Making friends in elementary school is easy. It’s more a matter of proximity than affinity, and while having a six-year-old daughter has taught me that mean girls come younger and younger these days, friendship – for the most part – is simple for children.

Do I like her? Okay, then, we’re friends.
Did he hit me? Okay, we’re not friends anymore.
She’s my friend, so I’ll invite her to my party.
He’s nice to me, so I’ll sit by him at lunch.

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy, as that six-year-old likes to say.

But as we grow older, friendship grows more complicated. And though I don’t long for the bruised emotions of middle school – or even high school – social maneuvering, I have to say that adult friendship is even harder than that. Messy and tricky and disappointing and frustrating and, well, HARD!

It’s hard to find friends.
Then it’s hard to keep friends.
Hard to keep in touch as you change jobs or churches, change parties or teams,
move across town, move to the country (or the city), move cross-country.

Friends go through great things and hard things – together and separate.
Pairings off and marriage. Split-ups and divorce.
Lost jobs, new jobs, crappy jobs, dream jobs.
Moving. Babies – expected or not. Milestone birthdays. Moving {again}.
First houses. Tiny houses. Big houses that make us jealous.
Misunderstandings. Missed connections. Facebook. Another Pampered Chef sale.
Bible studies. Happy hours. Barbecues. Funerals.

But even more than the reality of grown-up life being harder than childhood is the fact that with every relationship we forge and foster and – sometimes – fail to keep, we make lists.

Lists of expectations, lists of what we will accept and what we won’t, lists of what a friend looks like and what kind of friend we’re willing to be in return.

We want to be picked first, invited every time, included always.
We want them to live nearby – but not too close.
We definitely don’t want them to be transferred or deployed or sent out.
We want her to like us best, to feel that “click” the same way we do.
We don’t want her to hurt or to be hurt.
And when she is, we want simple answers to be solutions.
We want them to be available when we are. And not so needy when we aren’t.
We want our friends from different stages and situations to get along.
But not too well. Because they’re our friends first.
We want it to be easy.

And it really, rarely is.

I’m blessed to have some amazing friends in my life. And I’m cursed because many of them live far enough away (or busy enough lives) that Facebook, Skype and text messages have to suffice for the day-to-day (or post-to-post) friendship. I’m fortunate to be friends with amazing folks who are like me, but not – and who challenge me to redefine friendship as an adult on a regular basis. I love them and I miss them and I’m glad for every single time I get to spend time with them.

And every day I have even one friend, I’m pushed into giving up on my friendship fairy tales and wishes. How about you? How have you had to redefine friendship?
What fairy tales have you had to kick to the curb to make room for real, adult friendship?

By the way, that photo up above is Smitty and me in the eighth grade. We were extremely lucky to connect super early in life (kindergarten, actually!) and even more blessed to stay connected all these years later. It’s not always easy, but we work to make it work – and I’m so thankful for that.

Here are a few other posts about both the challenges and the beauty of real friendship:

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