Tuesday, June 21, 2011

You Can't Make Old Friends

Christopher Hitchens famously said a melancholy lesson of advancing years is that you can't make old friends.  For many people, the biggest obstacle to taking risks and growing personally is the fear that they will leave friends behind. 

There are a lot of people I don't remember from earlier stages of my existence.  I get friend requests from people and can't for the life of me remember sitting beside them in high school math class.  There are others who knew me as I became myself, back at university. I see them only on occasion, and they typically fall into one of two camps: those who keep up with who I am now, and those who still see me as the person I was two decades ago. 

The ones who keep up with me are those who've made an effort, and it's reciprocated by me.  Even if we don't see one another very often, we keep up over the phone or by electronic means and I also know how far they've come.  In at least two cases, they are the sort of people who've spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of life they want, and they are living it. I admire their purposeful ways and the satisfying selves they have built with like-minded spouses.  The other camp, who still see me as the awkward hayseed, typically have let their personal trajectory move along without their permission--usually in an attempt to satisfy external expectations they've constructed rather than what they deeply wish for themselves--and so continue to play their long-expired superiority cards.

Between the curve balls fate has thrown my way and my deliberate attempts to learn about the world at large, I've ended up with a bunch of friends I might not have had otherwise.  Or, more accurately, they are the people I was supposed to meet once I became who I've always wanted to be.  Two come to mind, and both have made big changes recently.  Both are life-long Texans, women with whom I bonded initially because we'd been through divorce and had ambitions to come out the other side roaring, if you'll pardon the Helen Reddy reference. 

Both have worked incredibly hard and have done well in their respective fields.  They are about the same age, but one had her only child very young and is now unfettered.  After gutting out several years to work off a degree, she's just moved to NYC.  I visited her there this past weekend and was thrilled to see her new neighborhood on the Upper East Side and felt almost more giddy than she about her absolute gumption in pursuing such an adventure.  There will be winter, but she'll adapt. 

The other has a young child and has given her all to her little girl and her place of work over the past six years.  She became a city person, or tried to, against her instincts.  Now she's done her time in North Dallas (my frequent readers know how I feel about that place) and is heading to the Hill Country of Central Texas, which is as lovely a place as I can imagine living.  She's got a good gig, which she's earned ten times over, and I'm looking forward to heading to the gorgeous banks of the Guadalupe to catch up and see her in her element. 

For both my happiness couldn't be greater than if it were my own life taking shape. We've all got our circumstances arranged in the way we wish, men or not. We take care of our children and we make our own money. When I met each of them, I knew immediately they would become dear friends of mine, even before I knew how things had earlier played out for each.  I  measure our friendships in years rather than decades, but we've made up for lost time and take great delight in hearing one another's stories.  With each, I've developed a deep and abiding connection.

So as much as I admire Hitch's intellect, which surpasses mine by immeasurable yards, I must say this is a case where men are at a disadvantage.  Women may not be able to make old friends, but many of us have the ability to recognize them when we meet them.  And sometimes we even get to have great vacation spots as a bonus. 

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