Friendship for Grown-Ups

Bonding with others can be easy when you're a kid, a teenager, or a young adult (remember those late nights in the college dorm?) But it can be harder once you've grown up. Why? And what should you do?

Magical Friendship-Making Moments

Close friendships can come with big life changes

A while back, a "Living Single" reader asked me to write about how to make friends when you are single. I started addressing the question here, here, and here, but there is so much to say that I want to continue coming back to the topic now and then.

I've been reading accounts of great friendships, and noticing that the beginnings of those friendships often have something striking in common. The friends come together at a time that is emotionally consequential; they are experiencing the same big change in their lives.

Journalists Ellen Goodman and Patricia O'Brien wrote about their decades-long friendship in I Know Just What You Mean: The Power of Friendship in Women's Lives. They met in 1974 as winners of the highly prestigious Nieman Fellowship in journalism. They would spend the year together at Harvard.

Ellen describes her first impression of Pat this way: "perky California cheerleader. Suburban mom. Smiling, pretty, very Little League, station wagon driving. Verrrrry straight." Pat, in turn, said this about her first impression of Ellen: "Craftsy orange earrings; no makeup. An in-charge, what's-it-to-you type."

They both agree that if they had met under other circumstances - say, during a brief chat at some random cocktail party - they probably would never have become friends. But this was different. Living as a Neiman fellow for a year was a big change for both of them, and prestige comes with pressure. In their Neiman class, there were few women, and of those, they were the only two who had children. So what if they had little else in common in their backgrounds, upbringings, biographies, or hippie/homemaker leanings? They were on the cusp of a year in their lives that could be momentous; it was one of those magical friendship-making moments.

Same for the intense friendship between Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy, described in Patchett's bestselling book, Truth & Beauty: A Friendship. Ann and Lucy were at Sarah Lawrence at the same time, but did not become friends there. Once they were both accepted into the same class of the wildly competitive Iowa Writers' Workshop, though, a fast friendship was born.

Recently, one of my East Coast friends was out here visiting, and we started discussing special friendship-making moments. She said she thought that many more close friendships are formed during the first year of college than during subsequent years. I don't know of any systematic research on the topic, but if she's right, it would fit with my sense that times of important changes, and times of emotional significance, are great moments for making friends.

It has been that way for me. The person I met as my roommate on the first day of college and the new Assistant Professor hired the same time as me at my first job are among the friendships I've made that lasted for years.

Of course, these life-changing crucibles are not the only vats that cook up a good stew of friendship, but I think they have their place. So if you are thinking of making a major life change, consider the possibility that a new and lasting friendship may be one of the rewards for all of your effort and anxiety. (No guarantees.)

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Another friendship related topic that is getting some attention these days is frenemies. I don't know if I'll blog about it, but here's an interesting story on the topic. (True confessions: Singled Out and I are mentioned in it.)

Friendship for Grown-Ups