Clawson Park Carnival / Cindy La Ferle
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Once in a while, my husband and I reminisce about former classmates, favorite teachers, and childhood neighbors. We retell crazy stories about coworkers from jobs we've held in the distant past (like the one about the guy who photocopied his bare bottom on the Xerox machine). Over the decades, we've lost touch with most of these people, though we still appreciate the memories they made.
Today, social media sites make it possible to keep track of hundreds of folks who've populated our past. But as psychologists and friendship experts agree, it would be logistically impossible to maintain a three-dimensional relationship with everyone we've known, learned from, or loved in different phases of our lives. We relocate, graduate, change jobs. Our lives grow in opposite directions.
In his now-famous study of human relationships, sociologist and author Robin Dunbar concluded that most people can reasonably handle a casual level of friendship with about 150 acquaintances -- 50 of whom they know well enough to invite to their homes for a dinner party. As for close (or "best") friends, Dunbar says that most people can only maintain five of these intimate friendships at once. Close friends are the reliable ones with whom we can share our secrets as well as our successes -- and are consistently there for us in times of crisis.
Throughout our lives, these numbers stay the same -- but the friendships typically change.
In the September issue of Family Circle, I read a thoughtful back-to-school essay about the importance of getting to know the parents at your kids' school -- especially the ones whose kids hang out with your kids. The author of the essay called the process "assembling your village." Speaking from her experience, she pointed out that this "village" will inevitably change once your kids are out of school and you're no longer coaching ball games or organizing bake sales. Unless you share other interests with the parents in the village -- something other than your kids -- you'll probably drift apart as the kids grow up.
All said and done, proximity and circumstance impact all of our relationships. Your college roomies now live in different states, and it's not so easy to meet them for drinks at the end of the day. It's just as likely that the allies you made in your first job after graduation have also moved on.
Of course, when longtime friends stand together on a strong foundation of common values and interests -- and can maintain a deep emotional connection -- time and distance won't keep us from staying in touch.
The past is always fun to revisit, but it takes more than shared history to hold our relationships together. Drifting apart doesn't mean we don't care anymore, or that memories don't matter. It's a natural part of living and growing. ~Cindy La Ferle