It feels like in my 30's, I've been much better about understanding and appreciating friendships. I think because as we mature, our free time decreases, so getting the most out of your relationships is important. I've dropped and been dropped from a few friendships the last few years, partially due to incompatibility, but also because we have room for a finite amount of people in our lives, and there just isn't room for everyone, most especially those who don't totally understand us. Through this process, I've come to appreciate my oldest friends in a way that a picture frame stamped with the words "BEST FRIENDS" can't fully illustrate.
Meghan is my oldest friend. According to lore, we met on the first day of kindergarten and from then on were good friends through grade school, middle school and high school. We also were members of the same parish, so in case we ran out of things to talk about that happened at school, we could always discuss the other altar servers or what happened at St. Patrick's Day party in the church's social hall. At a young age, your parents pretty much choose your friends for you, and thank goodness my mom and Meghan's mom were fans of us and each other. No grade school memory recall is complete without our mothers gripping each other, stifling laughter, at one our school's many band recitals (I think it was the trombone version of "Silent Night" that got them going.) Meghan and I attended college in separate states and then moved in together (with a third old friend, Jennifer) after graduation. Living with a friend can be a surefire way of destroying the relationship but somehow we were able to figure out how to make our friendship work in adulthood, past childhood and young adulthood.
I think it's simply lucky that I was thrown together with Meghan and many other wonderful people at a young age (I'm still close with many friends from grade school), but there are factors that I think need to be in place in order to sustain a relationship for so long. We broke it down together:
Separate lives: Meghan and I always have catching up to do each time we see each other, partially because we are relaxed about how often we talk (which is the case with all of my oldest friends--we don't necessarily know what we're up to day to day but we're confident in the fact that we will eventually catch up.) The other reason is that we each have full lives that are tangential to but separate from each others' friendships, other relationships, other passions, other scenes that we like hearing about but don't necessarily need to be part of. "I think I've always thought or accepted that there were parts of you I couldn't fulfill and vice versa, and in understanding and respecting that, it gave us each the opportunity to blossom and achieve deeper appreciation for and connection to each other, and it lets us learn from one another," Meghan adds. Having any single person be your end-all, be all, whether it's your best friend, spouse or a relative can just end up a stressful disappointment, when you realize that there are some parts of your life that certain loved ones are more relevant to than others. Being cool with the fact that your good friend is not necessarily your OMG BFF helps create a relaxed long-term friendship.
That said, it takes scheduling. I wish my husband would figure this out those nights when he's bummed he can't suddenly rustle up some guy friends to do friendships take plenty of calendar wrangling. After Meghan and I moved out of our apartment, we made a pact that once a month we'd get together for brunch. Sometimes we see each other more than this and a few times we've missed the date but we've stuck to this now for over five years. It helps that we love to eat and as such don't have a problem setting up meetings around food, but having this date has ensured that we always have time for each other, ideally where we can kick off our shoes stretch out on each others' couches and show each other hilarious things we've saved on DVR for each other and drink too much coffee and eat too much dessert. I mean, basically, what friendship can't thrive on that foundation?
Don't be competitive. Sometimes competitive relationships are strangely soothing, because sometimes when you compete, you win, which feels good, but sometimes you lose, too, and then you wonder why you are in a friendship that makes you feel bad. Why should you have anyone in your life who constantly reminds you of how you are inferior or superior? It helped that Meghan and I were raised by parents who weren't competitive with us or each other. "We were never in activities or environments where we were directly competitive with one another, nor would our parents have encouraged or sought out such activities," Meghan said. Throughout our youths we were in the same class track, played some of the same sports and did some theater together, but I don't recall any sense of "I need to beat Meghan" or "Meghan did better than I did," just "I'm doing this activity with my friend."
Be extremely comfortable with each other. Have you ever had a friend you were afraid to raise an issue with because you were terrified of turning her off with your strangeness? Those friendships don't really last that long, do they? From weird gynecological issues to why white hipsters seem to like the musical stylings of Kid Sister so much, Meghan and I go "there," often with a huge grain of salt. As she says, "We DO talk about race, we DO talk about sticky or controversial news. Our friendship doesn't require us to avoid tough talk because it's too taxing or inconvenient; rather, our friendship is a welcome haven to ask questions and learn things we might otherwise not ask, and in these experiences, we grow, and we're better for it." Physically, too, I guess it helps that Meghan and I shared locker rooms at an early age and then lived with each other at a slightly less early age: we have spent a large amount of semi-naked time around each other which is nice because there are no pretensions in our friendship--we can blow our noses disgustingly, discuss intimate moments and so on. She feels comfortable falling asleep on my couch and I feel comfortable waking her up and telling her it's time to go home.
Speak up. It's not always lovey dovey. Every now and then Meghan and I have issues, but we hash them out. If you're upset that a friend doesn't know how you feel yet you haven't told her, you can't really be mad. If you have an issue, air it out. If you know a person loves you, you know she won't hurt your feelings on purpose and will still be there if you tell her she upset you. Talk about it, move on, and try not to pick at that scab because odds are the hurter feels almost as bad as the hurtee. We've learned this from experience.
Be sentimental as hell. One of our common interests when we were kids were the Muppet Movies, hence the Animal underwear Meghan gave me at my bachelorette party, and the Jim Henson exhibit we recently checked out at the Museum of Science and Industry (after goofing around in the gift shop for a half hour.) Hold onto all the old inside jokes, memories, photos, movies, mementos of your friendship. Pull them out, laugh at yourselves, be amazed at how far you've come yet how close you can still feel so close to home.
And aside from good luck, those are the basic tenets I could think of for how to hold onto a friendship almost as old as you are. If I learned anything from the friendships that have gone and the ones that have stayed, it's that life is too short to spend with people who don't appreciate or understand you, and definitely too short not to tell the people who do that you cherish them.