Hold On to 16 as Long as You Can? No Thank You!

The first part of the headline above is a line from the classic John Mellencamp song, “Jack and Diane“.

The next lines are:

Changes come around real soon
Make us women and men

The song came on the car radio the other day, and as I pondered the words, I thought to myself that 16 is probably one of the ages I would least like to hold on to.

It was the middle of high school, certainly my least favorite span of four years.

I certainly wasn’t the type to “run off behind a shady tree”. More like the type to stay in my bedroom and do math puzzles.

Fortunately, college was the exact opposite (except there was still no running off behind a shady tree, actually there never has been…). I loved my four years of college, and was able to wean myself away from doing math puzzles, thanks to good friends and cheap beer.

All of this also got me thinking about a story I recently read in the New York Times about how hard it is for people to make new friends once you hit the age of 30.

Here’s a few excerpts from the article:

In your 30s and 40s, plenty of new people enter your life, through work, children’s play dates and, of course, Facebook. But actual close friends — the kind you make in college, the kind you call in a crisis — those are in shorter supply.

As people approach midlife, the days of youthful exploration, when life felt like one big blind date, are fading. Schedules compress, priorities change and people often become pickier in what they want in their friends.

No matter how many friends you make, a sense of fatalism can creep in: the period for making B.F.F.’s, the way you did in your teens or early 20s, is pretty much over. It’s time to resign yourself to situational friends: K.O.F.’s (kind of friends) — for now.

In studies of peer groups, Laura L. Carstensen, a psychology professor who is the director of the Stanford Center on Longevity in California, observed that people tended to interact with fewer people as they moved toward midlife, but that they grew closer to the friends they already had.

As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college, she added.

After 30, people often experience internal shifts in how they approach friendship. Self-discovery gives way to self-knowledge, so you become pickier about whom you surround yourself with.

Much of that seems true, at least based on my own experience. While there is no one from high school that I would call an “actual close friend”, there are many from college who fall into that category (one of whom is my best friend, and wife).

I am grateful for those friendships, many of which are now more than 40 years in duration.

So forget about holding on to 16 as long as I can, but I would have gladly held on to 20 for a few more years.

And fortunately, even though life did go on once I got past those magical years, the thrill of living isn’t gone…

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