When friendships change: Re-knowing and remaking old friends

Hannah Cooper/File

I’ve been doing some interviews for my blog lately. The most recent topic was about young artists around us who are not famous — yet. The first person who came to my mind was Zing.

Zing was my best friend during primary school starting in the third grade. I was a transfer student who had just moved into the neighborhood and remained quiet and timid during the first few days. Zing and her friends were the ones who warmly welcomed me to their daily games and nightly outdoor adventures.

We grew up together as best friends. When she fell to the ground from her bike, I was the one who laughed at her while pulling her up. When I was left home alone at night, she was the one who came to my house to watch TV with me and broke the dreadful silence with loud giggles.

We also took our first cartoon drawing class together. But she had a special gift that no one else in our class had. Every stroke of her pen was filled with confidence and decisiveness, bringing out the features of the characters in a clear and distinct way.

We went to the same middle school in Guangzhou, China. But we drifted apart after undergoing a few girl dramas and being assigned to different classes — hers on the first floor and mine on the fifth. And we completely lost contact after I came to the United States to study abroad during high school. I only occasionally heard news about her: for example, that she was having trouble in persuading her parents to let her study arts.

It was not until a few weeks earlier that she suddenly added me on WeChat. That was how I reached out to her for the interview that I mentioned earlier, which took place last week. Since she was still at her college in Wuxi and I was home in Guangzhou, we had to video call each other on WeChat.

It was our first conversation in almost 10 years. She cut her hair shorter and dyed it orange. She was no longer the kid who drew cartoons for fun; she had changed into a mature adult who makes meaningful artwork with a conscious goal in mind. When she first saw me, she was surprised that I’d changed from a pale, skinny girl to a tan, healthy looking young woman with slightly chubby cheeks. “And your voice! You sound completely different now!” she exclaimed.

The conversation, which was steered more toward the artistic side, at first sounded like one that took place between two strangers. But isn’t that almost what we were? After eight years of transformations — be they caused by serendipities, pains or mishaps — unknown to each other, the friendship formed in our childhood seemed to have been washed away by the long separation and silence.

But a new friendship was blooming in the conversation. During the interview, we exchanged our own purposes of art-making, told each other about our own favorite artists and shared with each other the different paths we took to create artworks. After we finished the interview, we started reminiscing about the past. We laughed away those petty girl dramas and meaningless quarrels. We reflected together upon the changes of ourselves and all of our old friends with mixed feelings.

This is where I started to realize the beauty of these changes in childhood friendships. In childhood, we make friends with other kids who are just fun to play with. This kind of friendship based on fun comes apart easily as physical distance creates a wedge between the friends. We change in a way unknown to our childhood friends as we leave home and go to other parts of the world.

But later in life, we make friends based on deeper values such as mutual trust and intellectual compatibility. A lot more self-disclosure and support are present in friendships that form in adulthood.

Those changes in old friendships give us an opportunity to re-know and remake old friends in a more meaningful way. They allow us to rescript by replacing the frail childhood friendships based on fun with firm, long-term relationships based on mutual understanding and trust. After my conversation with Zing, I knew that we had not only resumed our contact but also reconnected in a deeper way that allowed us to communicate our intellectual and artistic visions.

It is true that sometimes in the face of changes, we can do nothing but let go of a childhood friendship. But there are also times when changes revive a withered friendship and make it bloom brighter for the second time.

Contact Raina Yang at [email protected].