The Art Of Friendship
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Are old friends the best friends?
When Lester Holt (channeling his producers) posed this question to us on the Today Show, I wondered, "Who really cares? Is this the most pressing question about friendship right now?" I mean: who really wants or needs to debate whether old friends are more loyal and true, or if they really don't stack up in comparison to fresh, new friends you can get all packaged and ready to go in your up-to-the-minute later life?

OF COURSE old friends can be some of your best friends. And I don't need to go on and on about how well they know you, accept you for who you are, don't require as much effort, allow you to be yourself, etc. for you to know WHY.

Last night, I gave a speech at Hockaday, the all-girls school that I attended from 1st to 9th grade in Dallas. I didn't graduate from Hockaday (rather, I graduated from St. Paul's School in Concord, NH), and yet Hockaday still considers me an alumna, as with any girl who attended for any length of time. My friends from childhood were there to support me, as they had been when we were in grade school, except this time, instead of posting a "Good Luck" poster decorated with extra Jolly Ranchers on my locker, they toasted me with wine and creme brulee and bought copies of our book for me to sign. Them's is good friends, I tell you.

The most important lesson to learn about the wonder of keeping up historical friendships is to make sure you do and say and experience new things together, so as not to have your history be the ONLY thing that keeps you together.

But new - as in, more recent - friends can be just as loyal, supportive, close, and wonderful. And hey: they don't have any preconceived notions of who you are based on some age-old experiences. But it may take time to build trust between you to get to the level of old friends.

Basically, there are great things about all kinds of friends: old, new, circumstantial, situational, historical, family. None is "better" than the other. As long as we're honoring friendship at all, thinking about it at all, it's good.

Maybe next time, Lester will pose something a little more juicy about old friendships, like: "Is history enough to sustain a friendship?" Or: "How do you keep an old friendship feeling young?" Next time.

A New Rule - Somewhere around #46 "Press Send"
Yesterday, I composed an email to 500 of my compatriots announcing the book, this website, and our upcoming appearance on "Today." It was a clearly promotional missive, and I stated it as such, mentioning that - oops! - we should have offered up another rule (probably somewhere around Rule #46 - "Press Send" about sending email) that states either a) "Support Self-Promotion" or b) "SPAM selectively." (Is the latter an oxymoron?)

It goes without saying that supporting your friends in both times of crisis and times of excitement is a major component of friendship. But asking too much of your friends in either situation is a tricky thing. It's important to know that you can reach out to your friends when you need them, but it's also important not to abuse this privilege. Some people lean too far in one direction or the other - constantly asking and needing and wanting from others, without ever giving back, or never asking for anything - even at the most dire moments.

I'm not sure why, but I am extra sensitive about neediness. I see sending an email like yesterday's out as 1) a way to let people know what I'm up to, especially if we haven't been in touch, and 2) a way to reach out for support without being too demanding about it. I agonized over the words but not over sending it. I think people want to know what you're up to and want to help you, but sometimes don't know how or don't have the time to figure it out. In some ways, asking for support - for something very simple and tangible, like buying a book or tuning into a TV show - gives otherwise busy but loving people a very easy way to be a good friend.

The worst thing that can happen is that they resent you for it, in which case, perhaps the friendship needs reevaluating anyway. (At least that's my rationale for the day.)

An Update on "Update Your Experiences" (Rule #52)
Everyone has those great old friends that you may not see for a long time, but then, as the expression goes, you can just "pick up where you left off." They're friends from college, or from the trenches of a hellish job, or from a finite project or event that you worked on together. These friendships never suffered from a "break-up" or any kind of fight or falling out; rather, you grew apart because of circumstance - usually something very cut and dry, like a move.

But what of those friendships whose lapse you can't explain by a move to a new city or a change of job? With the publication of The Art of Friendship upon me, I've been encountering a lot of these lately - perhaps I've been honing my "friendship antennae" (a la Rule #2) to focus on rekindling old ones. Or perhaps I've been paying closer attention to friend-inspired issues. Whatever the reason, it's given me pause. Because, frankly, I've found this kind of rekindling is not that easy - and for someone who's proclaiming that she knows a thing or two about friendships, that's alarming.

To wit: I've recently renewed a friendship with two guys that we'll call "John" and "Gary." John, Gary, and I used to hang out a lot in Los Angeles about 8-10 years ago. We were single, had mutual friends, and we would go to bars, restaurants, or parties together on the weekends. At some point, I got a boyfriend, or entered into a new group of friends, and we didn't see each other as much, and then, never. Nothing happened - just life. I kept up with them through other friends, and saw them a handful of times over the years. Now we're all married, they have children, and our paths have crossed again. But when we first reconnected, it was truly awkward. I found myself asking, "Whatever happened to...?" or "Do you still...?" questions, and ran out of ammunition pretty quickly. Without any mutual experiences in such a long time, it was hard to zero in on conversation topics. Hell, we had missed an entire era of television, the creation of text messaging and Tivo, two presidencies. Trying to get caught up could only be done in major brush strokes (i.e. "1999 - not such a great year for me. 2000, much better.") And I wasn't about to ask questions like, "Where were you on 9/11?"

But it did get easier the next time we saw each other, and the next. And for the explanation of that, I can point to another Rule in the book - #52 - "Update Your Experiences." Only when we got beyond the "remember when" conversations and, instead, used our old ties as a nice, comfy basis for something new and improved, did things start getting interesting, fun, and - well - not awkward. Now - and I mean this in the best way possible - it's as if we never met. Or, at least, as if we are discovering some brand new, cool friends. It's actually better, in this case, that we didn't "just pick off where we left off."