I’ve Had Practically No Idea What My Friend Has Been Doing For The Past 20 Years

High school: I knew who my friends were, and I was deeply, irrationally committed to them and whatever time we could steal from family and responsibility to be together. The activity hardly mattered. Driving around our suburb was just as enjoyable as attacking a hill on mountain bikes as long as they were involved. We were motivated in whatever we did by a vision of one another as indispensable.

Of course that was short-sighted, as much of adolescent thinking and feeling is. Of course we were dispensable. 24 years have passed since we graduated, and we have practically, almost completely, dispensed with one another. New relationships and commitments have required space, and something had to give.

The disposal didn’t happen at once, but in stages. College was a stage, and so was world travel. Marriage, all of us suited up for photographs, was another stage, though it didn’t feel like it. New jobs, and, finally, kids–all stages in a gradual disposal from our lives of people who our teenage selves could not have imagined living without.

It’s healthy; there is something sad about adult relationships that live only to preserve an experience of youth. We have to dispose of the relationships we had as teenagers, because the people who made up those relationships are gone, or at least irrevocably changed by the accumulation of experience and interest and choice. Clinging to the friend of my youth makes of him a self-serving object and denies the reality of who he has become.

We have to start over.

I spent two days last week with one of my oldest friends. We’ve known each other since kindergarten. I have pictures of us in little league uniforms squinting and showing off trophies. He is in my most cherished memories of high school. And yet the time with him last week paraded one person after another, one demand after another, that has shaped his life in astounding ways, ways that I have been almost completely oblivious to the whole time. He is no longer the person goofing off in those memories. He is so much better. Continued friendship with him must account for and embrace the person he is now, not simply reminisce about the person he was then.

Friendship can reset at adulthood. It probably has to.

 

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