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The power of enduring friendship

The girls in 1991
The girls in 1991

When we were kids, making new friends was so easy. We played kickball and rode bikes with the kids in the neighborhood.  We had sleepovers with the other girls in our girl scout troop.  We went to rollerskating parties at school with the other kids in our 5th grade class.
In junior high and high school, things got a little trickier.  Despite cliques of athletes, glamour girls, burnouts or those somewhere in between, most of us found our core group of friends. 
So why, as adults, is it so hard for us to make new friends? Movies like "I Love You, Man" aren't that far from the truth.  We get so busy with work and families that it's very hard to meet people and make new friends.  This is especially true for people who have moved away from their hometowns and put down roots elsewhere.
I'm lucky enough to be a part of a large group of girlfriends.  There are at least eight of us, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on who is in town at any given time.  We've been friends since high school, some of us even longer.
We've each made friends outside the group. We have our work friends, our husband's friends and their wives, our neighborhood friends and parents of our children's friends. But regardless of how much we enjoy those friendships, there is something about a bond that spans decades that no other friendship can compare to.
Over the summer, I picked up a copy of a book called "The Girls from Ames" by Jeffrey Zaslow.  I was amazed at the similarities between the real life group of women profiled in the book, and my own friends.  The author points out that it's rare for large groups of women to maintain close friendships for such a long period of time.  Life gets in the way.  Jobs, marriage, and kids really are a hinderance to maintaining those friendships. Zaslow's research showed him that women who stay friends throughout the chaos and changes of their twenties and thirties are likely to stay friends for life.
The women interviewed in the book explain that the relationships between them are far different than the friendships they have made as adults.  The main reason for this is that those who have known you since childhood know you "in context". They knew you as a kid, they knew you as a teen, a young adult, and now a grown up.  They know your family- your parents and siblings, even grandparents.
So when something happens in your life, your longtime friends understand the significance in the context of your entire life. When you lose a parent, your adult friends may offer genuine sympathy or condolences.  But those lifelong friends- who have spent weekends at your house growing up or gone on vacations with your family-  may feel as if they have lost a parent as well. 
Those of us who are blessed with friends like this, know it. We treasure our friendships and make every effort to get together as often as possible.  My girlfriends try to have a monthly "Girls' Night", where we go out for dinner or drinks, or just hang out at someone's house (preferably one without kids!!).  It's so important to us, not just because we have a great time together, but because it gives us the opportunity to step out of the grown up we have become and back into that carefree time of years past.  That's not to say we are living in the past- we aren't.  But it's nice to spend time with people with our guards down, without worrying about what to say and what others will think.  We can talk about things of more substance and depth than those casual conversations about preschool or the weather. I can tell my friends just about anything, without worrying about being judged. 

I know not everyone is fortunate enough to have friendships like this.  It's hard to make friends as an adult, especially in the Capital Region, it seems.  I've had women tell me that they have a ton of acquaintances, people they go to dinner with and people they like, but no real "friends".  
While friendships formed later in life are different than those that span a lifetime, a few can be just as strong.  When my family moved to Clifton Park in 1979, my mother met another mom in the neighborhood.  Their boys were about the same age.  They started off with small talk about preschool and the weather. 
And they've been best friends for 30 years and counting.