As I've gotten less shy and more curious -- two payoffs of getting older nobody mentions much -- the potential for new friends feels boundless. People I want to turn into friends seem to be everywhere. Go to a party, make a friend. New friendships, like new appliances, are a lot easier to maintain than old ones, so much so that's it's tempting to say "forget it" when long-time amigos become unfathomable or instigate guerrilla warfare.
It's at times like these when I wonder, what does it say about me if none of my phone numbers are more than 10 or 20 years old? If no one I speak to can remember my parents or that I once called soda "pop?" Who but an old friend can send 1964 pictures with me in a frock that little Sally could have worn to the Sterling Cooper Draper Price Christmas bash? Veteran pals carry my history in their hard drives, offering a cashmere comfort that has everything to do with the priceless value of shared memories. Old-timers remind me that I didn't land on planet Earth with fully formed opinions about whether a mosque should be built near the World Trade Center site or if it was absolutely necessary for Pluto to be blackballed from the solar system.
Yet most of us run our lives via a secret chip embedded in our brains and hearts. I invite you. You invite me back. I do tit. You do at least .75 tat. This works fine, until a friend breaks the unwritten rules. If you care at all about him or her, you then try to crack the code in their sub-rosa message:
a) "I envy you."
b) "Your values have gotten out of whack"
c) "It's always about you."
d) "I'm just not that into you anymore."
e) All of the above.
The hard part comes when you have to decide if, considering A-E, a vintage friendship continues to deserve your sweat equity, or if its unceremoniously canceled, like a sitcom with mediocre ratings. Over the years I've let a number of friendships die. Some withered from malnutrition; others exploded as I dodged a bullet or shot one. There are a few friends I've never replaced. I miss some of them and wish that when I was younger, I hadn't been dumb enough to believe that bosom buddies are easily replaceable. Could I have fixed those friendships before their warranties had expired?
What I've learned -- the hard way -- is that you have to lower expectations and try to appreciate people for whatever positives they offer while hoping the negatives get buried under shinier moments and actions. Sometimes it means forgiving, an act which, of course, has its boundaries. You've got to guess whether when you reach the invisible fence of forgiveness you'll be embraced, not get electrified as you curse yourself for being stupid enough to try to kiss and makeup.
I chewed through all of this in my newest novel, With Friends like These, out August 10. "You don't have to be a woman to fall under the spell of this challenging examination of how time tests tight friendships," writes Joe Meyers. (You can read this and other reviews at www.sallykoslow.com. Naturally, I'll be even more grateful if you buy and read the book.)
What's made you end a friendship? What's the worst friendship transgression you've ever forgiven? On a more positive note: what's your Golden Rule for friendship? I'd love to hear your experiences. Let's all learn from one another.