For me, a new friend is anyone I’ve met since I was about 18 years old. I have a couple of close friends from college and graduate school, and I’ve also made friends from the various aspects of my diverse professional life. I’ve met wonderful people as a new parent and as a not-so-new parent. I have found that new friendships have somewhat different characteristics and tone than really old friendships. Different is not better or worse, it’s just not the same. And variation is the spice of life, after all.
Old friends stay connected often by the weight of time served. That is not to say that we maintain old friendships from inertia, just that what we had in common with someone in kindergarten—like being in the same class—does not necessarily last into adulthood. So we often have divergent pastimes and passions than our old friends. With new friends, we tend to connect because of common interests, work, or functional commonalities–like new mothers meeting day after day at the playground with their kids. So we often have more in common with new friends, a ready-made scaffold on which to hang the new feelings of bonding and connection. Not to mention activities. I seem to spend a lot of time “hanging” with old friends while actually doing things with new friends. That is not always true, of course.
We are more mature now, and new friendships tend to be less tainted by competition or jealousy (not that teenaged girls are jealous or competitive!) More to the point, where we have little resistance to descending into childish behavior with old friends, we don’t usually indulge our impulse to immaturity with newer pals. That is a good thing, by the way.
New friends expect to be fitted to the existing structure of our lives, rather than expecting us to rearrange ourselves around a long-standing relationship. They have existing lives too, which we are expected to honor and accommodate. This makes new friendships more flexible sometimes, which is also a nice bonus.
After college and graduate school, it is more difficult to make and nurture new friendships. We have less time, and we have less energy as well. It was one thing to go to classes all day, party all night, and have plenty of energy left over when we’re in college. It’s quite another to get through a grueling work day, realize you have to come home and actually make dinner, and somehow find time to fit in a workout and time for old friends. Newer friends can fall to the end of the priority list unless we work with them and spend time with them on a regular basis.
But that is one of the gifts of new friendships. They are harder to cement, so we value them all the more because we know the effort it takes to make the friendship work. There are also more hurdles to overcome: does our spouse like the new friend, are our schedules compatible, do we have similar world views and opinions? If all the myriad conditions have been met and we decide to make the investment in the new relationship, it usually means it’s a good fit and a close connection when it happens.
Friends are the family we choose rather than the one we are born with. I’m sure there are lots of people whose families of origin are lovely. I don’t happen to be one of them. The family I’ve created with my husband is absolutely wonderful, but at this point in the game, our children are not supposed to be our friends. They still need us to be their parents. So my friends, my family of choice, are that much more important to me. Having a variety of friends from all walks of life is particularly wonderful, as we can give and receive just what we need from the just the right person. So, whether old or new, friends are the ties that bind—kind of like Spanx—holding us together when we need it most.