Friday, May 23, 2008

Old friends

Wendy and I met when we were seven. I took one look at the new kid and knew she'd be my best friend. Eventually. She was short and round and had the straightest, whitest teeth I'd ever seen. Her smile made me want to smile. Still does.

The early years weren't all smooth sailing. We didn't become bosom-buddies immediately and stay that way. There were fights and arguments and long periods when we simply didn't talk to each other. But by the time we started high school, we were inseparable. I thought we'd be like that forever.

Then Wendy left town.

I remember writing long letters to her and waiting anxiously for a reply. I understood she had things happening in her life that meant she wouldn't write immediately but a letter always arrived and it brightened my days. She meant the world to me.

She came back home for a visit once and I remember spotting her down the end of our street. Both of us just squeeled and took off running - towards each other - and ended up collapsing in a heap of laughter in the middle of the street. It's always like that when I see her. The sheer joy of being alive and with her.

We've known each other 40 years now. We've had our children and lived our very separate lives. Sometimes we've lived in the same town, sometimes not. Once we didn't contact each other for 18 months. I think I lost her address and she thought I was angry about something. I don't remember. I just know when we found each other again everything was the same. Something in my life clicked into place and became whole again.

We have absolutely nothing in common. She like cutesy poetry, chain emails and country-western music. I like antique furniture and symphonies. She looks at me as though she thinks I was abandoned by aliens. She calls me a snob (in the nicest possible way). I look at her and think surely only abduction by aliens could sort her head out. I call her mad (in the nicest possible way). But none of it matters. Underneath all the teasing and the differences we hold the same values close to our hearts. I admire her and respect her more than I do most people I've known, even if I don't agree with all of the decisions she's made. I know she feels the same about me.

I think you only have so much time in your life for friends so the number of friends you have are necessarily limited. Wendy and I don't need each other in our daily lives, we just need to know we're there, each for the other. And if I ever run out of time for friends, she'll be the last to be crossed off the list.


Jim Harris said...

The other day my friend Linda told me a similar story to this, about how she met her lifelong friend in first grade and they have known each other for fifty years, and their kids and grandkids now know each other. I think those kind of stories are great. You are lucky to have Wendy.

I moved around way to much to have friends from that far back. I wished I was still in contact with my childhood friends. My oldest friend is a guy named Jim Connell who I met in the 10th grade. I only lived near him for three years, but we have stayed in contact ever since. We visit each other, but only at long intervals. But we can talk on the phone for hours.

I've always envied people who grew up in one place and have a large circle of old friends.

glediar said...

I grew up in one place but I don't have many old friends. I seem only to be able to relate to one person at a time. I'm not a social person and crowds confuse me. Even 6 people at a dinner table confuse me - I can't keep up with the conversations (can't hear a lot of them) so usually end up tuning out and just watching the body language. I still lip-read a lot, especially in crowds so can only listen to one person at a time and it takes a lot of energy.

Most of the friends I had through high school were family, friends or boarders of my husband. When I left him, I left them too. So I have one friend from primary school, one friend from college (we met in 1978) and a couple of friends from early working days (1981 and 1992). I don't see any of them regularly but know when I do, we'll be as relaxed with each other as we always were.

I don't know how many of my newer friends will become old friends in the future. (I don't see them regularly either.) Friends often just flow through your life like a river. There's no way to control it and there's no point in trying to. You just have to enjoy the relationship while it lasts.

I don't think you're missing anything from moving a lot. You've experienced so many different things, including relationships with friends along the way that those of us who stayed in one place for years couldn't even begin to understand. It's just different.

Denise Rossetti said...

I think continuing proximity helps create the friendship in the first place. (My best friend is a woman I worked with thirty years ago.) But once the relationship is cemented, it's there!

I love being able to take up with old friends after a space of years, as if nothing has happened in the meantime - like sliding your feet into old slippers.

A lot of friendship like that is shared history. The "do you remember the time...?" stuff. It's a precious gift.

glediar said...

Hi Denise. Good to hear from you. I like your old slipper analogy.

Do you ever wonder if the comfort of old friendships makes making new friendships less important? You already have friends from way back so it doesn't matter if you stuff up this new one? Or do you think making new friends becomes more challenging because you know what that sort of comfort in a friendship feels like and you want it again?

Jim Harris said...

Over the years, the nature of friendship changes. When I was young I always had a best male friend that I constantly hung out with. Then with high school and college I had more varied friends, especially as I started dating. Even after I got married I usually hung out with guy friends, but always had a few female friends. But as I moved away from youth, friendship was never as intense, and it was always more varied. I guess getting married changes that because you spend most of your time with one person and they become your best friend.

This was how it was until my mid forties when my male friends started disappearing - some moved away, others just started staying home with their wives more. Guys seem to withdraw as they get older, so I ended up having mostly female friends. My wife and I have developed different tastes in what we like to do, so I've ended up hanging out with women for the past ten years. It's very strange. My wife goes to ball games, and I got to dinner and movies with my "girlfriends" as she calls them.

Women friends aren't the same, because they don't like to talk about the same kind of stuff that guys do, but I've adapted. But they are changing too, that is after menopause. I think they want to withdraw too. I still see all my women friends regularly, but they want to go out less. They are more likely to want me to come over and just stay home and watch TV or sit in the garden.

Now I'm wondering if getting old makes people more solitary, turning them into homebodies. I know I have to fight the urge to stay home all the time. If I'm not careful I'd be a total recluse.

glediar said...

I love the idea of becoming a hermit. Always have. A while ago I took 4 months leave to finish a book and didn't leave the house or see other people, except my daughter for weeks on end. I loved it.

I've always felt I was obligated to go out with people, meet new people, be social, but it's not who I am. As I get older I'm listening to me more and 'society-at-large' less. I do still need contact with others but it doesn't need to be regular or frequent.

Most of my friends I see once or twice every 3 or 4 months. I usually try to see them all within a one to two week period so I can relax again afterwards, hide in my comfortable place again. I love seeing them but couldn't maintain my 'social face' for longer than a couple of weeks.

Perhaps this change in friendships you're talking about is simply people reaching a comfort zone with themselves and not needing other people so much to make them feel whole. Being social takes energy. A lot of public social behaviour is about presenting an image - that takes a lot of energy. It's easier and much more pleasant to just sit around on the deck, with a bottle of wine and desultory conversation and watch the stars come out.

Having said all that, the hermit fantasy is just a fantasy. It wouldn't work in it's purest form. I know that I'd begin to be depressed and lose sight of the little things that trigger my imagination if I didn't have occasional conversations to spark new thoughts.

I agree that men and women have very different social conversations. Up until I was about 30 I couldn't understand how so many women could have only women friends. I knew one or two women I could relate to and the rest just seemed shallow and narrow, with very little to talk about beyond the best way to wash nappies (diapers), or to rehash the experiences of childbirth. I had a small child, I knew about the topics, but didn't want to spend every spare moment I had discussing them.

It wasn't until my mid-late 30s that I realised not every woman was so narrow in her focus. I guess I just needed to meet the interesting ones to find out. Or wait for them to grow some interests beyond reproduction.

At about the same time the men I met became less interesting. Their topics of conversation - the ones that seemed broad and logical in my unworldly 20s - hadn't changed at all. They were all still talking about the same things and still approaching every woman as a possible sexual experience. I didn't notice a discernable appreciation of male values and attitudes between their teens and their 40s.

I had grown up a lot and broadened my outlook. I guess I expected them to have as well and was really disappointed when, in most cases, it simply didn't happen.

Denise Rossetti said...

I don't find that having plenty of friends, old or new, makes any difference to forming new friendships. Though, I admit, the security of having old friends you can depend on probably makes it easier to take risks. And don't forget, all relationships require modeling and practice. Practice is really important!

Maybe it's a personality trait thing. I'm an extroverted person - I enjoy the company of others very much. I'm fascinated with how different others are from me. The writer's gift - or curse!

glediar said...

I like watching people too, Denise. It's fascinating how many different ways people use their hands to talk, or move their head when they listen. I love listening to the ways people describe their lives.

I just don't feel any need to become friends as I do that. I don't even need to be talking to the people as I observe them. I'm perfectly happy to sit alone in a coffee shop and watch everyone around me and hear snippets of conversation.

I like that the superficiality of that sort of contact requires no commitment from me. I am a bit of a commitment-phobe but I don't feel guilty about it at all. If I do commit myself emotionally to someone as a friend, the commitment is total and absorbing, even if the contact isn't. I can't do that to that extent with many people and still feel like I have energy left over.