Are your first friends your best friends?

In the final scene of the 1986 film Stand By Me, Gordie signs off with the line: “I never had any friends later on in life like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”

Stand By Me has long been one of my favourite films. Yet it wasn’t until the last few years that I’ve come to value the sentiment of those words.

Do any of the friends you make in your adult years ever come close to sharing the bonds that you enjoyed with the friends you grew up with?

As a 30-year-old female who has moved interstate and abroad regularly for work and adventure, I’ll be the first to tell you that it is really hard to make friends in a new town once you don’t have the security of the school yard or a university timetable to bring you together.

Once you outgrow weekend drinking sessions at the pub, and other friends begin to settle down and start families, finding people you connect with or who share a similar interest can be tricky. It’s technically easy to meet people — but forming a true friendship, a relationship with someone who you have a connection with and can confide in, that can take time.

Quality time.

It feels as though ‘time’ is something that is becoming scarcer and scarcer each year.

Whether we actually have less time as our lives become busier — juggling careers, families, hobbies and social commitments — or our lives become so cluttered with all the things that we think we should be doing, time simply slips by.

It happens sometimes. Friends come in and out of your life, like busboys in a restaurant — Gordie Lachance, Stand By Me

Or we’ve become so reliant on the convenience of technology and its ability to connect us instantly, that the value we place on nurturing and building relationships has shifted.

When you think back, even as little as three to five years, how we communicate has changed. So to has our expectations.

In a matter of seconds, we can connect with someone we might not have given the time of day to for weeks or even months. With a sweeping ‘sorry for the late reply’ disclaimer, we quickly bring them up to speed on what’s been happening.

It’s easy to fire off a generic message, send out a snap, or tag someone on social media.

We feel connected and we’ve been ‘seen’, but is there actually any value in the exchange?

It’s the very nail Sherry Turkle hits on the head in her TED talk, Connected but alone, where she challenges audiences to consider: as we expect more from technology, do we expect less from others? In particular, she poses the following:

“I share therefore I am.

These days, those phones in our pockets are changing our minds and hearts because they offer us three gratifying fantasies.

One, that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be; two, that we will always be heard; and three, that we will never have to be alone. And that third idea, that we will never have to be alone, is central to changing our psyches.

Human relationships are rich and they’re messy and they’re demanding. And we clean them up with technology. And when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection. We short-change ourselves. And over time, we seem to forget this, or we seem to stop caring.”

I don’t have too many close friends. I’ve met a lot of people in my time and formed various degrees of friendships and relationships with them over the years. Some stronger and more resilient than others.

I know a lot of people who I would stop and say hi to if I passed them in the street, or catch up for a coffee if the circumstances were right, but when push comes to shove, I would say I have four true friends. They all live interstate. They are all people I went to high school with. Oddly enough, when I was in high school I wasn’t that close to them. Our friendships formed and strengthen in the years that followed.

My mum is still incredibly close to her teenage best friend. They grew up in a small town in New South Wales and have some of the greatest stories — from riding on the back seat of the school bus to mischief at drive-in cinemas.

They were pen friends in their 20s when their lives moved in different directions and to opposite sides of the country. They caught up sporadically in their 30s when their children were similar ages, and in their 40s and 50s they ended up living back in the same area.

They are the salt of the earth and now take bottles of wine to the beach for late afternoon picnics and go dancing at the local beach shack. Their friendship may have gone through periods of silence, but their ties never weakened.

I’d like to think in my lifetime I will meet people whose friendship will be as great as some of my oldest friends — though if I don’t, I hope my current friendships age as well as Mum and Sal.

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You can watch Sherry’s TED presentation, Connected but alonehere.

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This post is based on an opinion piece I wrote for the Hervey Bay Independent in 2014: http://theindy.com.au/2014/01/24/are-your-first-friends-the-best-friends/

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