Friday, June 22, 2012


What is it that makes friendships endure through the years?

I spent yesterday with a married couple who have been friends of mine for many years. The wife and I attended high school together in the 1960s. We were good friends then, working together on the high school newspaper and enjoying each other's company. We did not attend the same church or even have the same circle of friends. But we were on the same wave length and had the same values. After high school we attended different colleges, got married and ended up living in different parts of the country.

We went our separate ways until the mid to late 1970s when we reconnected. Since that time we have managed to keep in touch. Whenever possible, we visit in person.

For about eight years, I worked in the Washington, D.C. area and lived a few miles from their family. The wife and I would meet occasionally for a weekday lunch or a Saturday shopping outing. We were both busy with careers and time was not easy to find. But we still had plenty of things to talk about and enjoyed getting together.

Yesterday was the first time I had seen the wife in three years. I hadn't seen her husband since I moved to the Midwest 15 years ago. But the point is that the friendships were still there and going strong.

What is the element that makes such relationships endure?

My mother was a caring individual who maintained communication with certain friends over many years. Even if only a handwritten enclosure to a Christmas card, she made an effort to keep in contact with former neighbors and close friends. She had a personal warmth that demonstrated sincerity and concern for others. Perhaps the strength of friendship has been diluted by the loss of written communication. Taking a pen in hand to make a personal connection with someone has become extinct.

On the other hand, I have email contacts who forward jokes and silliness on a weekly basis who might consider me to be a "friend." Being a friend requires more than "liking" someone on a so-called social network. The entire social network idea leaves me completely cold. I don't get it. I receive messages from people -- some of whom I don't even know -- about incidents which are of no interest to me or most likely anyone else for that matter.

Perhaps social networks have a value if you are 18 and need reassurance that you are part of the latest craze, but I don't see its value for the over-25 crowd who have a sense of personal worth. A person busy with life activities has little time to "like" comments made by someone else who merely wants to vent. This isn't friendship. It's phony and transitory.

In conversation, we tend to use identifying phrases like acquaintance (someone I met a few times and might recognize in a crowd) and co-worker (someone I do know but may not like) when talking about certain individuals. There are other phrases that might be used to describe another person: someone I knew in college, family friend, neighbor, even associate.

But considering someone to be a friend is no small thing. It means that your relationship has staying power, even if you are separated by miles and years. You can pick up after a long absence and almost forget that any time has passed. Friendship means that you value and care about someone, listen to each other talk and recall big events in each other's lives even if you weren't present. These are communication skills that are quickly disappearing from our lives.

More's the pity.

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