While the process of making and keeping friends is never a completely uncomplicated one, it is certainly an easier undertaking when we are kids. Even if we don’t necessarily understand all the social dynamics involved, we know when someone shares their gummy worms with us, and that is more than sufficient. As we get older, though, things change. They change a lot.
When you’re five: You see them from across the playground — it’s love at first sight. They have an extra half of a peanut-butter-and-marshmallow-fluff sandwich, peanut butter-and-marshmallow-fluff sandwiches are your shit. When they offer to share with you, you are overwhelmed and they have become your whole universe. As you run across the blacktop to go draw wobbly circles with some chalk and/or slide down the molten-hot slide baking in the summer sun, it is complete. You are best friends forever.
When you’re 25: While waiting in line to get some drinks at the bar, you meet someone who, in your buzzed-enough-to-be-happy state, is the bff of your dreams. Funny, charming, attractive, and offering to buy you this round so as to expedite the drink-getting process, they are a gift from the bromance/clamicable Gods. You guys do a few shots together, dance (and/or scream along) to some of your favorite songs, and eventually, nervously, trade information. You’ve picked up a friend-date, and your stomach is light with a million platonic butterflies.
When you’re five: Given that your mothers will generally be arranging these get-togethers, there is little planning/stressing on your part, outside of the possibility that they don’t have the flavor of Kool-Aid you like at their house. Everything — from watching cartoons to playing with sticks outside until you have to go in for dinner — is free, exciting, and the best thing you’ve ever done. When you’re five, even a trip to the grocery store is thrilling — when with your friend. You guys can run around the candy aisle, get yelled at by whatever parent is unlucky enough to be chaperoning, and be absolutely sure that you guys are going to be Best Friends Forever.
When you’re 25: Depending on how much money you have at 25 — and this could vary from “pretty much eating ramen for the rest of the year” to “I make way too high a salary for someone without a house or kids” — there are many things that friends end up doing. Going to the bar, browsing a flea market, staying home and watching TV (that you stole off the internet) are all good options. But hanging out on a regular basis now requires planning, and organization, and time, and the ability of one of you to sacrifice and take the subway/drive all the way down to the other person’s apartment. Weeding out which friends aren’t worth it becomes all too easy when they live more than five stops away.
When you’re five: What is a fight when you’re five years old? As I recall, it usually centers around stealing someone’s food/crayons/balloon, pushing each other onto the sandbox, crying to your respective mothers, and then literally forgetting all of that happened about ten minutes later.
When you’re 25: After a few shots, this fight trajectory is pretty much the same when in your twenties. However, real fights between friends can be worse than a fight with a significant other — and holds zero potential for makeup sex. Fighting with a close friend is something that drains you, and demands of both of you to rise to the occasion and swallow your pride, even if you believe you were 100 percent right. Whether it’s over a broken promise, a told secret, a love interest, or anything in between, few things are harder because you know that, under any other circumstances, they would be the person you called to get advice from/vent to. Better to stick to the stolen crayon fights, if possible.
When you’re five: Aging when you’re in kindergarten is a strange thing. You’re doing things like learning how to write your name, getting to ride (with your training wheels on) out in front of your house, and learning how to hide your more unappetizing vegetables in your napkin to avoid eating them. Even a few months’ difference in age with a friend can seem like years, and if one of you happens to stop liking Dora the Explorer before the other one has fully moved onto The Wiggles, well… things are not going well.
When you’re 25: There are few things harder than aging with a friend who is not aging at the same pace. I’m 23, which means that half of my news feeds are pictures of weddings and babies, which is totally great — except when it happens to your friend and not you, or vice versa. Either way, someone is going to be thrust into a new phase of their life and, no matter how much they insist that they “aren’t going to change,” they totally are. And they should. Life changes are important, and a great thing. It just hurts to see it happen when you’re not all on the same page, because you know some part of that friendship is going to end up left behind.
When you’re five: Breaking up with a friend at such a young age is actually quite a profound thing. You start to understand concepts like loss, remorse, and longing, all while sitting in front of your Lego collection and missing having someone to build with. If a friend moves out of the neighborhood, or changes schools, it’s like a huge part of you just magically disappeared overnight, and you have to re-learn to do everything without it. Though they may not be as talked about as, say, a lost love, the friends we lose in childhood often stick with us all our lives, kept as a perfect, nostalgic image of something truly innocent and happy.
When you’re 25: While it can be anything from someone moving to San Diego to a huge fight you cannot get past, friend breakups are terrible. They don’t quite get acknowledged the way regular breakups do — you would look weird if you mourned too much over it — and we’re always trying to convince ourselves that friends come and go from our lives for a good reason. But when you are becoming an adult and being with someone who understood you perfectly made growing up so much easier, having to face all that responsibility and bleakness without them can be extremely painful. A friend breakup will haunt you for a long time, and you’ll often find yourself considering sending them a text or an email, just wanting to ask how they’re doing, and maybe go get a beer if they’re free.