The Art of Friendship
by Kristin Armstrong
Illustration by Kristin Moore
It takes years of attention, intention, study, and devotion to one’s craft to become an artist. Artists must be willing and able to look at their medium, and their handling of it, with a discerning eye. Artists learn to make subtle adjustments over time; as their knowledge and experience increase, their skill becomes more nuanced. Their effortlessness belies their carefully trained effort, honed and sustained over time.
Friendship is an art, and old friends are artists.
I have known my friend Peggy my entire life. When I had to get glasses at age five, she popped the lenses out of an old pair of sunglasses and wore the red plastic frames so I wouldn’t have to be four eyes alone. I met Christi in the third grade; both of us were new kids at the same time. We both loved animals and hated PE. Saskia and I met in college. We bonded over beer and boys, yet our shared intellect and love of languages fostered something deeper. José, my college friend from Madrid, made four years in Ohio feel as if the world was a bigger place. Paige and I bonded over the first babies in our bellies, and have walked the mother path side by side ever since.
I don’t think we necessarily meet our lifetime friends, I think we recognize them. This is an entirely different experience. Instead of Nice to meet you, it’s more like, Oh, there you are. That is the initial part of the art, the recognition.
There is nothing easy about maintaining relationships over time and distance; it takes specific and sustained effort.
Then comes the foundation. This takes years of weathered storms, shared joys and mile markers, earning the ability and the right to say, and hear, the hard, real things. Then comes the sustenance, and the power to endure. This is perhaps what separates true artists from those who merely dabble in the art. I moved nine times as a kid, and a few more times as an adult. There is nothing easy about maintaining relationships over time and distance; it takes specific and sustained effort. It’s no small thing that I still see and talk to these friends regularly — and they live in California, Denver, Chicago, and Barcelona. It’s nothing short of remarkable that José and his wife, Ana, are godparents, “padrinos,” to my twin daughters. Or that my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this year by going on a cruise in the Baltic Sea with Christi’s parents. Or that Paige and I just saw those first babies off to college. All these things are one part miracle, many parts intention.
I watch my teenage daughters, newer to the art of friendship, trying to learn their craft. I have watched them learn the difference between introduction and recognition. I have watched them celebrate and noticed who was truly happy for them. I have watched them suffer and noticed who was able to sit in the dark, or stand in the flames, with them. More importantly, I have noticed that they notice. They are learning when to speak up, when to soften, who is safe and true, where to invest, and when and how and why to let go.
In a world of Snapchat streaks and Instagram posts, it isn’t easy to pass down the old-school art of friendship. Like other art mediums, it cannot be taught by lecture or explanation. One must be carefully and deliberately shown by example, and then learn by practice.
It is a rare friend who becomes a warrior to defend your weakness, who closes around you like a fortress when your world falls apart, who comes over when you are overcome, who reminds you of who you are when you’ve forgotten, who knows where to find you when you get lost. A rare friend in whose company you never have to wonder where you stand, where you can pick up right where you left off, where you can tell stories in shorthand because you already know each other’s backstories. Where you can talk for hours or sit in comfortable silence, and both are equally good. You never need to worry if you can find a parking space in the heart of such a friend, because your spot is permanently reserved and you can pull in anytime.
There is only one way to raise up the next generation of friends of this caliber, apprentices who become true masters in the art of loving well and being well-loved. Become one.