Growing up I didn’t have a large circle of friends and that pattern continues in my adulthood. Some people are surprised when I say that, but I’m distinguishing between a friend and an acquaintance. A friend is my free, personal therapist. A person who will tell me like it is or just listen until I talk enough that I solve my own problem. When I use this definition, I have only one friend that has lasted through the seven-year itch, and she’s done so numerous times.
A few years ago I read an article about Sociologist Gerald Mollenhorst’s work. In his research he found our social network size typically does not change, but we replace about half of our friends every seven years. The changes typically occur due to our lives’ circumstances such as employment and address. When I look back at the evolution of my friendships, it’s true they have changed. I still teach in the same school district, but I changed school buildings, and some friends, 13 years ago. Now, as some of those same friends enter retirement, my circle is changing yet again. My neighbors haven’t changed much, but with the few changes that have occurred, my friendships changed too. My daughters’ choices in activities and friends influenced my friends, and so too does my husband’s social network’s evolution. Change is good, but there’s something to be said about a friendship which has last throughout six of those seven-year cycles.
I met Lisa in third grade at the age of 8. I don’t recall our initial interactions, but I do know we played cat’s cradle on the bus every day. During middle school, we attended the same school, participated in many of the same extracurriculars, and enjoyed time at each other’s homes. As we entered high school and the first seven-year friendship cycle approached, our social networks began to vary due to our choices of extracurriculars and boyfriends, but our friendship remained. (I’m sure the small size of our high school graduating class, 125, helped us stay close.)
Then came our first years as adults. I stayed close to home to attend college while Lisa chose to move downstate. We kept in contact, but without the prevalence of social media like today, it was the occasional written letter or a visit when Lisa returned home to see her family. By the start of our third, seven-year friendship cycle, (age 22 if you’re doing the math) I was entering a relationship that would lead me to planning a wedding and choosing my bridesmaids. Lisa didn’t stand as one of my bridesmaids though. Instead, I asked her to be a reader during my traditional Catholic wedding mass. She agreed. Looking back, the idea of her reading Scripture is a symbol of our friendship. A bridesmaid dress goes out of style, but the words written in the Bible have lasted thousands of years.
Our fourth friendship cycle included the transition to motherhood with the birth of her two sons and my two daughters. During this time, Lisa and her family settled just five hours away, but our lives were now busy with husbands, children and our own careers. We did find time to spend a mom-weekend away with another friend when our youngest children were just a year old. I also brought my family down for a visit and Lisa would let me know when she was back in the UP. Lisa’s home also served as a wonderful bed and breakfast when I needed to be downstate for meetings. Between these times and email, we continued to sporadically share our lives’ important, and not so important, events with each other.
By the age of 36, we were both quite settled in family-and-career life. Our conversations were few and far between, but I still knew I could call her and we’d pick up right where we left off. During this cycle, Lisa returned to the UP more often, but it was bittersweet as she was visiting her ill mother. Lisa would let me know she was coming, and I’d stop by her parent’s or we would take a quick morning walk before she headed back downstate. It was also during this cycle when I realized the strength of our bond.
I was hosting a gathering at my home when the phone rang. I looked at the caller-id and saw Lisa’s name. I looked at Todd and said, “It’s Lisa. I have to take this.” He nodded with a quizzical look on his face. To my “Hello?” Lisa responded, “My mom died. I’m by Munising.” Tears welled in my eyes just as they are as I write this. I could feel her pain. I told her she could stop by on her way through if she wanted, but otherwise to call if she needed me.
Three years ago, our friendship entered our sixth cycle and this past weekend we spent a little over 24 hours together. For the first time in 13 years there were no kids, no husbands, just us. We talked, picked blueberries, hiked, enjoyed a beer with lunch, and talked and hiked some more. Did my free, personal therapist solve all my problems? Of course not, but I plan to keep her on retainer for as many seven-year friendship cycles as my beating heart will allow.
PS: Check out Lisa’s blog Relationally Yours.