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The Anatomy of Friendship

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When you are young, making friends feels effortless.

You fall into deeply intimate friendships with the girl who sits next to you in math class, your shift mate at the Dairy Queen. You don't really have to work at it, because there seems to always be people with common interests right there, eager to hang out and become your new confidant.

But when was the last time you made a new friend? A real, true friend who withstood the test of time and life complications? Someone who you really, truly love -- not just someone to bitch and moan with at the office Keurig, but who will be there for you in a snap, who you can call at anytime, and who can call you at 3 a.m.? That person who, no matter what, will always be there for you?

I'm touching upon a pretty difficult birthday in a few weeks, and it's heading up a year that has been the hardest one of my life. (And that's saying a lot, because I spent the birthday prior in the ICU.) This has been a year that's seen a lot of changing relationships, and lost ones. And I discovered, as I pick up the pieces and try to move on, that as you reach your thirties, it gets increasingly difficult to make true and lasting friends. Why is that? And what can we do about it?

We just don't have the time anymore

Sure, we thought we had it rough in high school and college -- but in retrospect, that was all youthful naiveté. Many of us now work ceaseless hours and while we may have many people we love spending time with, we all too often just don't have the time to spend. It's hard enough to maintain ties with our dearest friends. Do we have time to add new ones to the mix?

We've solidified our identities

If you think about it, as we grow up, the friends we have are a crucial part of the person we develop into. Our friendships determine who we are in a lot of ways we don't even realize. But as we get older, we sort of already know who are and it gets harder. We now need to cultivate relationships that compatible with our own inherent self. They don't need to be just like us, but they do need to be someone that doesn't leave us wanting to rip our hair out, either. Because, as said above, who has time for that? We didn't have this criteria as kids because we simply didn't know what our criteria was. It hadn't been created yet.

Friendships are a lot like dating

A friend of mine recently moved across the country on a whim. She's happier than she's ever been, and I noted when I saw her recently that it's amazing she made friends so quickly. She shared a mutual friend had been setting her up on "friendship blind dates" -- lady dates where she'd meet a new potential friend for drinks or a show. For her, it'd been working really well.

For me, I was unsure how I'd personally fare at something like that. If dating itself so often feels like a job interview, imagine having to interview for an entirely new social circle?

People show you who they really are (and you may not like it)

When we were kids, the worst thing that ever happened in friendships would be that my fifth grade BFF would start sitting with someone else at lunch. It felt tragic at the time, but by the next day, I had a new BFF. It was easy then. Now, when we make and lose friends, the parameters feel a lot larger -- it's very much like a breakup, possibly even a death. There are so many different types of friendship breakups. The people who say they will be there for you, and then ultimately aren't. The people who put you on an impossibly high pedestal -- and then one day tear the chair out from under you. The people who get married or have babies and suddenly just aren't as available as they once were. And, there's the most common type of friendship end in your 30s -- the ones that drift apart. You simply have different interests now, and nothing left to talk about. As I said, it's kind of like a divorce, and just as hard to come back from.

Even with tons of friends, life can be lonely. Especially if these friends are long distance, or people you predominantly chat with on the Internet. No tweet can hug you when you are sad. No email can give you someone to meet for an impromptu happy hour when you've had a bad day.

This has been an incredibly hard year for me, one where a lot of friendships have simply disappeared. And I've discovered that maybe, as you get older, it's not the same anymore. You don't need to have loads of friends. You need to have a few really good ones. And when you manage to have that -- and, praise the lord, I do -- treat them like the gold they are. You'll never have a more precious asset. And, as you may have noticed, they aren't so easy to replace.

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