On March 2, 2016

Looking Back: The phases of friendship

Friendship has phases that begin with our childhood friends and continue throughout our entire life. When we are old enough to go outside and play with the children in our neighborhood, we begin the process of choosing our friends. We sort out the traits and characteristics that meet our needs.

Looking Back Mary Ellen ShawBetty was the first neighborhood friend I made. I was around six years old and saw her across the street wearing a harness that was attached to a rope. It stretched from the front of her house to the city sidewalk. Betty was four years old at the time. Her mother was out in the yard when I spotted her. I am told that I hollered across the street and asked why Betty was tied up. The answer was, “Because she wanders.” I guess that was all a 6-year-old needed to know!

As time went on, our mothers brought us across the street to meet one another. It was instant friendship. We always wished we lived next door to each other and not across the street. Living on opposite sides came with tribulations as we grew a little older. If either of us was being punished our mothers were unified in their instructions that we couldn’t go across the street. For two best friends that was one way to keep us off the “naughty list!”

In the early 1950s there was a new kid on the street. Her name was Elaine and I was delighted to learn that she would be going to the same school I attended – Christ the King. We walked to and from school together as well as spending lots of time at each other’s houses.

Childhood friends are special but they don’t always remain in our lives. When school days are over, people get married and move away. It takes a conscious effort to keep a friendship going.

Apparently Betty, Elaine and I thought it was worth the effort, because we are still friends today. Betty and Elaine both live out of state now. The unique part of this friendship is that my husband, Peter, and I still live in my family home. That means my long-time friends can come to the same house where they spent countless hours over 60 years ago. A few years ago they were both in Rutland at the same time, so I invited them and their spouses for dinner. The husbands were extremely patient as they listened to all the crazy things we did during our youth.

Friendships expand beyond the neighborhood once we are old enough to go to school. It’s a time to meet new people and form friendships with those who have similar interests. If we are fortunate, our school friends will be lifetime friends. I am blessed to have my best friends from grade school, high school and college still in my life. We all care enough about each other to phone, email and get together as time allows.

The phase of life that most of us move on to once our school days end is marriage. This is the time when we acquire “couple friends.” These are the people who were in the lives of our spouses before we met. If we are fortunate we will like those people and enjoy spending time with them. There will be dinners and parties and memories to be made. Fortunately, both my husband and I liked the choices each of us had made previously.

And of course there are “workplace friends.” We spend more hours with those people than we do our families. The test of those friendships comes when we retire. Do these people remain in our life or drift away? I have been retired for 11 years and my group of work friends still meets for coffee, lunch and dinner throughout the year.

There should always be room in our lives for “new friends.” The world can get pretty small as we age, and welcoming new friends can open a whole different range of topics to explore and new things to do.

As I look back I am grateful that all the friends who came into my life during the various phases of friendship are still part of my life. But there is something special about a childhood friend who knows you better than you know yourself at times!

Somehow the stories of our youth never get old. Perhaps it’s because “looking back” is what we do best as we age.

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