The Secret of Friend Groups That Last for Decades
Friends who "knew you when" are often among the most treasured, even as life changes
Recently my mom Helen of Jericho, New York, called me crying. Through tears, she told me that her friend Linda had passed away.
Linda was a member of my mom's longtime friend group, the CHATTs. My mother and four other women worked together for many years as teachers in a New York public school. Over time their relationships transitioned from casual colleagues to close confidants.
As they approached retirement, the women worried they might drift apart without daily lunches in the teachers' lounge and school-sponsored social events. To avoid that fate, they made a promise that they would get together several times a year. They gave their group a name to cement their commitment to continuing their friendship. And that is how the CHATTs, which stands for Chicks Having a Terrific Time, were created.
Most of these "chicks" are now in their late 70s, and they genuinely have been having a terrific time together for almost twenty years.
I feel badly now, but I laughed when my mom initially told me about their group name. I found the acronym goofy and I didn't understand why they needed to give themselves a name. I joked that they thought they were like "The Pink Ladies" from the musical "Grease." I teasingly asked if they were getting matching jackets, too.
But now that I am in my 50s (around the same age my mom and her friends were when they created the group), I admire how they have kept their friendship going. Most of these "chicks" are now in their late 70s, and they genuinely have been having a terrific time together for almost twenty years.
As the saying goes, "Some friendships are for a reason, some for a season and some for a lifetime." But what exactly is the secret of friend groups that last for decades?
Connecting to the Past
One of the unique parts of a longtime friendship is that these people "knew you when" (i.e., when you were a child or when you worked in an office together). Old friends connect you to the past and to your former self, something that can't be replicated with new friends.
Joan Stommen, 78, of Kalamazoo, Michigan, met some of her best friends when she was a child. "We grew up together in the same neighborhoods," says Stommen. "Our memories and stories go way back. We knew each other's parents. We had no idea when we met that our friendship would last into our seventies. We just loved and cared about each other then and we still do."
Chris Englert, 55, a full-time nomad currently in Ireland, is still close friends with a group of men and women she met 40 years ago while attending high school in Arizona.
"We became each other's family members and support networks."
"We grew up together at a private boarding school. We learned to communicate, mature, survive, and thrive on a 40,000-acre ranch away from our parents in the middle of the desert," says Englert. "We became each other's family members and support networks."
Now in her 60s, Donna Micozzi, of Milford, New Hampshire, recalls some crazy times with her college friends back in the 70s. Legend has it that the group's nickname, The Animals, was given to them by a resident advisor at SUNY-Potsdam who was sick of their antics.
Micozzi says, "My first year of college, I went to a party called "Morning Sickness" that was held the morning of the first Saturday of February 1979. I had never in my life had such a wild time as I did at that party."
"Around forty of us who met at that party wound up hanging out together the remainder of college," she continues. "We roomed together, ate all our meals together, dated amongst each other and then during senior year in college, we started to couple up." Of the original group, seven of the couples married (including Donna and her late husband Joe ) and have stayed friends.
Micozzi admits that she didn't realize at the time how special these friendships would be. She says, "These friendships were also the basis of my relationship with my husband, Joe. We used to joke who would get custody of The Animals if we got divorced (me, of course)."
Bringing the Friendship to the Present
Life gets hectic and pulls people in different directions. It is hard to hold onto friendships, even ones you once treasured. How can these relationships continue as you get older and lose what once connected you?
Stommen says, "Even though some people moved out of state and we all have other tribes through our lives, communities and careers, our high school group is definitely our longest friendship. At first, we kept in touch by mail and through phone calls. Then email came along and it helped us to grow closer."
It's important to allow the relationships to grow and not stay solely focused on the past. My mom says, "When we first retired and met for lunch, we still talked a lot about our memories of teaching together. But as we got older, we talked less about school stuff and more about the present day. When we worked together, we all had kids living at home. These same kids are all grown up and married with their own kids. It's nice to share what is going on in our lives now with people who have been there for the ride."
Email, Facebook and Zoom have kept Micozzi connected with The Animals. "We did Zoom celebrations when people turned sixty during the pandemic," she says. They also try to get together in person when possible, including holding an annual reunion.
Commitment Combined with Compassion
Everyone needs to put in the effort for a longtime friendship to survive. According to Eckert, you don't have to talk to each other daily to be close.
"I loved all these people when I was at my best and living life to its fullest. They bring out the best in me."
"We talk a few times a year, keep in touch through social media and keep track of each other virtually," she says. "There's just a connection that keeps us loyal. Even though we live far apart, we will help each other at the drop of a hat. "
My mom Helen credits the silly name for helping their group stay connected. She explains, "Giving the group a name made it easier than saying everyone's name individually. When we said, 'The CHATTs,' we knew who was included in the plan. Having a name for our group solidified that we were all invested in our friendships continuing and we're going to all put effort into ensuring that we remained a part of each other's lives."
Along with commitment, long-term friendships require compassion. Everyone's lives, schedules and finances are different. Friends need to be understanding if someone cannot participate in an event or not become upset if some members get together without others.
Micozzi and her husband Joe couldn't attend the reunion for several years, but their friends still continued to invite them. "Fifteen years ago, they convinced us to come back," she says, adding they continued to attend.
"We started going on an annual three-day reunion," says Stommen. "Even though we all try to make it a priority, not everyone can make it every time. But we journal and take photos to share, so no one feels left out."
Golden Friendships in Your Golden Years
Longtime friends can become even more valuable as people get older. Stommen was in high school when her friends decided on the name Vega for their group. "Vega was the brightest star in the sky at that time," says Stommen. "We thought of ourselves as bright young women who could do anything. We had great aspirations back then, which we all achieved."
Micozzi recently returned from her annual reunion with The Animals. She says, "I loved all these people when I was at my best and living life to its fullest. They bring out the best in me and I feel rejuvenated when I leave them."