Friendshifts: Keeping Close Through Life's Changes

I'm made up of the people I know and the friends I keep. I'd be nothing without them. --20-year-old Penn State male freshman

One Sunday afternoon about a year ago, I called my close friend Joyce just to say hello, but she was not home. A few hours later, Joyce returned my call. She started our conversation by sharing with me that she had a job interview the next day. It seemed she was up against 90 others. She was feeling depressed, anxious, and scared. Then she gave me the highest compliment a friend could give to another friend: "Just hearing your voice makes me feel better."

Without even trying, I had helped lower Joyce's stress level. It is just that ability of friends to reduce the stress related to life's tougher events that has led researchers to confirm that friends extend our lives as well as improve the quality of our lives.

Joyce and I find comfort in talking to each other because of our ongoing close friendship as well as our shared history, which began the summer of 1969, when we first met in geology class at Temple University in Philadelphia. From the very start of our relationship, Joyce always laughed at my jokes, bringing out a whimsical side in me that too few others see behind my intense, driven, and studious facade. I shared in Joyce's grief when her mother died too young; I witnessed Joyce's joyful wedding, as she did mine. I was at the surprise shower many years later for her newborn daughter, a blessed event that much sweeter since this pregnancy had not ended in a miscarriage at five months as so many others had.

FRIENDSHIFTS

Although we lived in the same city for just three years-- I moved back to New York, then to Connecticut-Joyce and I have kept up our close friendship. Friendshifts is a word I have coined for the way our friendships change as we go from one stage in our life to another, or even relocate from one school, job, neighborhood, or community to another. It is a variation on the old adage "Make new friends but keep the old; one is silver, but the other's gold." Whether the need to form new friends is caused by a change in interests, a move to another city, a promotion to another level or into another profession, or the death of old friends or even of a spouse, shifting to new friendships that serve current needs makes it possible to feel connected even if old friends are seen less frequently, if at all.

The variety of roles that we must play throughout our life--as student, worker, spouse, or parent--changes, as does the place that friendship holds in our life. But we still need friends, ranging from casual to close or best friends, and of both sexes. Friendship plays a continual role, although at different stages it will be less or more important to our emotional stability, depending upon the other primary attachments in our life.

When I gave the eulogy for my 83-year-old dearly beloved grandmother, I was saddened to look out at the small cluster of family members in the funeral parlor chapel. I did not see even one of the friends my widowed grandmother had cared about for most of her life, since they had already died or moved far away. But my grandmother also failed to develop new friends, and consequently she was lonelier in her last years than she had to be. She needed to understand the concept of friendshifts so her later years could have been fuller; her family was too busy with their own lives, unable to give her the daily intimacy she so desperately needed.
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