Life Lessons I've Learned From My Long-Lasting Friendships
Since I’m eighteen months older than her—and since our families have known each other since my older sister was born—I’ve essentially known my best friend her entire life. Our relationship has obviously evolved over the years, and it now includes numerous shared memories and inside jokes. While my other long-lasting friendships are “newer” than this friendship, I am fortunate to have several friends I’ve known for more than a decade. For this article, however, I will be commenting on the life lessons I’ve learned from any friends I have known for at least five years.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Friendship is the greatest of worldly goods. Certainly to me it is the chief happiness of life.” I’m inclined to agree; consequently, I’ve been willing to nurture a handful of long-lasting friendships. This maintenance has occasionally been challenging—especially since I have often lived hundreds—or more than a thousand—miles away from these friends. Nonetheless, I believe the solidarity these friendships have provided me has far surpassed my efforts.
How long have you been friends with your oldest friend?
The first life lesson I’ve learned is that you need old and new friends in order to live a full life. Regardless how much I treasure my established friendships, I recognize one sign of growth and maturity is the willingness to make new friends. This is, quite naturally, a delicate balance act since I still want to have enough time and energy to invest in all of my friendships. Nonetheless, I’ve found that having friends I’ve known for varying amounts of time provides me with perspective on how I’ve grown and changed. I’ve learned what my more enduring values are; in addition, I’ve noticed that what I look for in a friend has evolved noticeably over the years.
"Now and Then" is a fun movie about old friends
I’ve also learned it isn’t necessary to have overly similar worldviews in order to enjoy the company of another person. My long-lasting friends are a diverse group. A handful have advanced degrees, a few are married with children, and others are free spirits who don’t know what their next move may be. There are pronounced differences in political opinion between me and some of these friends, yet this isn’t generally an area of conflict. Also, I have matured enough to realize that my worldview isn’t automatically “correct” or “superior,” and for this reason I try not to impose my strong beliefs on my long-standing friends unless the situation seems to require this (which, incidentally, is rarely the case).
Having long-lasting friendships reminds me that life (and people) can change significantly, but usually this occurs at a manageable pace. I also wonder if people don’t change so much as different parts of them are revealed because of changing life circumstances. For instance, I am discovering new things about an old friend now that she has become a mother. Also, aside from tragedy, I’ve noticed how slowly the major changes in my life and the lives of my established friends typically occur. While it can be overwhelming to look at a period of five years and realize how much has changed in my life and the lives of my long-standing friends, most of these changes occurred fairly slowly and didn’t seem as overwhelming while they were unfolding.
My long-standing friendships have taught me that the type of lifestyle which works for me won’t necessarily suit someone else. For this reason I’ve learned to be as non-judgmental as possible when my old friends make decisions which do not make sense to me. After all, surely certain decisions of mine probably don’t make much sense to them. On the Appalachian Trail one of the prevailing slogans is “Hike Your Own Life,” and I would translate this slogan to the life lesson “Live The Life Which Suits You.” I would also add the words “And, Within Reason, Let Others Live Their Lives” to complete this thought. If you have an old friend who is in an abuse romantic relationship, however, you should consider speaking up. However, if your old friend prefers to have a more active social life than you prefer, this is a good time to let them be.
After all, what makes one person happy will make someone else potentially miserable. Well-intentioned friends have urged me to pursue options which didn’t ultimately suit me which better reflected their values and personalities. I’ve savored recent opportunities to visit the homes of my old friends because this reminds me that people live very differently. For example, I tend to have very little food in my refrigerator. My philosophy is I can always run to the store if I have a craving or need a container of chocolate milk. I’ve several old friends who tend to have fully-stocked cupboards and fridges. Although the idea of filling my fridge and cupboards doesn’t appeal to me, I recognize there is little or no reason for anyone else to live this way.
Having long-lasting friendships reminds me that you will never learn everything there is to know about a person. Yes, you may hear certain stories more than once when you have established friends; however, certain opinions and other facets of this person will continue to emerge as long as you know this person. As my Grandma Glenna has taught me, people are complicated and can be compared to a universe. I find this idea reassuring. In response I am inspired to be more creative concerning the questions I ask my long-standing friends. In other words, I may know how they feel about spirituality, but I may have never asked them what they think about Russian literature, rap music, or global warming.
In life it’s essential to keep your expectations low and your standards high. What I mean by this is to not expect too much of these friendships. While at certain times they may provide you with extra support and encouragement, at other moments this may occur. Also, because healthy friendships evolve as the individuals in the friendship grow, the relationship will pass through different seasons. Some of these season will involve more communication and laughter, whereas another season will be marked by more silence and distance. By having high standards, however, you will be able to hold yourself and your long-standing friends to a standard of mature behavior. This means, among other things, you treat them respectfully and gently ask them to do the same.
My long-standing friendships have taught me that people and relationships are much more valuable than material possessions. I’m not saying it’s wrong to have nice things, or to enjoy the things you have; nonetheless, it’s essential to realize the value in people. This doesn’t mean you befriend everyone you meet—such is an impossibility for most of us—yet it does mean you treat those you meet graciously. This applies to your waitress, the cashier at the grocery store, your sister, and so forth. Also, and more to the point, this means realizing that you have great value because you are a human being.
Another life lessons I’ve learned from my most established friendships is that faithfulness—and it’s first cousin loyalty—benefit the giver and the recipient. The giver is benefited because making a commitment to someone else requires a degree of maturity and generosity; the recipient is fortunate because it is reassuring to have a friend who will stand by you for the long-term in a culture which often promotes shallow commitments and instant gratification.
Finally, my long-standing friendships have taught me that it is often better to be compassionate than it is to be right. This isn’t to say you are to excuse all suspect behavior from your friends and those in your life. Nonetheless, in order to be a faithful friend, there will be times when your friends—the new and the old—will behave in a way you won’t agree with. For instance, one of your old friends may date someone you don’t particularly care for. Presuming this new dating partner isn’t physically or emotionally harming your friend, it may be helpful to view your friend’s decision to date them with a gracious, “I may not understand all the reasons this is happening” mindset instead of thinking you know better than this friend what he or she needs. It’s also essential to recognize that we all make mistakes, and that a good friend will generally stand by their friends during such trials instead of being one of the naysayers.
A beautiful song about remaining faithful regardless what life may bring
Emily Dickinson once wrote, “My friends are my estate.” I agree completely, and I am grateful that I have old and new friends to share life with and learn lessons from. My hope is that you can say the same.