What Makes A Friend?

So, I’ve been thinking about what makes an old friend very special.  Of course, the best way to reflect on this topic is with my oldest friend, Hedda Leonard.  Here is our list, complied by sending emails back and forth between Evanston, IL and Southbury, CT.   We are very different women who met as 5 year olds, became inseparable through high school, traveled divergent paths geographically, emotionally, and professionally but still have our regular reunions and have managed to keep a loving friendship going for more than 50 years.

What has made us old friends?

Linda:  We could depend on each other, with childish exceptions, from the time we were 5 years old until the day we left for different colleges.

Hedda: You could make me laugh longer and harder than anyone could.  That’s reason enough for falling (and staying) in love.

Linda:  I used to be a scaredy-cat kid, but felt very bold when we were making mischief together.

Hedda: It was so easy to be at your house, playing, eating, sleeping.  I didn’t have to watch my step (my mother’s presence) or watch my back (my sister’s presence).  I was safe.

Linda: I used to feel like you were my other half; everything was better and easier when we were doing it together

Hedda:  Your home was warm and friendly; there was laughter and conversation.  I was always welcome. You made me part of your family.  I belonged.

It looks like we fulfilled different needs for each other as kids.  Let’s see how Hedda and I stack up against the research. After we made our notes, I found the book, Children’s Friendships by Zick Rubin and did my homework.

Researchers have found that even toddlers exhibit strong preferences for certain playmates over others and, when separated, show distress. (We did)  When you ask a 3 ½ year old, “What is a friend?” you might hear, “We’re friends now because we know each other’s names.”  At eight years old, the answer changes and becomes, “Friends don’t argue with you.  If you are nice to them, they will be nice to you.” (Eh).  At thirteen, “A friend is someone who you can share secrets with at 3 in the morning with Clearasil on your face.” (We did, but not at 3 am – no cell phones)

Young children (ages 3-5) see friends as physical playmates. A fine recommendation is, “plays a lot” just as, “she takes things away from me” is a poor reference.  At this age, they may have enduring relationships, but cannot characterize them as such.  The older child (ages 11-12) understands friendship to involve time spent together with intimate and mutual sharing.  A best friend is often our first experience with loving someone outside our family. Friends help development. Even in children, a best friend brings out sensitivity to another person, the desire to contribute to the happiness of someone else, and willingness to support another person.  Here’s to old friends!!!!

Any comments about your old friend?

Data was taken from Rubin’s book,  Children’s Friendships (Harvard University Press, 1980).

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