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Beauty of childhood friends

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MARCH 06, 2023

When was the last time you thought about your childhood friends? Scratch that — when was the last time you thought about anyone you knew before high school? Maybe it was in passing while telling your college friend a story about something utterly mortifying that happened to you in middle school. Believe me, we all have those. 

Maybe it was during your senior year of high school when your mom loudly mentioned that so-and-so got into a top-10 university and you had to rack your brain in order to remember who they were. Either way, I’m almost sure that you have not thought about the person you were practically conjoined to from ages 5 to 8 in a while — correct me if I’m wrong.

Despite the fact that most of the friends we make from the start of kindergarten to high school graduation are friends we make from proximity, our relationships with them aren’t solely based on convenience. We grew up with these people. Nothing brings people together like being in the same elementary school class when we all learned to read or feeling terrified of the same DMV employee who was notorious for failing everyone taking their driver’s test for the first time.  

I still remember the first birthday party I was ever invited to. She was a preschool classmate, and it was at a local gymnastics club. She eventually moved to Las Vegas, and I inherited her lightly used tap shoes. Despite the fact that I no longer remember her name and that we haven’t spoken or seen each other in 14 years, I remember nearly everything else. 

I remember how she had blonde hair and bangs, how we would play in the sandbox together at recess and how she would sometimes fall off the swings on purpose in order to get an extra popsicle at snack time. A TikTok went viral a few months ago showing the bench dedications at New York City’s Central Park. My favorite reads: “We were girls together.” Despite our distance, we still share something important. We grew up together.

As a self-described overly sentimental 18-year-old girl, I think about this quote and the entire notion of the people we grow up with. We interacted with the same people five days a week, nine months a year, for 13 years! Then we graduated and never saw most of them again. 

If I’m being honest, I’m happy not seeing most of my childhood classmates ever again, but I like to think that there’s a sort of unspoken bond between all 400 members of my graduating class. The girl who taught me to jump rope in the first grade is now in college in Michigan and we haven’t spoken a word to each other since middle school. The boy I bickered with while running the mile every week in the seventh grade now has a small, cult-like following on TikTok. How funny how life turns out.

Realistically speaking, these people have absolutely zero significance in my life today and I probably won’t know any more about their lives than what I see while rapidly tapping through Instagram stories every morning. But, they were once somewhat my friends, even before I gained self-awareness — and that’s a feat unique to the messy amalgamation of cliques proudly produced by K-12 public schooling. 

Maybe my saying that the friendships we make before college are largely based on proximity makes it seem like they aren’t important, but don’t get me wrong, they are! I would argue that they might even be stronger based on this fact. Think about it. If my friends were willing to stay friends even after I spent the entire third grade speaking in a British accent (a side effect of reading the Harry Potter series for the first time), then I know that they’d stick with me through anything. If my friends were unfazed by my constant snappiness during the month when college decisions rolled out during our senior year, they are guaranteed to survive virtually all of my ups and downs. 

Childhood friends and college friends are bound to be different. College friends meet you when you’ve already figured out — for the most part — what being a normal, well-adjusted person entails. My childhood friends met me when I could barely tie my shoes and refused to eat anything other than dino chicken nuggets and seaweed snacks.

Childhood friends introduced me to everything: the pop-punk bands I loved as a middle schooler and the TV shows I still binge watch whenever I’m avoiding studying for an exam. If you’re one of the lucky ones, childhood friends will have prepared you to not be totally out of the loop whenever that one really cool, but really intimidating, group of Doc Marten-clad classmates in your discussion section start talking about the lead single off of some experimental rock band’s newest album. 

In my college friends, I look for all the best parts of the people I grew up with — the patience of my hometown best friend, the way my friend group would celebrate every one of my accomplishments, no matter how big or small. Because even though we’re all spread across the country for college and the iMessage group chat is slowly dying, we will always have one thing in common: We were girls together.

Naomi Lam writes the Monday column on human connection. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

MARCH 06, 2023