Have you been out of high school long enough to receive your five-year high school reunion invitation (or 10th, 15th, or more)? By the time most of you get this issue, your spring semester will be winding to a close and you might be thinking about attending your high school or undergraduate college reunion. If you are moving back home for the summer, you may plan to look up old high school buddies. You might be anticipating finding friends from college or graduate school when you attend spring and summer conferences. A recent experience made me want to encourage you to take time to really nurture both your old and new friendships.
A couple of weeks ago I received an e-mail from a "long lost" childhood friend. Susan and I were great friends during elementary school, but we haven't seen each other in 15 years. Receiving her message out of the blue made me think about all the friends who have come in and out of my life. While I have made new friends with every move, I keep in touch regularly with some old friends. Regrettably, there are others I have lost touch with over the years.
Like Susan. We haven't kept in touch very well, but apparently she remembered my married name or still had my e-mail address. We first became friends as young girls growing up in Gainesville, Florida. As I remember, we met one day while I was outside playing in the yard. I noticed a girl and her mother walking by our house, so I ran out and invited her over to play.
Actually, this amuses me now because I was so painfully shy at the time. I'm not sure what possessed me to approach her. Maybe it was because she looked similar to me—about my age, same long straight brown hair, knobby knees, and horn-rimmed glasses. It turned out she lived just a couple of blocks away. We both enjoyed exploring outside, writing stories and poetry, and reading books. We spent lots of happy time together over the next few years—spending the night with each other, talking about books, looking for sharks' teeth in the creeks around Gainesville, watching alligators at Lake Alice, and exploring the woods and neighborhoods nearby.
Unfortunately, my family moved right before I started 6th grade and we gradually lost touch with each other. Years later, when my husband and I moved back to Gainesville to attend the University of Florida (where he studied architecture and I started graduate school in psychology), we found each other again. Looking for her parents, I discovered Susan's mother still lived in town. The next time Susan was home to visit, she put us in touch with each other. Susan had just completed her law degree and begun her first job, while I still had a few more years to go in graduate school. We e-mailed each other a few times after that, but I became engrossed in graduate school. Later, both of us started our first jobs and our families. Because we lived far apart, we didn't keep in touch very well.
Like most people, I found I had the most time to spend with friends during my teens and 20s. Yet, even then, the friends I focused on were the ones I was with at the moment. Maybe that's why it's hard to be conscientious about rekindling a friendship with someone I rarely saw. However, my best friends from graduate school are still good friends today. Three of them live within four hours of my home in Missouri, making it easier to remain a part of each other's lives. Even though we only see each other a couple of times a year, we are able to share joys and frustrations about our careers, rejoice in our successes, and comfort each other in times of stress.
I think the relatively large amount of time we spend with friends in high school, college, and graduate school contributes to the feeling that these friends are especially important to us. They were the friends who saw us make decisions about our lives and professions, and who saw us work toward a profession rather than in a profession. We commiserated through romantic breakups and difficult courses, we experimented and played together, and we shared our hopes and dreams for the future.
While we are still students, it is hard to believe that these friends might fade from our lives. However, once we embark on making those dreams for the future come true, it becomes easier to write less often, to forget to call when you're in town, or to lose contact with one another altogether. I would like to encourage you to value the relationships you have with your close friends and make an effort to stay connected to one another as you part ways after graduation.
And don't forget faculty members who meant a lot to you as a student. Trust me—faculty members find it very gratifying to know what happens to the students they enjoyed teaching and working with the most. Especially if you go into academia yourself, your relationships with your favorite faculty members will often deepen into meaningful friendships and professional collaborations.
Once you leave college, day-to-day concerns of career and family are likely to make maintaining old friendships more difficult, especially if you no longer live in the same city. As people become concerned with their spouses, children, careers, and homes, they find less free time to spend simply enjoying the company of their friends. Generally speaking, women tend to do a better job of nurturing relationships with friends and family (did you have to learn the definition of kinkeeper when you took Developmental Psychology?). But to be fair, I think many of the male psychologists I have become friends with are better than average at doing so.
As you move due to education, jobs, or family concerns, new friends will replace or be added to old ones. If you are lucky, as I am, to find yourself working with people who become good friends, your job will be more enjoyable and your life more enriched. Even though you may not have as much time to spend with friends once you begin working (at least not until you retire!), you will have opportunities to meet wonderful people though community organizations, your children's friends, professional organizations and service, and religious groups.
Nurturing these relationships into friendships takes care and effort on your part. Do you remember from Introductory or Social Psychology class who was most likely to be your friend? It is usually the person who lives on your floor or sits next to you in class. Regrettably, that makes it is easy to let go of relationships with people whom cross your path less frequently. Friendships that are a little harder to form and maintain may explain why some old friends fall by the wayside.
For the last couple of weeks my old friend Susan and I have been e-mailing back and forth, catching up on the years we have missed. She has just published a book on psychology and the law. Maybe we still have more in common after 35 years of a not-very-well-nourished long-distance friendship. I'm looking forward to getting to know her again.