Like many things in life, maintaining friendships turns out to be more work than originally expected. Not that it’s unpleasant work, but there’s more to it than paying for the 30-rack of Bud or lending the car for a Wendy’s run at midnight. Friends require time and attention, commodities that seem ever more scarce as we get older. Some friends become supporting characters. Some get retired. Others become the Sundance to your Butch Cassidy; you stay close right up until the shootout in Bolivia. We asked GP staffers in their 20s, 30s and 40s — the age range of our crew — to weigh in on the challenges and triumphs of keeping friends as they get older.
20s: Big Transitions
At 29, I’m nearing the end of a decade that began in college and has taken me through several jobs, a few major cities, fewer true romances than I expected, a few long runs and triathlons, an unexpected accident and a career I enjoy. The 20s are a big swinging transition decade. It’s turned out that my closest friends during college are no longer around: one’s a doctor, another went off the grid in Oregon and a third lives 20 minutes away by train, though we just can’t seem to stay in touch. I still think of them as friends, but practically speaking, we were friends. Our paths diverged and have only grown further apart. There’s no more Andre and Coors party or late-night conversation outside the library to keep us together.
My closest friend turned out to be somebody I barely knew until six years ago, but now I hold on to that relationship pretty tightly. We talk every few days. We visit once every month or so in his city or mine. We bring gifts. We cook dinner. We’ve been leaving messages on each other’s voicemail in foreign accents — probably thousands of them — since 2008. Once we even went for a run together in sweatpants while his wife browsed in a bookstore. Maybe the most important thing is that we don’t talk much about the past; we might laugh about something that happened or remember a trip fondly, but there’s no nostalgia. Look back wistfully to your peril, I say. A friendship that’s about growing and building something is one that will last.
– Jeremy Berger, Special Projects Editor, 29
30s: Everyone is Your Girlfriend
By the time you are in your 30s, the importance of making friends has evolved into keeping them as life and career have become substantial factors and there simply isn’t enough time for everything. But take heart, 30-somethings. Life doesn’t have to be a lonely existence. These are a few things you can do to keep your friends: (1) Treat them like a girlfriend, remembering events like birthdays and big meetings; (2) let go of the outliers because every minute you divert toward a bad friendship is a minute you’ve taken away from the good ones; (3) tailor your interactions, i.e., some are “coffee friends”, some are “texting friends” and some are “catch up when we are in town friends”; (4) check in, for real (not just on social media); (5) pay attention to stages in life, which is to say a new dad has more to talk about with another new dad than with his childless best friend.
My childhood best friend/college roommate/groomsman in my wedding lives three time zones away and has four kids. I travel a lot and have a kid as well. Needless to say, our schedules never line up. Instead of hoping we catch the other with free time, we regularly leave long voicemails because it’s convenient and gives that “human touch” social media just doesn’t deliver.
– Bradley Hasemeyer, Octane Writer and Producer, 33
40s: Old Lions, Still Roaring
When I was 40, I reconnected with my best friend from high school. We hadn’t seen each other, or even spoken, for almost two decades. His impending marriage prompted us to retrace an old road trip from our 20s as a sort of bachelor weekend. Though we both feared it would be a hollow recreation rife with “remember whens”, it was an altogether different trip. Back in the day, he had a secondhand film camera and wore a photojournalist’s vest. I scribbled bad poetry in a notebook and tried to grow a beard. But at 40, we had both become the men we were pretending to be when we were 20: he a freelance photographer, me a writer. There was a quiet confidence both of us shared. No posing, less dreaming — we were content in our own lives, and happy for each other.
When you hit your 40s, friends are often into their second act; kids are grown, divorces and midlife crises have happened. It’s a great time to reconnect with old friends, a time to look outside yourself again. You’ve finally become who you set out to be and there’s less to prove, so friendships tend to be more honest and less rushed. I see my old friend twice a year now. And when we meet, rather than rehashing who we were or who we want to become, we are content to be who we are now.
– Jason Heaton, 43, Timekeeping Editor