50 Is The New 14, Part 3: Make New Friends But Keep The Old

We need old friends to help us grow old and new friends to help us stay young.
— Letty Cottin Pogrebin


Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold. I learned that sweet song as a little girl in Brownies. We'd sing it as a round, in 3 parts I think. New friends and old friends were all the same at that age. I hadn't lived enough life to know a distinction.

Then growing up happened, just like it's happening to my middle school students.

I talk to them a lot about friends. Mostly in the context of what's gone wrong.

Loss. Change. Used-to-be's.

Being friends, keeping friends, understanding what the heck a friend even is...all very confusing stuff when you're in middle school.

Recently, Jessica's best friend wouldn't talk to her.

Before we could right this ship of flailing friendship, we had to start with a baseline. My first question was, "What's your definition of a friend?"

Jessica's responses came quickly. A friend: 

Has your back (and doesn't talk behind it).
Listens.
Tries to help.
Sticks up for you.
Is fun to be with.
Knows your secrets. Keeps them.
Is always there.

OK, now we were getting somewhere. Jessica was describing her values.

So it became easier for her to distinguish her real friends from the kids she happens to know or who merely sit beside her in science class.

I told Jessica that, if you can find one or two people who match what you value in a friend, you are blessed. 

She took a minute. She nodded in agreement, and her shoulders relaxed.

Now for the more confusing stuff.

Why can't things just stay the same? Why does she have to be so mean? (Jessica's Big Hurt.) 
Why do friendships change? 

They go their way, you go yours. Their way looks like more fun. Your way feels so lonely.

You compare and despair.

I explain that I think friendships are living things. They change because the people in them change.

They may last for a lifetime or for a season. They may even die. Especially if we don't take care of them.

The thing is, we don't know what will happen when we're in a friendship. We take our chances.

So, no matter what, we need to honor that friend for who they are in that moment. Hold a spot in our hearts for what they've meant to us. 

Even if the friendship fades, we never know when it might come back into focus. 

I told Jessica about a couple of high school friends with whom I lost touch. We reconnected over 15 years later, and I still see them regularly. 

She noticed the photos I have displayed of other friends and me, women I've known for 40 years. Friendships that have barely missed a beat. 

I heard myself tell Jessica that these are people who stick up for me, lift me up, are always there. She smiled and looked reassured.

I've spent many hours consoling tearful 12-year-old boys who are convinced it's really hard to make friends. They're sure they don't have any.

I'll share how most of us feel that way sometimes. We'll explore where to find friends, what to say to them, how to be patient as the friendship begins to sprout. 

It's risky stepping out and asking someone to be your friend. What if they say no? Or worse, what if they say yes then change their minds?

And now it's my turn to have those friendship fears. I've spent over 27 years in my current town. My husband and I are relocating soon. 

Those 8th grade feelings sneak up on me. It's a little like I'm heading off to a new high school where I won't know anyone.

I ask those "middle school questions."

Who will my friends be?
How do I find them?
Can I build my community?
Will I make those soulful connections, the kind that I value?

Oh, that I will have one or two and can remain so blessed. 

What do you value in a friendship? Has that changed over the years? 
How have your friends helped you get by, then and now?