Thirty Years is Just the Beginning

Thirty Years is Just the Beginning

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By Julie Cohen & Jeanne Duncan

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Julie and Jeanne went to the same high school as me. They were a class ahead, and I’ve always thought them “so cool.” Although I knew Julie better than Jeanne because she was involved in both the yearbook and drill team, as was I, they both represented what I regarded as smart and confident girls, somehow unaffected by the typical HS melodrama. I’ve reconnected with both Jeanne and Julie via Facebook, which is true for me with a ton of HS friends. Not one to miss an opportunity, and now more interested in friendships than ever before, once I realized that this friendship was still highly intact, I asked these women to share with me, and members, their thoughts about why they’ve shared a 30+ year friendship. The request was that they write blind to the other’s submission about what made their friendship so strong and long-lasting, and below are the results. While neither seems to come right out and say it, they both infer that while their relationship developed based on similar interests (and apparently a love of melted cheese), it has endured due to their mutual willingness to simply be there for the other.

My Friend Jeanne

When Jeanne and I were in high school, we had an afterschool ritual we practiced two or three times a week: we’d go to each other’s homes, prepare a snack which involved avocados and melted cheese, and watch General Hospital. We would dissect plot developments and inconsistencies. We would exchange the day’s real world friend-and-romance dramas (mostly during commercials). And we would laugh. A lot. When I visited her last month in Portland, Oregon—I live in New York—we made tea and toast and watched 30 Rock re-runs. We talked about life stuff too, of course, and we laughed even more than we used to in high school (which is not surprising, when you think about it, because 30 Rock is much funnier than GH). Plug-in different decades and I could show you similar scenes featuring mac and cheese with Melrose Place or Jeanne’s excellent peach pie with Seinfeld.

During our 33-year friendship—all but 9 years of which have been spent living in separate cities—our get-togethers and phone calls have never been about the monumental. Sure, over the years we’ve seen each other through the death of a mother (hers), a two-year illness (mine), a divorce (hers), several bouts of depression (both of ours), and heartbreaks too numerous to tabulate. But while all of these are discussed, they are rarely at the center of our conversations.

Here’s what IS at the center: television, food, music, politics, books, dogs, facebook, family members, friends, colleagues, celebrities, random people we knew or barely knew in high school (see: facebook), crime stories we find fascinating, websites we find hilarious, and people we find annoying. (Note to Jeanne: did I leave anything out?) It’s extremely helpful that we have like an 85–90% agreement rate on all of these subjects, and where we disagree, it’s almost always with respect.

For people who only see each other once or twice a year, we are shockingly familiar with the seemingly trivial details of one another’s daily lives. If Jeanne wants to talk about the latest salvo in a tense email exchange between two of her colleagues, for instance, she doesn’t have to run through the backstory on their relationship because I already know it. Or if I start to explain an elaborate event my family is planning, Jeanne will understand it in the context of their longstanding affinity for elaborate events. Or when I told Jeanne I’d found a photo for this post of the two of us in Ocean City when we were 16, she asked “Oh, is it the one where I’m smoking a cigarette and reading a note from Russell Batson?” which, as you can see, it is*. And speaking of Russell Batson—Jeanne’s boyfriend her sophomore and junior years of high school—I could probably come up with a pretty accurate list, in chronological order, of every guy Jeanne has ever kissed, and I trust she could do the same for me.

We actually don’t spend a huge amount of time reminiscing, but our shared history is a foundation. When we listen to music together now, the 14-year-olds who went to that epic Heart concert at Capital Center, the 20-year-olds who heard The Smiths live in London, and the 30-year-olds who went to hear my old boyfriend’s band playing the Black Cat are all there too. We don’t do a lot of emoting about how much we love one another (though I do love you, Jeanne), nor do we ever fight. There’s plenty of bickering, but it’s more the old-married-couple type.

To be honest, not all that much has changed since the 1970’s. And I have no trouble picturing the two of us together in the year 2050 when we’re in our eighties. We’ll be the ones eating comfort food and watching something melodramatic or hilarious on TV.

My Friend Julie

Julie was Hannah’s friend before she was my friend. Some days she would ride the school bus home with Hannah, who lived down the street from me, and we’d sit in the back and have inane conversations, like what if your ear were where your nose is, or what if your hands were eyes, etc. We probably thought we were being existential and deep, or at least hilarious in a Monty Python kind of way. I thought she was cool because she was Hannah’s friend, and they made each other collages that were awesome visual representations of all the fun times they had shared, which I found very appealing (what kid that age doesn’t love a collage?). We became friends on our own in eighth grade when we had gym class together, along with chorus and of course Mr. Gilbert’s English class. We shared all those same classes in high school, and by graduation I’m sure we could have filled several poster boards with collage-worthy material.

And now, 30+ years later, we’re still each other’s best friend. I give Julie total credit for that, because she’s a connector, in the sense described in The Tipping Point; she instigates contact. Today that doesn’t seem huge, with email and texting and all, but in the 80s when we were in college and long distance was still kind of a big deal, it took effort to stay in touch—and Julie made the effort. She was in school in New York and I was in Virginia, and she would call regularly (I don’t think we’ve ever written each other letters, which is odd since writing is a big part of both of our lives). We both went to the U.K. for our third year, which other than a couple of years when we both lived in D.C. is the only time we’ve lived in the same city since high school. I take a certain amount of pride in our friendship, because not many people can truly say that they even HAVE a best friend (aside from their spouse), let alone one that dates back continuously to eighth grade.

Like most good friends, we’re alike in key ways and different in others. We share the same cultural and political values. We both love good food. We like the same kind of music and books (and we’re pretty passionate about both). We see humor in the same things and think deeply on the same subjects, but also embrace the ordinary and commonplace. Like TV—we both love watching and talking about TV, while some of our friends don’t even own one. We part ways on reality TV—I don’t watch it, but I depend on Julie to explain it to me when it reaches a point of pop cultural importance (i.e. American Idol).

We part ways in other areas, too. Julie and Paul travel a lot, and I’m a real homebody. Our personal taste is very different. She’s messy and I’m organized. I’m more interested in design and color and symmetry—how things look aesthetically—than she is. She’s more ambitious and always seems to have gamed out her next move professionally, while I’ve kind of fallen into a career without giving it a lot of thought. And while we both obsess on things, I probably obsess more about what others think, while her obsessions are more internal and philosophical in nature. Neither of us is particularly laid back, but I think we both aspire to the kind of relaxed contentment that being laid back represents.

In the last few months my family, which I thought would always be friends, has kind of split apart. Two siblings who obviously have a lot in common are so profoundly different in some ways that it’s practically impossible for them to empathize with each other, and the result is that they just aren’t talking. Of course, this affects all of us (I’m the youngest of seven) because we all have individual relationships to navigate, and splits like this tend to cleave families along clear lines. As this has unfolded, it’s made me appreciate my friendship with Julie all the more. Partly because she knows all the players so I can debrief and analyze (something we have done lots of over the years, usually about boys but also about work and family) without having to provide a lot of backstory. But also because while there are moments when we annoy each other, basically we appreciate each other’s differences and don’t wish the other would change.

And that, in a nutshell, is what has made our friendship endure all these years.

*Editor's Note: I choose the wedding photo instead of the beach shot.

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