Friendships: Who Stays and Who Goes

I wrote earlier about how friendships change over the years. After our children leave home and we retire (or just work less), most of us have more time to spend with friends. When we reach that point, some of us reconnect with friends from earlier in life–high school friends, college friends, old roommates, former colleagues, and people we lived next to or went to church with. There are more people from the past that have permanently left our lives than people that remain or return, though, even in this social media era in which it is easier than ever to reconnect. In my earlier post I asked why I’ve maintained strong friendships with some people but don’t have much interest in reconnecting with others. I don’t have a satisfying answer, but have some thoughts.

The two friends I have stayed connected to the longest are Dave, a junior high/high school friend, and Tom, whom I met my second year of graduate school. It makes sense to me that Tom and I have stayed close. We are both psychologists, attended the same church while we were in grad school, and got to know each other extremely well when our families shared a house my last year of school. When Tom completed his studies, he moved to Grand Rapids, the city where I had grown up, and when I went there to visit my parents I usually stopped by to see him. We continued to have a lot in common: besides professional similarities, we were both parents, were interested in exploring religious questions, and had marriages end badly. We remained friends because we are similar, know other well, and enjoy each other’s company.

It’s a little harder to figure out why Dave and I stayed friends. He went to an out-of-state university and moved a couple thousand miles farther away once he graduated. He has a small business specializing in photography and technical services, a very different career from mine. I’ve seen him only three times since he moved to California in the early 1970s. The odds were probably against our staying in touch. Yet we had seen the world similarly back when we were growing up. We bonded on a two-week camping trip to Canada’s maritime provinces right before our junior year of college. And we corresponded. Dave did a wonderful job writing lengthy letters every six months or so describing what was going on in his life. He especially liked to write about places he had visited. My letters were paltry by comparison, but I always wrote back. I think both the writing and reading has been quite enjoyable to both of us and neither of us wanted to end our exchange.

From my junior high yearbook. Dave is in the middle, on the left

From my junior high yearbook. Dave is in the middle, on the left

That’s something of why I stayed connected to these two longstanding friends. What relationships ended, and why? There are scores of friendships that didn’t last, but let me describe just one. Besides Dave, I had two other very close friends in high school, Phil and Ben. They went to the same college I did, so we stayed friends for another four years. After graduation, though, we lost track of each other. I’ve long wondered what happened to them. My college class had a reunion a few months ago, and I went. I hoped that one or both of them would be there.

At the reunion (though not with Ben).

At the reunion (though not with Ben).

Ben was, and we talked. He was always an excellent tennis player, and after college was a tennis pro out in Washington state for 10 years. Then he returned to Grand Rapids. He gave up tennis in order to play golf, and that’s what his life has centered around for the past thirty-some years. He was amiable, but, once he found out I don’t play golf, there wasn’t much else we had to talk about. Thinking back, we were headed in different directions even during the last few years we were in college. I suspect we just lost interest in what each other was doing.

So, in my case, having a close connection at some point in the past contributed to my maintaining friendships, but it wasn’t enough. There had to be something that continued to reinforce the connection, whether that was similar life trajectories as with Tom or a shared commitment to corresponding, as with Dave. Friends like Ben with whom I no longer share interests disappear from my life, or I from theirs, no matter how much we once meant to each other.

I’m curious about whether others who are in mid- or late adulthood have had a similar experience with friendships. Who has stayed in your life, and who has dropped out? What do you think determined the eventual outcome of your youthful friendships?

About Bob Ritzema

I am a fourth-generation American of Dutch ancestry and am trained as a clinical psychologist. In 2012, I retired from Methodist University in North Carolina to return to . Michigan to help family, and, in 2023, I started again with a move to Milwaukee to be near my children. I maintain a part-time therapy practice. I can be reached at
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1 Response to Friendships: Who Stays and Who Goes

  1. Margaret says:

    I’ve thought about this quite a bit recently. Some friendships have gone by the wayside because of life choices, some slipped away mysteriously, and a couple have ended because of political differences! Those were the hardest to fathom. Some just ran their course though, even one deep wonderful friendship of 25 years. Very very sad but likely inevitable. The key is to always seek out new friends. They’re refreshing. Hopefully we’re always renewing ourselves, so it would seem likely to gather new friends around the campfire too. Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.

    An interesting question too is the age of your friends. Are they all in the same age bracket or some some noticeably younger and older?

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