Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Why My Friendships Last So Long

“Why did you do all this for me?' he asked. 'I don't deserve it. I've never done anything for you.' 'You have been my friend,' replied Charlotte. 'That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
― E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

            When I was in first grade, I met this annoying little girl who attached to me like crazy, and eighteen years later, we’re still best friends. When I was in fourth grade, I met this super smart guy who I had secret smart contests with (trying to finish assignments faster than him and stuff like that – he didn’t know I was in competition with him), and fifteen years later, we’re still best friends. And in seventh grade, I don’t even remember how or why I became friends with this girl who everyone thought was so pretty and nice (she’s okay I guess), but twelve years later, we’re also still best friends.

            This week I attended a young adult group at the new church I’ve been going to. We were discussing whether or not we have a support system of people we can talk to for guidance and counsel. In my small group of four, I was the only who had a good reliable support system of close friends. When I told them that all of my friends are lifelong, they all looked shocked. Apparently neither of them felt they had a close group who they could confide in, and it was my turn to be shocked. I just figured that as we get older, we keep friends longer, and have stronger support systems. Not the case I guess.

            As of right now, in my twenty-three years of life, my longest friendship is eighteen years and my shortest is five. Technically, I have newer friends than that, but those are ones I’m not sure will last, so I don’t consider them good friends. My friend of five years tells me that I’m her best friend, and complains that I don’t consider her my best friend. I have to explain to her that she’s my shortest friendship and it takes a lot to get to best friend status. This may sound narcissistic of me, but when I talked to more people about their friendship lengths, I thought to myself, “I must be doing something right that other people don’t know about.” Thus I decided to examine what I know about my friendships and divulge my wisdom. (Because I’m so wise, you know).

            Growing up, my dad told me most of his friendships started when he was five years old, and his newest friends were acquired at eighteen. My dad is like me, I guess. He’s met other people after eighteen who probably consider him a friend, but that word means something to him that it doesn’t to other people. Talking to my dad about his friendships and where they are at now, he told me, he probably only sees and talks to half of them about once a year. The rest, he doesn’t talk to at all anymore. To which I commented, how the heck can they be your friends then? He didn’t really give me an answer – just kind of shrugged. My uncle, his brother, would argue that men don’t really have friends, and all those guys my dad was referring to are just his buddies.

            So, before I can discuss my friendships and why they’ve last so long, I’m going to break down my version of the different friendships we have. Obviously your list might be different.

The ranking:
  1. Best friend – will go the extra mile; there through thick and thin; expected to go beyond the call of duty; will be the one who ends up in jail with you after helping you hide that dead body that no one else knows about
  2. Close friend – this encompasses all the people you would consider as your maid of honor or best man if your best friend died; you share a lot of personal stuff and or/ great moments together; most likely spend a lot of time together
  3. Good friend – these people are great; their supportive most of the time, there for you when they can; they're like cheerleaders on the playing field with you – maybe not on your team playing with you, but still doing what they can to cheer you on
  4. Friend – a lot more than an acquaintance; you get lunch, hangout, grab coffee; you laugh together, have things in common; you share personal things about yourselves, but probably not all of your personal things – I mean, they aren’t your best friend, they probably wouldn’t understand
  5. Acquaintance – You say hi to each other and smile, or maybe not always smile

            With that being said, I mean, written, I have three best friends (one other borderline best friend), and about seven others who fall into the friend to close friend category. Two I’ve known since my freshman year of high school, and the rest came from college. I know, I’m so popular. My dad tells me I only have two friends and the rest are all in my head. I’m pretty sure they’re real though.

            So now you’re probably like, “Why are you so popular? What is your secret? I want to be as awesome as you.” Or maybe you’re like, “That’s it? Those are all of your friends? Pathetic. I have fifty.” Whether you’re a friend snob, or in desperate need of keeping more of them, I’ll let you know why I think I’ve kept mine for so long. I’ll also let you know that it has very little to do with how much time we spend together.

            When I got to college and all of my high school friends dispersed, I was really worried that I’d lose them. My dad assured me that it was natural to see friends less as you get older. The real ones are those who you can go years without seeing, and then when you do see each other, it’s not like no time passed.


            In the briefest terms, my friendships have lasted mostly because of loyalty and sacrifice. The other reason is that some of my friends just won’t go away. I’ve tried to get rid of them, I really have, but they just stick to me like sloths. That’s what I call my best friend of eighteen years – Melissa btdubs. Whenever I see her now, I look up pictures of sloths hugging trees or people and show her to let her know that’s exactly what she is. I like to think of her as that belt sloth from The Croods.

            My two longest friends, Melissa and Daniel, have not been the greatest friends I’ve ever had. We haven’t lasted this long because we’re all so nice and supportive of each other. In fact, they have been among the worst friends I’ve ever had. This goes both ways, though. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more horrible to anyone else as I have been to them. How unhealthy, you may think. Well, we’ve all grown a lot, and still have a lot more growing. At different times of our lives, I’ve tried getting rid of both of them, but they wouldn’t leave. I’m not sure if they’ve ever tried getting rid of me, because who would want to, but even if they did, I won’t leave either.

            That’s what distinguishes them from all other friends. Our friendships have been tested. We’ve treated each other horrible at times, but also have been there no matter what. And obviously, our whole friendship has not been horrible, because they are both good friends who put in effort. With those two, I know that we could be fighting and hate each other, but if I need them for anything, they will be there for me. Who cares if we’re not speaking and want to rip each other’s eyes out? We love each other darn it. But don’t tell them I said that.


            I question why the heck I’m friends with Melissa and Daniel all the time. The three of us have very little in common besides severe loyalty to each other. The third bestie, Andrea, has been great though. She’s the most like me. Without giving it a second though, she would sacrifice her time, money, energy, comfort, freedom, etc, for her friends, especially for her close ones, just like I would. My other two besties would sacrifice for me, too, but self-sacrifice is part of who Andrea is. There’s not many people like me and her. Sacrifice takes many forms, big and small, and can often take the form of doing something you don’t want to because the other person does.

            A couple weeks ago she wanted to go cliff jumping at like eight in the morning. Do you know how early that is? I don’t do mornings. And I did not want to jump off a fricken cliff. Crazy person. But where was I that Sunday cold misty morning? Hiking with her up to a fricken cliff to jump forty or fifty feet into ice cold water. I landed wrong and had a bruise on my thigh that lasted a week. She didn’t ask me to jump with her by the way. In fact, she said I did not have to go or jump. But I’m her best friend, and if she’s going to potentially die, then I’m going to be there to witness it and/or potentially die with her. We both agreed to never do it again afterward, which is our motto in life. We always do stupid things together and afterward say, “We’re never doing that again.”

            In Karen Karbo’s article, “Friendship: The Laws of Attraction,” she explains that we feel closer to those who we help and give to. I would term it as sacrifice. It’s not what our friends do for us that makes our bond grow closer, but what we’re willing to do for them. She explains the logic behind this is, “Why am I going out of my way to help this guy? Well, he must be pretty nice.” A few years ago, when Melissa was struggling with big life things, she felt bad asking for my help because she didn’t want to inconvenience me. I got pretty mad at her for that. I explained to her that I would do anything for her. If she needs a ride two hours away, I’ll complain, but I’ll do it. If she can’t go out cause she’s broke, then I guess I’m treating. If she has no place to stay, well then I’ll prepare to be bed-hogged all night. I told her to never feel like she’s inconveniencing me, because she’s my best friend and I want to be there for her.

            These are just some examples of what I’ve done for them, but someone doesn’t make it to the close friend/ best friend category unless they’ve sacrificed for me too. That’s how you get to that spot, because you’re willing to sacrifice as much for me as I am for you. There’s no score keeping, no debt owing, just sacrifice big or small. With my best and close friends, I don’t worry at all about inconveniencing them. I’m their best friend, so if I’m ever homeless, they’re going to let me stay with them darn it. They don’t get an option, and I know they wouldn’t mind.

Be Interruptible

            At that young adult group I attended this week, one guy was explaining that he doesn’t like bugging people, which is why he doesn’t reach out to them. He doesn’t want to impose on their time, but through talking more about it, he admitted that he doesn’t want others imposing on his time. I was kind of baffled by this. I like my schedules and I have set times I do things every week, but if a friend ever needed me, or just wanted to spend some time together because we haven’t seen each other in a while, then I’d drop what I had planned. My pastor preached once about being interruptible, and I really like that idea. To be a good friend, you have to be the kind of person that others can interrupt. You have to be open and receptive to when others want or need you.

            Being interruptible doesn’t mean you always have to drop what you’re doing, go out of your way to help someone, and try to appease everyone. Boundaries are important. It means that if you’re doing something that can wait, then be open to responding to a text or phone call or changing your plans. If you’re truly busy with something important, then set aside a time when you’re available to listen to or help out a friend.

Listen and Support

            Of course a very obvious important aspect of good friendships is listening to each other. Karbo says that the first two essential behaviors for long-lasting friendships are self-disclosure and supportiveness, because they create intimacy. Intimacy is the deeper bond we seek in close friendships. Self-disclosure is what you’re willing to reveal about yourself. We use it as a test to see if we can get closer to someone. If they respond appropriately and even tell us personal things about themselves, then we both feel more open with each other.

            In my friendships, I’m lucky to be able to pick and choose who I talk to about personal aspects of my life. Andrea is the only one I can tell everything and anything too, but she’s the kind of friend who is best at listening and not best at giving advice. She complains I never take it anyway, and she’s right. I don’t like taking advice unless I’m asking for it, and even then I’ll ignore it half the time because I’m just difficult. I do have one friend whose opinion I respect like crazy, so when I tell him something, I’m hoping and expecting his help with it.

            My point is that most people want that one person who can be SuperBestFriend, but I’ve found that being able to talk to many people about something, and gathering what I need from each is what helps me the most. I have close friends who I hardly ever tell anything personal to, because that’s not the thing that makes us close. We’re close because they can make me laugh when I need it. Or they take me out to distract me and make me feel better. The support of my friends comes in many different forms, and I know who I can go to for the different things I need.

            My other point is that I don’t just disown a friend because I can’t talk to them about my struggles in life. We’re friends with others for a reason. They contribute something to our lives, just like we contribute something to theirs. We wouldn't want so many friends if they all conrtibuted the same thing.


            So, one of my longer friends since freshman year of high school, Alyssa, drives me insane. My mom told me just the other day that I talk about Alyssa the same way today that I talked about her in high school. Apparently, she has always frustrated me like no other. Alyssa and I also realized a few months ago that I always say mean things to her, which she takes as a joke even though I’m not sure I’m ever joking, yet she never says mean things to me. She’s actually the friend I thought wouldn’t last past high school, but here we are moving in together, and I want to strangle her most of the time.

            Regardless of how frustrated she makes me, whenever other people tell me don’t move in with her blah blah blah, I think to myself, “She’s my friend. She’s Alyssa. She drives me crazy, but that’s who she is.” Alyssa continued to be my friend after high school for the sole fact that she put effort into continuing our friendship. She kept up with me, called me often, and even attempted to try and hangout (but she’s super flaky so that hardly happened in college). She’s not the friend I rely on or can depend on when I need to talk. I can rely on the fact that she will avoid things, flake out on plans, and change her mind often. But we share similar experiences, and I understand her to the greatest extent that probably anybody does. I get that her brain is wired differently than others. I accept her for who she is, flakiness and all, because under all that frustration I have for her, she is a good friend.

            More importantly, she accepts me. I am not an easy person to deal with, yet she returns all my sass and sarcasm with kind optimism (which usually drives me more insane). In high school, I once asked her why she was my friend, because I really didn't understand. The majority of our friendship is me being mean to her. She laughed at the question like it was a joke and wondered why I would even ask. I still wonder sometimes though. Alyssa is one of my only friends who I can be completely straightforward and brutally honest with without worrying about hurting her feelings (not sure it's possible to hurt her feelings). It astounds me how she can deal with me and still happily want to be my friend, considering me her best friend. I guess to her, the ways I'm a good friend to her are more important than the ways I'm not. So she accepts the good with the bad, because there's obviously more good.

            If you don’t accept one of your friends who you want to be closer with, then you should try harder to. If you can’t accept them, then that person probably shouldn’t be your friend. Acceptance is a part of social-identity support, which Karbo says is “the way in which a friend understands, and then supports, our sense of self in society or the group.” It’s when someone sees who you are, whether you’re an athlete, book-lover, musician, or a flaky person who really tries to be a good friend, and then accepts you as that while also reaffirming it with their support.  


            One of the biggest reasons, I think, for why my friendships have lasted so long is because part of my self-identity is being a good friend. It’s how I see myself and who I try to be, which is why I make my friendships a priority in my life, especially the really close ones. The relationships you have in your life are a reflection of who you are and what priorities you have. I think it’s a given that effort is required in every kind of relationship. When you don’t put effort, the relationship dies. The close friends I’ve kept have mutually put effort into our relationships. That doesn’t mean the effort is equal. Some put more than me and I put more than others.

            My other high school friend, Cienna, has been a busy little bee all throughout college. She’s definitely going to be the most successful out of all my friends. A couple years ago, she made a New Year’s resolution to hang out with Alyssa and me once a month. I think we saw her about four or five times that year. She did try though, which is important to me. I reach out to Cienna a whole lot more than she reaches out to me, but I don’t hold it against her. I accept that she’s busy trying to be successful in life, and I know that when I make the effort to make plans, she will make the effort to show up. It’s all I ask. If I was reaching out to someone who wasn’t busy, but just didn’t want to make the effort to see me, then that person doesn’t stay a friend very long or ever make it to the close friend list.

            I’m definitely not always the one reaching out more, and my friends know this. But after a month or a few without any contact from a friend, I start thinking to myself that it’s time to hang out again. Also, when it comes to my close friend group, I don’t keep track of or care who reaches out to who more. They’re already on my best/close friend list for good reasons, so it doesn’t matter who texts, calls, or plans hangouts more often. I care that we both make time for each other regardless of who planned it. I care that they support me by reading my writing, or I support them by going to events they like.

            I appreciate all of my best and close friends because each contributes to my life just as much as I contribute to theirs. They are worth my time and effort, and I’m willing to stop whatever I’m doing to give them my attention whenever I can. I’m not a perfect friend. I’m not great all the time. I set boundaries and I definitely have my neglectful moments. But I know I’m a good friend, and I know that I have good friends, which is why my friendships have lasted as long as they have. 

p.s. Here's a little tid bit about the difference between men and women friendships that I didn't feel was relevant to my post: Enjoy
be a sloth

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”
― Jane Austen,
Northanger Abbey



  1. I really enjoyed your article!! (Nevermind the fact that some of us got a name mention :-P) But yes, it's a good read and great open book letter in seeing you describe the nuts and bolts of friendship. Thank you for the 10 years of friendship, Jazz! I'm thankful for YOU. :)

  2. Having those lifelong friendships is a rare and precious gift that you should cherish and nurture forever. It can be hard for a lot of people (especially with the changes in life moving from High School to College to work life to sometimes out of state or even out of country) to find someone who you can pour into and share your life with and know that they actually genuinely care about you, and who will pour into your life and give you the opportunity to care for them... through the good bad and ugly just being there fore each other as loyal friends. That is something to be very proud of and something worth holding onto.