judgement and fewer expectations, thus more space to thrive.
My relationship with my best friend is a wickedly fun and nostalgic place where we can both truly relax, laugh out loud (we’re talking belly laughs with tears), and be with life. I also love that no matter how long it’s been since we last connected, we seamlessly pick up right where we left off.
Having a good friend may become even more important as we age. The article The Healing Power of Friendship Grows with Age reports that as you get older, a good friend can help dispel loneliness, improve your health, boost your sense of wellbeing, and even add to your years. Aging can be challenging, and a good friend can help you negotiate those challenges.
If circumstance finds you without a good friend, consider a few ways that could help you kindle a new friendship. Volunteering, joining an exercise class, or joining a group with which you share a common hobby are all good options. Also, travel tours, attending church, or getting brave and striking up a conversation with a stranger are other possibilities.
I consider myself lucky to have a lifelong friend who I dearly love. This year we are celebrating 58 years of friendship (and still counting). The following is a snapshot of the love, humor, joy, pain, support, and wisdom that is the gift of our friendship.
Two little girls met at age four and planted seeds of friendship that continue to endure today. We quickly became the best of friends; me shy, her more outgoing. We were inseparable partners in curiosity, creativity, and crime. Her house was catty-cornered from mine, and we spent many summer days of our childhood playing from dawn to dusk, breaking only for a quick lunch and dinner.
We attended elementary through high school together, navigating classes, teachers, extracurricular activities, and boys. Both of us were cheerleaders in middle school and later members of our high school drill team. However, she won the prize for flexibility since she could (and still can) place her leg behind her head!
We forged priceless memories during many snow skiing trips to New Mexico with her family. Long road trips from Texas to our destination included lots of singing and harmonizing to Neil Diamond classics, as well as those of other popular artists. Helen Reddy was our hero, and we theatrically belted out her anthem ‘I Am Woman’ because, well, we were strong and we were invincible!
Giggling was common on those road trips, and we found ourselves frequently shushed by her mom when her dad anxiously tried to set the cruise control on their Chevy Suburban. That option was becoming popular then, but still imperfect and quite finicky. Setting it required her dad’s full attention, our silence, and several jerky attempts before successful engagement!
Our 58-year-old friendship has survived most other relationships in our lives. It’s seen us through thick and thin and continues to serve as a source of love and support. Over the years, it was witness to four weddings and three divorces between the two of us.
It’s supported us through many losses, including the untimely death of my 2nd husband, diagnosed with kidney cancer. We’ve shared the pain and sadness that comes with parents suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. We’ve cried through the funerals of 3 of those parents and watched their caskets lowered into the earth.
Thank goodness there was lots of fun and laughter along the way! By the grace of God, we raised amazing children, she a son and me two daughters. Now we get to watch them parent while we unapologetically spoil our grandchildren! We also have the best time when we travel together, albeit not as often as we’d like.
There’s no one else who shares the same twisted and ridiculous sense of humor as my best friend and me! I can’t count the number of times we were (and sometimes still are) guilty of laughing at inappropriate things or at inappropriate times. I don’t know where that comes from, but it is the glitter glue binding our relationship!
Serious moments at the movies were especially fertile ground for this behavior when we were teens. The two of us sitting side by side with our bodies shaking uncontrollably as we tried to subdue our laughter during a serious movie scene as the rest of the audience sat in silence. We didn’t dare make eye contact for fear of howling out loud!
Friendships come in several varieties, but all should serve as a compliment to life rather than making it more difficult. Are you taking part in any friendships you do not enjoy or that no longer align with your values and lifestyle? If your answer is yes, perhaps it’s time to bid them a kind farewell.
Though true at any age, for those of us 60 and beyond, healthy friendship may especially be key in supporting our health and wellbeing. I look forward to reading your comments about just how impactful friendship has and continues to be in your life!
Do you have a lifelong best friend? What is your most cherished memory with that friend? Any tips for meeting new friends? How is friendship in your 60s and beyond different from friendship when you were younger?