Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.
Helen Keller

This was the 18th year for our “hiking” group. The five of us don’t really hike anymore.  We really are the “walk and wine” group now. It is the 35th year of biking with another friend. We don’t do big hills or daylong rides anymore.  We choose flatter and shorter rides. This is the 65th year of friendship with my kindergarten friend who lives in Arizona. We don’t play with dolls anymore but we do correspond and visit each other when we can.

Carolyn Boyd and I used to play with our dolls.

Carolyn Boyd and I used to play with our dolls.

When you spend five days in closeness to other women, as I just did with my walk and wine group, friendship really is intensified and examined. We don’t talk about it much, but we do practice it.

What is friendship? How do we find friends? Why do we keep friends? Of what value are friends?

Now that I’m not working, I’ve found that making friends has taken on a whole new dimension. It’s not as easy as it was when I had a career. I don’t come into contact with any new people on a daily or weekly basis. The new people I meet are folks I only see occasionally. They are often much younger and still working or, if they are retired, they live 30 or more miles away and they have established lives with long standing friends and family who keep them busy. We have no shared interests except for our volunteer job or the gym classes we take or the book club we belong to.

From time to time I’ve attempted a friendship (as opposed to acquaintanceship) with these people. I’ve found I’m not as good at this at my age as I’d hoped. Intellectually I want a more diverse field of people in my life so I seek out others who have different backgrounds, hobbies, and lifestyles. In practice it doesn’t work. It turns out that it’s just easier to hang out with people near my age, with a little money to spend, who like to read, email instead of phone, and have an upbeat outlook on life. And, let’s face it, they don’t make me a sounding board for their issues without taking time to hear mine. In my diversity work, we called these like-minded people our “affinity” groups.

I’m not saying my friends are all exactly like me (God forbid!). But we do have shared history. My best friends are all former teachers. They are all female and white. They are all within a decade of my age (give or take). They are all married, have grown kids, like to read and travel.  They all annoy me and I annoy them but we know that about each other, celebrate it, and move on.

My friends are many times closer affinity groups to me than many of my family members. My friends are people I have chosen. I didn’t get to choose my family.

We take the time to keep in touch, ask about each others lives and listen with interest. We nod our heads in agreement and empathy when we talk about our families, health issues, or decisions about the upcoming decades.  We make plans to be together for the next week, month or year. We nurture each other in ways our husbands, partners, or many men friends do not.

New friends are harder to find now and maybe not worth the effort since I live so close to so many of my “dears.” I am lucky to have that and will miss them when they start to move closer to their distant kids or seek warmer winters elsewhere.

No matter where they move, I do know this: we will be close. We will write or call or text, or whatever works.  We will try to be together from time to time.

For years studies have shown the mental and physical benefits of friendship.  You and I don’t need the research to show us this. We have each other.