Whenever I tell people that yes, I’m twenty-one years old and still best friends with the four girls I hung around with in elementary school, their responses range from disbelief to admiration. While it’s a bit uncommon for childhood friendships to endure puberty and then the arguably even more awkward life stage of early adulthood, it’s certainly not impossible. Based on my experience, I’ve found that there are three vital rules to maintaining a long-term friendship.
1. Just Be Nice, Dammit
The one thing that seems to blow peoples’ minds the most about life long friendships is the fact that the people involved still genuinely like each other after years of change. Sure, it’s normal for people to grow apart naturally, but I don’t think it should be seen as abnormal for a fierce crew to stay close over the years.
I stopped politely laughing along with this uninvited sentiment a long time ago, because first, the idea that girls can’t possibly be friends without harboring some sort of caustic, petty hatred for one another is an idiotic. Let’s not give the impression to young girls that frenemies are the norm, please. Second, refraining from being an asshole to the people who choose to spend their time with you isn’t that hard.
If you’ve been presented with the choice between lashing out in annoyance and being kind even when you don’t feel like it, always try to choose the latter. The Golden Rule can and should be applied to pretty much every situation (within reason of course) when it comes to caring for a friendship.
However, what if one of your friends has made consistent habit of acting like a douche bagel and is disrupting the peaceful equilibrium in your band of long time friends?
This situation is the pits, trust me, but if you’re truly dedicated to keeping up the healthy environment crucial to maintaining long-term friendship, then it may be necessary to cut out the toxic person. If that person cared about and respected you, your friends and the good thing you all have going on, they wouldn’t be acting like a crusty toenail in the first place.
As I mentioned before, my group of friends and I first met at our elementary school. The base of our relationship was formed by spending nearly every day together for several years, bonding through activities like Girl Scouts and sculpting pets for ourselves out of snow during recess.
After elementary school, we split up between two different middle schools. From that point on, the distances between us kept increasing, until we graduated high school and each went on to different colleges. With hundreds of miles, three states and the grand expectations of finding a whole new life at university between us, we knew that freshman year was going to be the biggest challenge our friendship had faced. This specific transition tends to be the ultimate test for most relationships formed prior to adulthood.
It’s become commonly accepted that ties will be severed at this point. However, in our current, extensively connected world, friendship fade-outs are definitely preventable. You and your friends can agree to text or call regularly and keep in touch on social media. While it quickly became a bit too expensive to keep up, my friends and I mailed a journal in rotation to one another for the first few months of college.
Although I agree with the general consensus that Google+ is inherently annoying and useless, I do have some praise to sing for the Google Chat feature. Google Chat allows for multiple people to participate in a video call at one time. The group conversation component on Google Chat is easier to use than Skype’s counterpart and unlike with Face Time, it isn’t limited to Macs.
Group video chats are great because they are the closest thing to actually hanging out together when you can’t physically be in the same place. Being able to see and hear each other’s faces and voices is not only very pleasant, but it helps eliminate any confusion and muddled interpretations that come with impersonal communication methods like social media and texting. It’s hands down the most efficient way to make plans with equal input from each person and to make sure that everyone actually knows what’s going on.
3. Make the Effort
Finally, make sure that you go the extra mile to meet as regularly as possible and maintain traditions, both silly and serious, that are important to your group. It won’t always be convenient or simple, and one person may have to go out of their way to make plans work for everyone else, but it will be worth it.
For example, my friends and I have been exchanging secret Santa gifts every Winter Break since middle school. When my friend Wendy was unexpectedly hospitalized through the holidays after being severely burned a few years ago, we brought our gift exchange to her little room in the corner of the burn unit. Even though Wendy rolled over and fell into a drug-induced slumber about an hour into the visit, I know that us being there meant the world to her.
If the groundwork for friendship, i.e. general compatibility and positive shared memories, is already there, the secret to helping your childhood friendships transition into adulthood is simply some basic effort.
You’ll get out what you put in.
And this kind of bond can definitely be unique and rewarding enough to deserve that degree of effort. After all, these people have seen seen every single one of your awkward phases and they still love you.