As I mentioned earlier this week, I read Jeffrey Zaslow’s The Girls From Ames over Thanksgiving. The book, about the forty-year friendship between a group of women, gave me interesting insight into my search. Specifically, it made me think about how no one I meet today—even if we have that magic friend-love-at-first-sight click—will have known me my whole life. Sounds obvious, but there are implications of this that I’m just now realizing.
Much of my search has been about trying to recapture the relationships of my youth. How many times have I compared my would-be-BFFship to the likes of The Babysitter’s Club or Blossom? But reestablishing that spirit might be hard to do with people who didn’t know me way back when.
A friend of mine works for the company that published The Girls From Ames. After finishing the book, I wrote her a note elaborating on my lightbulb moment. “It’s clear that what informs the girls’ friendship is the fact that they’ve known each other since they were kids,” I wrote. “It made me think of my own story. No one I meet this year will have known me before Matt was in my life, or when my father was alive. That in itself will be an obstacle to forging a best friendship like the ones I had when I was, say, 16.”
My friend, who wrote with the caveat that she was feeling especially introspective after having just attended her 10-year high school reunion, had a different perspective.
“Sometimes when I see people from high school I feel trapped in the persona I maintained then,” she wrote. “Ten years have gone by, and I’ve changed a tremendous amount—both emotionally and in circumstance. So while my oldest relationships are incredibly dear, and it’s true that they know me so intimately, it can be freeing to have relationships built on exactly who you are at this moment. As you ease into these new relationships, you start working backwards and putting the pieces together from former lives that you both had. If it’s a good match, you’ll find that it wasn’t actually necessary for you to have shared all those experiences. Some of the friendships I’ve found as an adult are far more rewarding than those forged out of the convenience of adolescence. It’s funny, when I read TGFA, I felt like I was at a disadvantage not having what they have. These days I’m feeling differently.”
(Aren’t my friends wise?)
Both viewpoints are valid, and there’s certainly a place in our lives for both types of friendships. But I’m still wondering, is the fact that you can’t make a new old friend going to hurt my search? Perhaps I need to redefine what I’m looking for.
When you hear about groups of friends who’ve been together for decades like the Ames girls, do you feel a pang of jealousy if you didn’t have that? Or do you breathe a sigh of relief?
15 responses to “No Such Thing As New Old Friends”
everything is relative. i tell you this from the perspective of age. friends you make today will seem like old friends when your kids are going to college. they will have shared lots of ups and downs with you. different, yes….but they will be exactly that: new old friends.
I’m in that life place where I’m still changing massively and also switching surroundings every few years. Now in grad school I find it incredibly fascinating that the people here see me as a tabula rasa of sorts. There is not the timid girl coming to terms with her disability, or the stressed college kid who really, really did not need to be getting sick one more time.
There’s just me. And I’m different again. But that’s okay. I like not hiding anything about myself because it might not fit into what they know of me.
Interesting phrase “the convenience of adolescence. I came across this quote yesterday: “Contrary to general belief, I do not believe that friends are necessarily the people you like best, they are merely the people who got there first.” (Peter Ustinov) I think this is often true with friends we meet as we are growing up. Of course, some of them stick and we do really ‘like them best’ but some are just proximity.
Like Gail, some of my dearest friends are people I met when I was in my 20’s and we have been close for over 30 years.
I think that the knowledge that as an adult you chose your friends is integral to what makes the friendships so special. When you welcome a person into your world as one adult to another you are saying “you are important to me, you make me complete and I choose to spend time with you. You are worth my time and effort.” I can think of no higher compliment.
So while I am always happy to see people who maintain friendships from their formative years, I am not jealous of them. I needed to move to a larger pool to find the people who make my life special and share my values.
I agree with your friend that it’s nice to meet people who didn’t know you way back when. I only have a couple close friends left from high school, and it is really great to have them in my life (I’m having lunch with one tomorrow even), but at the same time, I’m glad most of my friends now can’t remember my horrible, awkward teenage years when I played the flute and had a back brace, or my childhood when I was a very shy introvert totally lacking a sense of humor. I know and love both of those girls, but my personality has definitely evolved since then. Aside from a couple high school friends, my closest friends have only known me since I was 23. But I’ve grown up a lot since then, so we’ve still gone through a lot together.
And Gail is right on perspective. My mom’s best friends aren’t girls she went to elementary or high school with (like me, she had a rough time then). They’re her co-workers from her first job out of high school in the 60’s, new neighbors when she and my dad moved into their house in the 70’s, other moms from my ballet classes in the 80’s and fellow teachers when she went back to work in the 90’s after raising a family for 10 years. Her “newest” friends have still known her for 20 years, and they’ve all shared so many experiences over the years that it really doesn’t matter that they didn’t know each other when they were kids.
What an interesting discussion! I feel both — a bit of envy and relief. But probably more envy than relief because I have yet to find any adult BFF(s) to “replace” friendships from my school years. Sigh.
I am totally jealous of the Ames girls friendships. I wish I had close friends as a child that turned into adult friendships of the present.
That’s why I love reading stories like that; it’s like being a part of that group, plus giving me inspiration and realization that there are real people in the world that still believe in BFFs.
You are so young:-)….one day , you will say, ” she knew me before my first book was published…..or before my first child was born…”
Kinda like a high school students thinking….but you have not known me since 3rd grade!….I think the bonds are built when they know you before and after big life events, that change you….like growing up or getting married….having kids,ect….
I still have a couple of BFFs from childhood…but most of my dear friends now are from college and beyond. And some of those are already “new old friends,” because of what we’ve gone through together.
I like the idea of being able to introduce a new friend to the latest, best version of yourself, and then fill in the different gaps as you learn each other’s stories. It’s magical when a new friend becomes a call-anytime friend, ya know?
All that to say: don’t give up, Rachel. Your new old friends are out there, somewhere. (And so are mine!)
I just had my bridal shower last weekend and I happened to have a few friends from a few different phases of my life and some family there as well. My mother made us all play a game where everyone answered questions about me to see how well everyone knew me. This post reminded me of this game, because the outcome was that everyone had different answers that were correct, depending on the time in my life they knew me. I mean, these people are my nearest and dearest, but it had been years since I hated the color blue (don’t ask) and drank Mr Pibb! Everyone was joking around like, “I don’t even know you anymore” and “Who ARE you?” and demanding points since they were SORT OF right, based on my personality when they were closest to me. But I have honestly changed quite a bit in the last 15 years or so, so it was really a hard game for everyone!
I guess what I want to share is that I still speak with these old BFFs all the time on the phone and stuff, but we never rehash “ourselves” to each other, and so they don’t even realize I am different than I used to be. Some of my newer friends would probably have done much better on the questions about me since they only know me now, but that years-old closeness is not there yet.
It is just a weird thing–feeling like someone can’t be your BFF because they did not grow up with you. I wanted to say that I agreed, but then, my old BFFs perhaps don’t really know me as well as recent closer friends do…
Not that a dumb game about someone’s favorite things proves close friendship or anything. I just wanted to flesh out an observation about all this a little. Great topic, it made me reflect a lot.
I’m a bit torn on this. I do sometimes, especially when you write about your lifelong BFFs, wish I had a straight-up BFF who has been there since we were trading stickers at recess. I have some people from high school that I consider close friends, but it’s not true BFFdom, as I don’t talk to them regularly and we are in different life points. (married with kids vs. not) At the same time, in those friendships, I do feel a little like your friend—that I revert, at least in part, to who I was then. Maybe it’s because that’s how we know each other or gossiping about former crushes is how we relate to each other. Who knows.
On a related note, I definitely agree that some friendships are premised on who got there first. For example, my sister and her BFF have known each other since birth (seriously, our parents were friends, they shared a playpen). Having known each other for 30 years, it’d be hard to cut the other from one’s life. But I think that without the lifelong relationship, they would not be friends at all as they are very different and have taken very different life paths. If they crossed paths today, I don’t think a friendship would develop at all.
Recently I saw two friends I’d know since first grade. (We’re in our mid-fifties now). We grew up in south Alabama, near the Florida line. Two of us live in Nashville, one in Birmingham. We decided to plan a girlfriends weekend for May. We’ve invited six additional friends who hung out with us back then and we are all so excited we can hardly wait.
Most of us have married, one has been widowed, two divorced, all but two have children and several have grandchildren. There is something special about these friendships and I think you hit the nail on the head. These are the people who knew us before… Before our parents died, before we chose our lives paths, before we really knew who we’d become but while we were shaping ourselves to become the persons we are.
Thank you a very good post.
I have an old friend who says that her old friend know her, but don’t get her. She says her newer good friends often understand her better, while her old friends only think they know her.
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