Since the onset of the pandemic, I’ve observed a meme circulating on Facebook and other social media that challenges participants to list the number of years of their longest friendships and speculates nobody has friendships lasting longer than 20 years. As someone who’s been around a long time, I think the question is silly, as I have friends that I made in first grade back in 1959 and many others I met throughout school more than 50-some years ago.
I also have friends I made while
serving in the Air Force in the 1970s and 1980s and others from college and
early in my career working for newspapers. Although I may not speak directly
with many of my friends that I’ve accumulated every day, I do follow some of
their social media posts and try to catch up through activities such as
attending my high school reunions or by telephone.
Ed Pierce, right, and his friend Mickey Justice during Reforger
military exercises in Germany in 1978. COURTESY PHOTO
Driving home from work a few years ago, I listened to an NPR podcast on the radio in which a relationship consultant suggested if you want a friendship to last a long time, it’s inevitable that changes with your friendship will occur over time and people have to be flexible to remain friends.
She said that the longer a friendship lasts, the more it becomes susceptible to becoming uncomfortable. According to her, people inevitably change, and that evolving friendship dynamic can strain relationships such as when your best friend in high school marries someone you don’t like, and you don’t see them much anymore, or you get a new job, and you now work a new schedule and hardly ever see your former co-worker pals now.
But do situations like that spell the end of friendships? I tend to disagree. I have played in a fantasy baseball league with many of the same friends for the past 19 years and we have all gone in many different directions since the league was originally founded in 2004.
One big change was I moved from Florida to New Hampshire and then to Maine a few years back. But my friend Jack, a mortgage broker from Florida who also plays in the league, and I have remained friends even though I haven’t seen him in person since 2013. I just had a long text exchange last week with him wanting to congratulate my schoolteacher wife on her retirement and I asked him about potential tax incentives for her tutoring a few students in our home and how the real estate market is fairing in Florida these days.
I also post my newspaper columns on Facebook and Twitter every week and many of my high school friends are among the first to read them and make comments about how they can relate to the column’s topic or what they thought about the content of the columns. Some of these individuals are friends that I made while attending Carlton Webster Junior High School way back in 1966.
In the past few weeks, I’ve heard from someone that I supervised in the Air Force in 1983, a co-worker of mine from a newspaper in New Hampshire in 2014, and a college fraternity pal from 1972 in New Mexico. I learned something new about each of these friends through our latest conversations and we picked up almost from about the last time we spoke, in one case nearly 15 years ago.
I’ve lost touch with friends that I wish I could speak to again but because of distance or circumstance it’s not possible. My Air Force buddy in Germany, James Smith, is a great example for instance. We were close friends from 1977 to 1979 but the last time I saw him was when he was flying home a few months before I left Germany myself in 1979. I never saw him again and have no idea what he’s been up to for the past 43 years, but it does not mean we couldn’t be friends again if I ever track him down.
Having reached the advanced age I now am, I can also say I’ve lost many wonderful people over time that I’ve been close with and not because they no longer wanted to be my friend.
I’ve learned that the longer a friendship goes on, you must accept that life is fragile, and nobody lives forever. In the last 20 years, I’ve said goodbye to many high school classmates, former co-workers, and people I’ve met through the years that I’ve liked and admired.
It’s a fact that long lasting friendships will change and the changes that do happen won't always be comfortable.
I’ve also found out that in my lifetime I have gone through many different versions of myself. I’ve evolved from a Little League baseball player to a U.S. Air Force staff sergeant, to an inexperienced reporter and sportswriter to a husband and stepfather to a newspaper editor and now a grandfather.
It means that the friends I make in each experience are part of individual chapters of my life and it’s up to me to blend them all into a friendship tapestry that is woven from all the various experiences of my life. <