How Old is Your Longest Friendship?

I was talking to my kids the other day, and the topic of friendship came up. Specifically how long we stay friends with people we’ve known for a while. When they found out how few of my friends from school are still active people in my life, they were surprised and disappointed. That makes sense: we’ve lived their whole lives in the same place, and so for them, many of their friends feel almost as longterm as family. I, on the other hand, moved around a lot as a kid, not staying more than a couple of years in any place until junior high.

Looking at my current friendships, I am still in contact with a couple of people from middle school. I still communicate a couple of times a month with some friends from high school. I do have one high school friend who I get together with frequently (virtually, typically, since he’s in Philly and I’m in Maine). And then friendships from then on get a bit more steady. But when I think back on all the friends I’ve had, and I think about how few of them play an active part in my life today, I suppose it could get discouraging. I remember being so close with them back in the day, and now . . . we’re just not.

Of course, I’ve also lived a lot since then, and I’ve seen (personally, at least) that people change and circumstances change, and it’s just not realistic to think I’ll still be such great friends with everyone I’ve ever been great friends. I came across this post from Kottke, which talks about how many friends people can actually maintain. In a nutshell, it argues you can only have 1-2 intimate friends. 5 close friends: people who would drop everything to come help you if you were in trouble. 15 core friends (which include all the ones already mentioned) that form the bulk of your social life. They trace it all the way to 500 acquaintances, 1500 known names, and 5000 known faces. It’s a fascinating article. You should check it out.

It can seem pretty grim when you think of it in those terms. To have a new close friend, a different close friend has to go. But at the same time, that’s often the way it happens, isn’t it? You move, or they move, or jobs change, or whatever. I can’t imagine trying to keep up with 100 close friends. There’s no way I would have the time.

But at the same time, I recognize I’m only speaking from my own experience, so I wondered if I’m out of the norm here. How about you? Are you still friends with many people from high school? Junior high? Elementary school? How far back do your friends stretch? For this, I’m talking about active friendships. People you get more than a Christmas card a year from. People who interact with beyond Facebook likes. Please share.

And at the same time, this train of thought has led me to once again confirm what a vital role family plays in all of this. (Or at least, the role family can play. Sure, my friends have changed over the years, but my family has always been there. I always know generally where they are. I get updates on what they’re doing. To me, family exists in a realm outside that chart of friends I linked to. Not that you’re necessarily always interacting with them, but . . . they form a base of support that you can always come back to. At least, that’s how it feels to me.

What say you?


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