Secrets to Long-Term Friendship
Do you have a friend – or a few – who has enriched your life for many years? Ever think about what makes that friendship so special?
After recently moving back to St. Louis after almost 30 years away, I can’t help but think back to the first time I moved to this city to start my first job after graduating from college. I didn’t really know anyone here other than another alumna who had recruited me. Despite working with a great group of colleagues at my office, we didn’t really go out socially on a regular basis.
So, I decided to reach out to another alumna, Heather (yes, the same one who publishes this blog with me!), who lived in a nearby suburb. We knew each other from working on different student media staffs while at Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State University). I figured we had enough in common to possibly start a friendship, and she could certainly show me around St. Louis.
Little did we know but making that post-university connection would be the start of a long-term friendship group that is still going strong 40+ years later.
As one friend, Laurie, explains:
“Knowing that there are people who have known you for 40+ years is a real gift. It feels like a cozy home you know you can always walk into and feel welcome.”
For the most part, our group of seven girlfriends met each other at various points throughout our university years, although two friends, Julie and Sally, met much earlier in elementary school and had been friends for many years.
Sally and I met during our summer freshman orientation session. We happened to sit next to each other and cracked each other up with silly comments during the slide show (high-tech media for 1980). Sally says she also took comfort knowing I was from the same small town where her mom’s mother and siblings still lived.
Then, because Sally and I had also joined the marching band, I was introduced to her long-time friend Julie, also a band member. We hustled back to our dormitory after many late rehearsals to grab a quick evening meal before the cafeteria closed.
Laurie and Karen also met when they happened to sit next to each other on the first day of their Mass Media class during fall 1980.
Heather, Liz, and Laurie got to know each other when they worked on the Echo yearbook staff during the 1983-84 school year. Down the hallway, Karen was working in the KNEU campus radio station, and I was working at the Index newspaper office. Sally was also busy as a writer and photographer for the yearbook and newspaper.
Julie didn’t get acquainted with the rest of the group until after our university years as she had transferred to another university after her sophomore year.
Shortly after Heather and I started building a stronger friendship in St. Louis, we were thrilled to learn that Laurie was moving to our city for a new job, and she reminded us that Karen was already living here. Then Liz also relocated here for work. Sally and Julie were settled in Columbia, Missouri, not too far away, but Sally would also move here a couple years later.
Eventually, Laurie, Karen and I shared an apartment for a year, and that was when our group really began to solidify.
Looking back over the years, we can attribute the success of our friendship longevity to four secrets.
Shared history and traditions
The foundation of our friendship is certainly rooted in our many experiences together – from childhood memories for Julie and Sally to classes and extracurricular activities at college, and finally to our post-college years as we have started new jobs, moved to new apartments and cities, married, and started families.
One of our first group traditions was created while Laurie, Karen, and I shared that apartment. We decided to host a Christmas brunch gathering in December 1986. Since that first one, we have continued our holiday brunches for more than 35 years, only missing a couple years due to conflicting schedules.
We have enjoyed many mimosas, exchanged our favorite things (on a much smaller scale than Oprah Winfrey’s famous talk show giveaways), purchased gifts for needy families, and passed around a blue velour giraffe ornament covered in sequins as a gag gift. Our next Christmas is already on our calendars for this year.
As Laurie reminisces, “I think all of us ending up in St. Louis shortly after college helped us cement the bonds that had formed in college at Kirksville. We were all fresh-faced, excited to have “real” jobs, and eager to be young adults in the big city. It was fun to try new restaurants, go to Cardinals games and Union Station, plan trips and start establishing traditions like our Christmas gathering. We didn’t think about “tradition” at the time…we just learned, year after year, that it was fun to take turns hosting each other for brunch and passing around that goofy giraffe ornament.”
Celebrating birthdays, new jobs and, more recently, retirements seem best when we can get the group together. Other times, all it took was one friend’s free Friday evening or Julie, Karen or me (when I was living in Chicago) visiting from out of town.
We have further honored our history by traveling back to our college for a fall Homecoming weekend and 20-year reunion. That trip was extra special because my young daughter joined us, and my oldest niece was a freshman there.
Another weekend we explored the small town where Sally grew up and stayed overnight in the old schoolhouse, where Sally and Julie attended and Julie’s mother taught vocal music and band as well as fourth and sixth grades in her years there. It had been renovated into a bed and breakfast, and it was fun to sleep in a former classroom.
During another weekend trip, we pitched tents along a small lake on property owned by Liz’s grandfather. We swam and sunbathed, cooked hotdogs over a campfire, and took cover when a short rainstorm popped up. Liz recalls plenty of food and drink that weekend and “a little too much sun for many of us.”
Having a shared history always gives us memories to recall, often with lots of laughter.
Sally puts it this way:
“Long-term friendships are of great value. These friends know us well…our past, our stories…what brings us joy, what challenged and still challenges us. We’ve seen each other grow up and grow old-err!”
Thankfully, she adds, “It also helps that even though long-term friends know many of our stories, they tolerate the repeating of those stories from those of us (okay, namely me) who can’t resist re-telling.”
Supportive of each other
As with most good friends, being there to cheer on, find joy, be a sounding board, or share tears with each other is a hallmark of our group. We have had many reasons to support each other through happy times and successes – first as we started or advanced in our careers. Then we celebrated engagements, weddings, and the arrival of our children.
Just as important, though, was how we supported each other through the tougher times. Laurie recalls how our group helped her through the loss of her mother two years after she graduated from college. We would do the same for other friends who lost a parent or family member.
In the last few years, we have also provided words of support, flowers, cooked meals, cards, messages, and visits to support some of us through difficult times.
Heather shared how this group of women stuck close to her side during health issues. “My breast cancer diagnosis came in the final months of my mother’s battle with lung cancer. To say these friends of mine rallied around me is an understatement,” she said “During a rough round of chemo treatments, I was grateful when Laurie and her goddaughter Maja (the daughter of a dear high school friend, Jan) brought me goodies and sat with me – bound and determined to keep my spirits up.”
During that same time, Heather lost her beloved mother – who was close to this group of women. “The ‘college girls,’ as we affectionately called each other, were there in so many ways to see me through a very tough loss. My mom was my number one BFF.”
We also support each other in our professional lives by taking part in fundraising and awareness-building events sponsored by our jobs, by being loyal customers for a side gig, and by helping to get new projects up and running.
Heather and Laurie have organized teams for trivia nights, some have placed bids in auctions and won some awesome prizes, and others have attended galas.
Liz has a side gig as a sales consultant for a jewelry design company, and many of us have hosted jewelry showings, attended her open houses, and purchased jewelry, of course. Who doesn’t love a new piece of jewelry or two?
Laurie and Sally (and perhaps a couple others in the future) have agreed to be guest bloggers for this Friendsville Square blog that I partner with Heather to run.
Genuinely interested in each other’s lives
Along with having support from good friends when we face challenges, it’s equally great to know you can count on them to be interested in what’s happening currently in our lives. If it’s been a while since any of us have been together, the first topic of conversation that invariably comes up is life updates:
What’s going on with our families – complete with passing around our phones to share photos of the kids
Stories of bad bosses, challenging team members, job losses, and new jobs – usually with some helpful advice offered up for consideration
Recent or upcoming travels, home renovations, and interesting books or movies – always with lots of follow-up questions to get all of the details
In the middle of her career, Heather shared her tales of woe about a particularly challenging colleague. “I can’t count the number of times I vented and sought advice from the college girls about – let’s just call her – Dierdre. Sally and her sense of humor would calm me, and the other ladies all pitched in with advice!”
Respectful of personality and viewpoint differences
While close friends usually share a lot – experiences, traditions, and stories, they aren’t cookie-cutter versions of the same person. Our respect for the personality and viewpoint differences in our group is the final secret to our friendship longevity.
Some of us are more talkative, some sweeter, some more sarcastic, some more reserved, and some more curious or outgoing.
Some are natural performers and others grateful audience members.
Some are more crafty while others have reaped the rewards of hand-made gifts.
Some are great cooks and the rest are grateful consumers.
Even beyond our personalities and talents, we embrace our differences when it comes to the bigger things in life, for example religion or politics. Some in our group are more religious while others are quietly spiritual. Some are closely following the political scene while others aren’t as interested.
We accept and show tolerance for our differences and embrace them because over the years we’ve confirmed that somehow the combination of our personalities just works. It’s definitely made for a fun and diverse group dynamic. There’s always lots to talk about and share – from small matters to more existential discussions. If we were all alike, it certainly wouldn’t be as fun to be the group that we are. Showing respect and sincere interest in those differences is one aspect of our long-term friendship that brings us closer together.
Tips for maintaining group friendships
The seven of us never imagined our connections made so many years ago at college would form such a strong and enduring bond across many decades.
Sally shares this encouragement for you and your friends: “My advice to groups just forming is to just get it started – knowing that some may not be able to get together every time and to be open to welcoming new friends and guests.”
Based on our long-term friendship of 40+ years, I recommend the following tips:
Create and keep traditions – recognize and then repeat the small gestures and celebrations that your friends and you cherish.
Document your group’s story – take photos to record your times together, create a scrapbook or group journal to capture your special events or what makes your friendship special, or set up a page or hashtag on social media. You’ll really enjoy looking back to the meaningful moments, big and small, of your story.
Create opportunities to remain connected – get creative to accommodate busy schedules or long distances, schedule time together in advance so everyone can join, or set up a group text chat.
Recognize and be OK that the group has “mini” friendships – be inclusive but also understand that different combinations of friends in the group may hang out over coffee or go shopping together.
Be there for friends when it really counts – just show you care about the challenging times as much as the celebratory ones and be comforted knowing they will be there for yours.
Maybe the secrets of our long-term friendship won’t work for everyone, but one or more may be the glue for many friendships.
Again, Laurie sums it up so well: “We grew up together in college, grew into young adulthood together, raised families, shared joys and hardships, went through illness and loss, and hit menopause. Some years we saw each other often, other years we didn’t. Frequency proved not to matter. We have held each other both lightly and tightly all these years, each of us contributing our individual gifts to the cozy home we built. Now we head into our next age together and THAT is exciting to consider!”
Check out these resources about the benefits of friendship:
Let me know in the Comments below what secrets and tips you and your friends have to make your relationships meaningful.