The Friends You Keep

Recently, my wife pointed something out to me: All of my closest friendships are well over a decade old, and each one has a uniquely bizarre shorthand that no one else understands.

It's something I'd never considered.

As I've gotten older, my friend circle has indeed become smaller, but I'd never realized that all of my close relationships were forged in my early 20s.

Which is curious... I'm certainly a much different person now than I was a decade and a half ago. How had I managed to transition with these same people into adulthood? Was there something about the nature of these particular friendships that allowed them to flourish? And why did so many other friendships wither away?

As a younger person, I never really liked going out to Da Club (That's what it's called right? Da Club? I'm just going by what 50 Cent tells me). I liked people and I liked "gatherings," but bars and clubs were a peculiar experience I never cared for.

Nevertheless, in my early 20s, bars and clubs were the major social outing. That's where my friends wanted to go, and more often than not, I went.

To me, bars symbolized televised sports, sexual frustration and masculine insecurity. Clubs: the same but subtract sports and add shiny clothes and terrible DJ mash-ups of popular songs.

Going to da club or to the bar with my friends required very little communication. The music was loud, the rooms were packed, and there were girls everywhere: girls judging, girls flirting, girls minding their own damn business. We were possibly all "crunking," though I'm still trying to figure out what that word really means.

In other words, going to da club or to a bar with my friends in my early 20s meant never having to really speak to them. An occasional head nod or body check formed the entire basis of a relationship. It was mostly just about being there for each other.

As I transitioned away from that life, a lot of those friends transitioned away from me. And the people that remained... well, we were faced with a brand new aspect of friendship-hood: We had to talk to each other. We had to have real conversations and talk about real things -- about our hopes, our fears, our failures, our love of Judge Judy...

(OK, Judge Judy might just be me. But seriously guys, I'm obsessed with her. I don't know what it is. She's just so... mean. But focused. But fair... but just so powerful... I may need to go to therapy for this.)

My friends and I needed to grow up and grow up together. We needed to say what we felt about, well, pretty much anything. We didn't need to agree on everything (how boring would that be?), but we did need to respect each other's point-of-view.

That's what we ask of our long-term friends, and it's a burden not many people are willing to take on.

And to be quite honest, I've come to think it's a burden most shouldn't have to take on. If most aspects of your life change with age, why shouldn't friendships? When did we as a society come to value the last "F" in BFF above all others? I've never judged someone for growing apart from me, and I hope they've never judged me.

We find the friends we need. Friends that don't agree with each other just for the sake of friendship, friends that don't need to see each other regularly in order to maintain a connection, friends that don't put pressure on each other to be something they are not.

But we find these friends slowly, naturally -- our relationships are as alive as we are and they ebb and flow accordingly.

I'm not sure if my wife likes all of my long-term friends or not. I never asked because it doesn't seem to matter. No one else needs to like my friends. All that matters is that we like each other, and most importantly respect each other's slow evolution. Because we have genuine respect for it, we are able to let the relationship be whatever it's supposed to be.

In Episode 2 of my web series Keith Broke His Leg, I depict a friendship that has gone through that exact journey. It was made with my actual long-term friend Leonard; and though it's entirely fictional, I believe it adequately expresses the nature of our bizarre relationship; and why no one else needs to understand it.

Here it is:

Check it out, and let me know: has the nature of your long-term friendships changed significantly over the years? Are there any friends of yours that started out as acquaintances and gradually strengthened to something better without you realizing it?

Keith Powell is an actor, writer, and director. He is most known for his role as Toofer on 30 Rock. He has had recurring roles on About A Boy and The Newsroom, and created, wrote, and directed the original web series Keith Broke His Leg (www.GetBroken.com).