5 Secrets to a Decades-Long Friendship

Stephanie Rische

Published: May 27, 2016
5 Secrets to a Decades-Long Friendship
It seems like it's harder and harder to make friendships that last. Here are 5 not-so-secret tips for cultivating deep friendships that will last through the decades.

I talked to my Grandma on the phone the other day—“Grandma Washington,” we kids used to call her. Not because of her name, mind you, but because of the state she lives in. My sister coined the name in kindergarten to distinguish her from the Illinois grandma, and the moniker stuck.

But as we chatted, I noticed that Grandma Washington wasn’t as chipper as usual. On a typical day she has baked more pies and made more house calls by noon than I make in a six-month period. But that day she just didn’t sound like her upbeat self. After a few minutes of small talk, I found out why.

“Inez passed away on Friday,” she told me. The words came out pinched, like they were being spoken through a sieve. “I know it sounds silly, but I thought she’d live forever.”

I knew what she meant. Her best friend, Inez, had just celebrated her 101st birthday, but being a century old hadn’t slowed her down much. True, her hearing wasn’t what it used to be, but she was still living independently and cramming in as many social activities as she could fit into her schedule. According to Grandma, just the week before Inez died, she was learning to play a complicated-sounding card game.

“How long were you two friends?” I asked.

Grandma did some complex calculations involving the years of moves and children’s births, and then came up with the answer: “We met in 1956, and we’ve been friends ever since.”

Sixty years! I marveled. That’s six decades of friendship.

Then Grandpa piped up in the background: “In all those years they never had a falling out,” he said. “And that’s saying something.”

He had a point. These are two strong women we’re talking about. Yet for all those years, they remained loyal confidants and friends. They raised their children together, brought over meals when one of them was sick, and planned theme parties together. (My favorite was their famous “backwards party,” where everyone wore their clothes backwards and they ate dessert first.)

As I considered their sixty-year-old friendship, it got me to thinking about the challenges we’re up against when it comes to friendships today. For one thing, people don’t usually stay in the same place for multiple decades anymore. And maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t life seem to be moving at an ever-increasing speed?

In spite of all the technology that promises to keep us connected, we find ourselves more isolated than any generation before us. Instead of borrowing a cup of sugar from a neighbor, we run to the store. Instead of swapping recipes with a friend, we do an online search. Instead of getting together for a dinner party, we grab takeout and eat in the car. These new trends aren’t inherently bad (and they’re certainly convenient), but I have to wonder: What will this convenience cost us? Will we have 60-year friends at our funerals someday?

Scripture makes it clear that we were never intended to do life alone: “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help” (Ecclesiastes 4:9). But on a practical level, how do we do this? I have a lot to learn about decades-long friendships, but here are a few things I’ve learned from my grandma and other faithful women who have gone before me.

1. Be intentional. Friendship doesn’t just happen; it’s something you have to fight for. Put friend dates on your calendar and guard them like the precious commodities they are. If your friend lives far away, you might have to get creative and make phone dates or meet up at a halfway point. It’s true that investing in friendships isn’t easy when your plate is already full, but you’ll be a better employee or spouse or parent when you make your friendships a priority.

2. Be there for the big and small things. Yes, be there for the weddings, the baby showers, the funerals, the graduations, and the milestone birthdays. But be there for the Tuesday coffee or the quick encouraging text too. Friendship is most often made up of the little things—the ordinary moments that ultimately tether your hearts together.

3. Show up. When a friend is going through something hard, whether it’s the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or an illness, it’s hard to know how to help. But the most important thing isn’t finding the perfect words; it’s just being there. Romans 12:15 gives a beautiful picture of what friendship should look like, in the good times and the hard times: “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.”

4. Embrace different life stages. There will probably come a time when you and your friend find yourselves in different life stages, whether that’s marriage, motherhood, retirement, or widowhood. Cross-life-stage friendships may not be easy, but they can be very rewarding. Don’t be afraid to talk about the challenges of these new stages and then navigate the tricky parts together. 

5. Bring pie (or the confection of your choice). When one of Grandma’s friends is celebrating or mourning, she shows up at their house with something delicious to eat. She knows that food offerings make the good parts of life sweeter and the hard parts go down easier. There’s something about shared food that helps us savor the friendship too. (And here’s a tip from personal experience: A pie from the freezer section of your grocery store works just as well!)

I love these words about friendship, penned by Solomon. They were written several thousand years ago, but they ring just as true today: “A friend is always loyal” (Proverbs 17:17). I don’t know for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Solomon had a grandma like mine—one who showed him what decades-long friendship look like.


Stephanie Rische is the author of I Was Blind (Dating), but Now I See, a memoir that chronicles her misadventures in dating, waiting, and stumbling into love. She is also a senior editor of nonfiction books at Tyndale House Publishers, as well as a freelance writer for publications such as Today’s Christian Woman, her.meneutics,Boundless,Christian Marriage Today, and Today’s Christian Living magazine. You can follow Stephanie’s blog at www.StephanieRische.com.