This blog focuses primarily on difficult relationships and tools for coping with them. Every once in a while, it can feel really good to stray from that template and focus on more positive aspects of relationship, identifying and savoring some of those qualities that make our best relationships so satisfying. It’s a great contrast, and it gives us positive models to aspire to. So I’ve periodically included posts on topics such as authenticity, consensus, and what makes healthy relationships. Today I’m feeling inspired to talk about such a topic: those special friendships with people whom we truly like and care about, and the bonds that remain between us even when we are separated for many years.
One potential benefit of retirement that I never anticipated was the pleasure of reconnecting with old friends such as these. In childhood and early adulthood I had friends who I truly enjoyed and wanted to spend my time with. They were friends who I chose, and who chose me too. Unfortunately, life intervened, and with all of the twists and turns such as moves, marriages, careers, and brutal schedules, many of these relationships just seemed to fade away. There was never a conscious choice to stop being friends. Circumstances just propelled us along separate paths.
In my case, I chose a career path that turned out to be isolating. As a private practitioner, I worked alone. The work was challenging and sometimes quite stressful. It was also confidential, meaning I couldn’t discuss it with anyone else. Friends were shut out of this important part of my life. Work stayed at work, and everything and everyone else stayed somewhere else. I had to develop strong boundaries. Of course I networked with other professionals, but often these relationships were more competitive than supportive, they were focused primarily or even exclusively on professional issues, and they rarely turned into close friendships. My career was demanding and left little time and energy for outside interests. Hobbies fell by the wayside. So did many satisfying friendships.
I know I’m not the only person who has found maintaining friendships during the middle of a jam-packed adult life challenging. What great fortune to have the opportunity to reverse that trend now that I’m retired! I’m coming to appreciate the wonder of reconnecting with old friends I have had no contact with in decades and discovering that they are happy to see me again. Our friendships have apparently survived the neglect. I never expected that. These are truly special relationships.
So what makes these special friendships so durable?
It helps to have common interests.
While it isn’t essential that you be interested in a lot of the same things, having common interests gives you things to talk about, and it increases the likelihood that you will engage in activities together. Participating in activities together that you both enjoy will help you to build or maintain your friendship.
It helps a lot to have common values.
If you share important values, it is likely those values will cement your relationship, even in the absence of currently shared interests and activities. Reconnecting with an old friend with whom you shared important values will instantly give you a place to connect, even if you may not share other interests right now. You are likely to find new common interests due to your shared values.
It also helps to have shared happy memories.
If you share important parts of your past, you have an opportunity to revisit the good times together, and perhaps to create some new good times.
Previously sound friendships are likely to be sound again.
If you’ve had satisfying friendships in the past, then you know you shared more than interests and activities. It is likely you were honest and authentic with each other, and that you shared intimate details of your life. You probably supported each other when the going got rough, and became very good listeners. Its a good bet that you took the time to understand each other’s point of view. Although nobody was keeping score, I’d wager you both contributed to the relationship. The caring and compassion you showed undoubtedly earned you a special place in your friend’s life, and their caring and compassion earned them a special place in yours. There was probably a sense of commitment and loyalty there. You trusted each other—not to be perfect necessarily, but to never betray or intentionally hurt one another. If you had that kind of friendship, odds are it has survived separation, miles, and maybe even complete cut-offs.
I hope that you have a few of those special friendships in your life, and that you will take the time to nurture them. If you don’t have any special friends right now, I hope you will put forth the effort to develop a few, or to connect with former friends you regret having drifted away from. Special friendships are especially gratifying, and they are worth the effort!
Important Note: This blog is intended for informational and discussion purposes only, and does not substitute for professional care. Your circumstances may differ from those discussed, and your needs may be different. If you are experiencing distress you feel unable to resolve on your own, please seek assistance from a qualified professional of your choice.