You Got to Have Friends.

In my college years at Rutgers (1970-1974) I was a DJ at our college station, WRSU, and I remember really liking and playing a song written and performed by Buzzy Linhart called Friends. It would later become a hit for Bette Midler.  

Here’s Linhart’s version:

A powerful thought—you got to have friends. I was reminded of this reading an interesting article (see below) about friends called, The Friends We Keep, in the 5/7 NY Times by Melissa Kirsch, a talented, insightful writer.

The Friends We Keep

Our time and attention are valuable resources, and we’re in control of how — and on whom — we spend them.

I got together this week with an old friend I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic. Before meeting up, I was seized with a now-familiar apprehension. Would we find our old dynamic? Or would we sit across from one another awkwardly, unable to reclaim the rhythms and repartee that used to come so easily?

Only after the reunion went off without a hitch did I realize that I’d feared that if we hadn’t regained our groove, this could have been our last meeting for a while.

Perhaps it’s the clarity that comes from enduring a difficult period, but I’ve noticed, in myself and others, a diminishing tolerance for uncomfortable or unfulfilling social interactions. Seeing my old friend was thrilling. It felt nutrient-dense, almost like our connection was refueling my personality. But I’ve also experienced the opposite: a quick drink with an acquaintance that feels unduly exhausting.

My colleague Catherine Pearson spoke to experts to determine how many friends a person needs in order to stave off loneliness. (A 2010 meta-analysis found that loneliness is “as harmful to physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”) While no consensus emerged on an optimal number, Catherine did find that more isn’t always better: “Spending time with friends you feel ambivalent about — because they’re unreliable, critical, competitive or any of the many reasons people get under our skin — can be bad for your health.”

Our time and attention are valuable and finite, and we’re in control of what we do with them. We forget this sometimes. We reflexively say yes to invitations because we happen to be free. We go to events out of a vague sense of obligation. We say, “Let’s meet for drinks,” because it’s socially easier than just saying, “Take care.”

In “The Writing Life,” Annie Dillard writes: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.” It’s an encouragement to live with intention. It’s good wisdom to keep in mind when deciding whom we spend our time with as well.

How are you spending your days?

The article and song made me reflect on my friendships. I am truly blessed with many wonderful friends—people who I’ve met from all walks of life from elementary school through college, graduate school, and in my subsequent life and career in NJ while working in NY & Philadelphia. Since I have lived my entire life in New Jersey (and am thankful to have done so despite its issues), I am fortunate to have geography help me maintain my friendships with many friends who continue to live relatively nearby. Yet I also have several friends who live elsewhere in the U.S.–in New England, Mid Atlantic, Midwest, South and West (none abroad) and they remain friends as well, though I don’t get to see them as frequently.

Friendships are important and maintaining them takes work and time. I am committed to doing so. Sometimes friendships can fade because of circumstances but they can roar back if you invest in re-connecting. I have a few of those as well where there was a “gap” of 30+ years, yet with real friends it’s easy to pick it up again.

I am doubly appreciative of my friends’ kindness in the past 2 years since my wife, Beth, passed away in 2020. People check in regularly to see how I am doing, and I appreciate that. Furthermore, as the impact of COVID has faded (but not gone away entirely see My COVID Week), I have doubly appreciated seeing friends in person.

As we age the importance of friends increases. I feel sad for those who are aging, live in solitude with few if any friends, and a small family who live far away. Friends make life richer.

In my case, my enduring friendships are more a function of the quality of people I’ve been lucky to have crossed paths with over the years than anything I did. Yet I do try to be a good friend. I’ve learned that the way to keep a friendship is to invest in it through time, thought, caring and commitment.

Friendships are gold. I am lucky to be a wealthy man.

More Strumings

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