Average read time: 5 minutes
Who are your best friends? How long have you known them? What qualities make friendships go the distance?
I’ve been asking myself these questions lately.
My grandmother was recently in town with three of her best friends on their annual girls’ trip.
These girls’ trips are legendary. Throughout childhood, I heard the stories and saw the pictures of my grandmother going on yearly adventures with her friends, no matter what time of life they were in. These women work hard to get together and make new memories. They live in different parts of the country, are diverse in age, upbringing, and beliefs. Some have birthed children, some haven’t; some have been wives, some are unmarried. Two of them have been friends their whole life (they’re cousins), and some of them met as coworkers and have been friends for over forty years. Forty years! These women have traveled together, worked on the same teams, spent holidays together, supported one another through loss, grief, and health concerns, made fun of one another, fought together, and fought each other.
They are fierce and fiercely loyal.
I was fortunate enough to have an insider’s view on one of these group trips this year, and it was eye-opening. Not only did I get to see my grandmother in her element (which is hilarious) and learned the meaning of the term nooners (go ask a married retiree), but I also was convicted about my own relationships. Sometimes, their conversations go a little like this:
“You’re being a [insert B-word here]!” (It was an unusual insult to hear out of the mouth of a classy lady in her early 70s.)
“I’m not going to apologize to you. You never apologize to me for anything,” replied the other woman smugly, in her late 70s–early 80s, who was sitting with her legs and arms crossed.
I had privilege of listening in on this entire dispute between the two friends. I just giggled to myself. They’ll work it out . . . and ten minutes later, they were joking around like a petty argument hadn’t even happened.
I had a blast spending time with these women, but I was left with the sense that my peers and I don’t know how to do lifelong friendships.
We just don’t. (Okay, so maybe some of us do.) But when I told friends about my weekend with my grandmother’s posse and all the fun we had, many of those I spoke with had this kind of response: I hope I do that when I’m older with my friends. I don’t think people do this kind of thing anymore or stay friends for that long.
So after experiencing just three days with some senior women who have stuck it out through thick and thin, here’s what I learned from them about lifelong friendship.
1. Be friends with people who aren’t like you.
I’ve lost friends that I’ve had for years and loved dearly due to the dreaded “you think differently than me on this issue” problem—which hurts big time because I love being friends with people who aren’t like me or who believe differently than me.
But these lifelong girlfriends that I got to spend time with? They are different from one another. Sure, they have many similarities that bond them together, but they have plenty of differences, too.
Befriending those who aren’t like you—who believe and live differently than you do—can strengthen your heart toward compassion and help you realize people really aren’t that different. (And it makes for some really wonderful, lively, and educational debate.)
2. Conflict is good, healthy, and crucial.
Families and married couples fight. Rich and enduring friendships include people that fight. Honestly, any solid, loving relationship is going to involve healthy conflict and conflict resolution.
Yes, conflict is tough, awkward, and sometimes hurtful. But to have a friendship that’s forty years long, it’s going to require calling each other out on the crap (see B-word dialogue above). It’s going to take grabbing coffee with your best friend and explaining that her actions made you feel used or that she hurt you when she said XYZ—instead of just stopping communication because you’re hurt and that seems easiest. It’s going to take admitting when your wrong and apologizing and moving forward.
And let me just shoot you straight (in case you don’t know): The passive act of simply not talking to that friend again is a significantly more painful and difficult road than just telling them the truth.
3. Call one another on the phone.
Don’t have time to get together in person? Stop texting and Instagramming for a moment and use that phone the old-fashioned way: Call your friend. CALL HER.
Even if it’s just a ten-minute talk, catching up briefly and letting that person know you’re thinking about them speaks volumes (yes, pun intended)—even if you just leave a voicemail.
My grandmother and her friends call one another. In fact, while she was visiting, my grandmother’s home was in the path of Hurricane Irma, and she received multiple calls from friends she went to high school with just to see if she was okay. For her, high school was like a million years ago, so there’s absolutely no excuse for you not to call your friend you haven’t seen in a couple of weeks.
4. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Ugh. Let’s all stop playing the “my life is perfect” game, and let’s all stop playing the comparison game. If social media has taught us anything over the last few years, it’s that we’re all fronting our best selves—and it’s exhausting.
In order to have meaningful, lifelong friendships, we have to let our guard down. We have to let people get to know us—I mean really get to know us. We can’t be afraid to be laughed at or to laugh at ourselves. We have to be willing to open up to one another about our career, marriage, parenting, and mental and spiritual health struggles.
These older women I spent time with? They were real with one another. Not just real in conflict, but also in confidently admitting their shortfalls, laughing at one another and themselves, and leaning on one another’s strengths.
5. Marriage is a good gift, but friendships are essential.
Marriage isn’t the foundational human relationship to living a love-filled, joyous life—friendship is. (Surprise, surprise.)
I love my happy, healthy marriage and am thankful for it, but after spending several days with these women, I realized lifelong friendships are absolutely vital to joy-filled living.
What’s more valuable than the sweet friend from high school or college who just gets you and strives to continue to get you as you both get old? Yes, life in your twenties and early thirties is filled with career-building, marriage-building, and family-building, but remember to give energy to focusing on those outside of your own household, too.
When you have lifelong friends, you have someone to walk through the death of a spouse with. When you have lifelong friends, living your life single doesn’t mean you’ve lived without intimacy, committed companionship, or family. When you have lifelong friends, your soul is known deeply and your quality of life is heightened by decades (and decades) of inside jokes.
Let’s get better at this.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. — Proverbs 17:17 (ESV)