Old Friends are the best of friends.
They’ve been there through thick and thin. They support us, and their friendship keeps us healthy—mentally, emotionally, and physically—over the course of a lifetime.
We know that our old friends matter. We know that they can be there for us like no other.
But how do our types of old friends influence us? Do our childhood friends impact us like our college friends?
And what can we do when we feel an old friend slipping away? How can we repair that relationship?
Let’s take a look at the nine types of old friends and why they matter.
I’ll then explain how to nurture your old friendships, and then make the case for cutting loose some of your toxic friendships.
Let’s take a look.
1. Childhood friends
Your childhood friends were the first friends you ever had.
You met them at kindergarten, as next-door neighbors, or your parents were friends with each other. You spent the most memorable times of your growing years with them.
And during your countless sleepovers, you solemnly promised that nothing can ever tear you apart.
If you’re lucky, they may still be a part of your life now.
But most often than not, that promise gets broken. You end up in different groups or suddenly you have nothing in common.
You might still see them in your hometown visits. But whether or not you still spend time with them, your friendship still is one of the most impactful on your development.
Even if they’re not your best friend now, you wouldn’t be yourself without their friendship.
Why they’re important:
According to research, preschool friendships are important in the development of social and emotional skills, which then contributes to our sense of belongingness that we carry well into adulthood.
Childhood friends are important because they are our first social connections. Our interactions with them affect how we behave socially for the rest of our lives.
Our childhood friendships are also our links back to our childhood selves. When we remember our childhood friends, we remember what it was like to be imaginative and innocent.
When you become an adult and move into parenthood, looking back on your childhood friendships helps you navigate the complexities of parenthood.
Maybe give that old friend a call, see how they’re holding up. It might be time to reintroduce that friendship into your life as you open the next chapter on your life.
2. High school friends
High school can be tough.
Bullies, overloaded schoolwork, the pressure to get into a good college. It’s insane!
But do you know what always makes it bearable?
High school best friends.
Your old friends from high school are like your war buddies. You survived the grueling four years of pressure together, and you came out all the better for it.
Some of the craziest, stupidest, and most magical memories of your life were made in high school. This was an era of awkwardness, intense crushes, and explosive emotions—all shared with your high school best friends.
Even now, their friendship is some of the most impactful in your life.
Why they’re important:
High school friendships help us build out our social network. These old friendships have a profound impact on how we handle relationships well into our golden years.
A 2017 study shows that the quality of your friendships in high school affects your mental health as you grow into young adulthood.
According to Rachel K. Narr, the study’s lead author:
“Forming strong close friendships is likely one of the most critical pieces of the teenage social experience. Being well-liked by a large group of people cannot take the place of forging deep, supportive friendships.
“And these experiences stay with us, over and above what happens later. As technology makes it increasingly easy to build a social network of superficial friends, focusing time and attention on cultivating close connections with a few individuals should be a priority.”
If your childhood friends helped shape your social behavior, high school friends affect your ability to connect. Your friendship with them taught you the benefits of being in a close group and just how crucial support is from someone outside of your family.
3. College friends
I don’t know about you, but college for me was an age of liberation.
Suddenly, I was away from everyone and everything I ever knew. The freedom was exhilarating. But the thought of being completely alone was terrifying.
I needed to find some people to help me navigate this Wild Wild West.
That’s how I developed my college friends. And, to this day, they’re still some of the strongest friendships I have.
Author and Dartmouth assistant sociology professor Janice McCabe estimates that a college student spends 15 hours a week in class and 86 hours with college friends.
It’s only normal that you share the most enlightening times of your life with them.
Why they’re important:
According to McCabe, college friends help in providing “academic and social support.”
Our college friends were the ones we shared the most enlightening and intellectual conversations with. We questioned our existence with them, we voiced out our doubts about the future.
And they’re the ones who comforted us while we were drunk and slumped at our dorm bathrooms.
If you’ve ever held a bucket for a friend while he throws up, or if you’ve had a friend hold your hair back while you retch into a toilet, you know how meaningful these young adult friendships can be.
College friends are critical because they support us as we discover how to live mature lives.
4. “Old” old friends
Schools ensured that we were always placed in age groups. Everyone in class and almost everyone we interacted with was the same age as us.
However, there’s always that one friend who’s just a little older than us. They’re just a little closer to “figuring it all out.”
Perhaps they’re only two years older, or maybe five. Hell, they could be 15 years older than you or even more. Either way, these old friends have represented a “mentor” role at some point in your life.
They were someone cooler, more cultured, more worldly. Yet they never looked down on you. Instead, they guided you through the most painful moments with only a piece of kind advice or two.
Why they’re important:
Older life-long friends are important because they have a different perspective on life. They have the benefit of life-experience that we lack. And that perspective benefits us massively.
According to Mark Vernon, author of The Meaning of Friendship:
“Age-difference relationships are quite unlike that because you occupy different spheres of existence. But perhaps they’re all the more valuable for those polarities.
“Older people not only have the benefit of experience, they’re also less afraid of the opinions of others — so are more likely to say what they think. Their view often throws something unexpected into the mix.”
Older friends teach you valuable lessons. They often provide real friendships. But do you know what’s the greatest thing they teach?
They teach you that life is going to work out.
Because you’ve seen that they’ve gone through it. They’re proof that you can do this!
5. Old friends from work
Not everyone at work is nice or someone you can click with. Politics and work culture often lead to awkwardness or even conflict.
However, you’re bound to meet one or two colleagues that just “get” you. And if you spend the daily 9 to 5 grind with them, they’re likely in your life a lot.
Even when you change jobs or move away, you still talk or make time to meet each other. It’s a bond you simply can’t shake off.
They’re that old friend that helps you navigate the complexities of that work-life balance.
And they’re a critical component to you building your career.
Why they’re important:
A Gallup survey says that close relationships with workmates increase productivity and employee satisfaction by 50%. And that if you have a best friend at work, you’ll likely be 7 times more likely to be engaged with your job.
You’ll enjoy your work life more if you have good relationships with your colleagues.
More importantly, to a lot of us, our jobs are a “retreat” from our home life. This means that we usually let steam off with our workmates.
This means that our old friends at work are our “friends away from home.” They provide exitement and depth to our lives.
Working together under pressure can also create a bond filled with trust and loyalty. And those are two things we need in our lives.
6. The old “frenemy”
Frenemies can add value to your life, even if it might not look like it.
It’s someone from high school or at work that you don’t necessarily like but still managed to be inside your social circle.
It’s a college buddy that you always hung out with, but couldn’t stand after each hangout.
It’s the old friend frenemy.
Your encounters with them may have bordered on toxicity. But that doesn’t mean you won’t learn anything from them.
On the contrary, frenemies you met from a long time ago—with the right mindset—can teach you a lot.
Why they’re important:
A little conflict and competitiveness don’t hurt anybody. In fact, they can be motivators.
Frenemies can push us to be more assertive. Even their offhanded rude comments can make us want to prove ourselves more.
Frenemies can make us more productive. Whenever your frenemy completes a new project, it makes you hustle to crank out one even better.
They also teach us the value of taking the high road. After all, you don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.
Either way, you don’t have to entertain their negativity in your life. But you can accept the lessons and motivation they unwittingly give you.
7. Family friends
They’re just not your friends, they’re friends with the whole family. In fact, they might as well be family.
You take vacations together. They’re always invited to family gatherings. And they know everything that’s going on within the family.
Family friends are special because they serve as an extension of your immediate family, yet they provide a different perspective of what’s going on. They don’t take sides, but they give insights that sometimes are hard to see within the real family dynamics.
And, just like your family, they’ve been there forever. They’re old friends because they go as far back as your family does.
Why they’re important:
Not everyone is lucky enough to get close family friends—ones who are deeply engrained in your family history.
But if you are lucky enough to grow up with such people, you know how they add more flavor to the mix.
Family friends feel like they’re family, but they’re more your friends than anything else. You get some cool people in your life who don’t judge you and may even support some crazy decisions.
It’s just a lot of fun when they’re around.
8. The old friends you barely see or talk to
…but when you do, it’s like no time has passed.
Sometimes, life gets away from us and we forget to catch up with the real people who matter.
But that’s the beauty of old friendships.
Old friends understand that life gets busy. They respect the fact that you have priorities. But when you do reach out to them, they appreciate it and it’s like you never stopped talking in the first place.
You don’t need to constantly talk to consider yourself good friends. The best friends in the world are those who can reconnect with you easily, even though many things have changed.
Why they’re important:
Old friends you barely see can often give you the biggest insight on exactly how much you’ve changed.
They’ve known you at a different point in your life. They can remind you just how much your life has progressed for the better, teaching you to be more grateful about where you are now.
But most importantly, for me, old friends remind you of who you were.
You see, we always change. We learn lessons along the way that can either make us bitter or stronger. And sometimes, a little reminding can push us in a better direction.
Old friends can see that. And they understand a part of you that you may have already forgotten. Sometimes, looking back to an old perspective can be beneficial to where you’re going next.
9. Old friends you want to reconnect with
There’s no shame in losing old friends.
The fact that we lost in touch with someone who was once so dear to us may make us feel like we don’t deserve another chance with them.
But that’s not true.
Sure, you should take responsibility for losing them in your life, but don’t use that as an excuse that things are completely far from over.
Ask them to catch up for coffee. Give them a call. Chances are, they’d be willing to reconnect, too.
And if you manage to repair your old friendship, you’re in for a great treat. There’s nothing more fun and meaningful than getting to know an old friend you haven’t spent time with for a very long time.
Why they’re important:
I think it’s always a good idea to rekindle old friendships. Especially if the friendship was a high-quality one.
It teaches us not to fear rejection. Sometimes it works, and sometimes you realize you’re no longer the same people.
And that teaches us that it’s okay to change. That sometimes, people grow apart. But at least you tried.
If things go well, however, you can experience the wonder of rekindling a strong connection with someone who has evolved.
Why are old friendships so powerful?
Old friendships are irreplaceable. They have lasting impacts throughout our lives.
Here’s how our old friends help us develop from birth through our golden years.
Old friends play into our nostalgia
Old friends key into our “remember back when” memories. When you reminisce with your old friends, you both resurface powerful memories which causes a strong feeling of connection and happiness.
Old friends are honest
Because you’ve known your old friends for so long, they have the uncanny ability to call a spade a spade.
They let you know if your new flame is no good for you.
They let you know if that job opportunity is too good to pass up.
They let you know when you’re lying to yourself.
This unique ability of old friends to be bluntly honest with you allows you to get the critical information you need. At the end of the day, their honesty is what makes you trust them more than anyone else.
They’re like family
Old friends are practically family, but they’re not literally family.
This difference is crucial.
They offer the strength, relaxation, and trust of family, without any of the obnoxious pressure that comes along with family.
They offer the plusses of family bonds without the negatives. This is why it’s crucial to keep these old friendships up.
They know what cheers you up
Old friends don’t need to do much guessing. If you’re in a funk, they know how to cheer you up. They’ve known you for so long that they are able to boost your emotions in response to your specific circumstances.
Didn’t get that promotion? They know you need a round of golf.
Boyfriend broke up with you? They’re over with two bottles of wine and a copy of Bridget Jones’s Diary.
They get your family
They’ve been around so long that they’ve seen how your family works.
This means they know what makes your family tick. They also know what family members cause you stress.
Because they know this, they can mesh with your family’s style with relative ease. Plus, they can be a good sounding board when you need to vent about how your mom keeps asking about future grandkids.
They know who you are
You don’t need to pretend to be someone else around your old friends. They know and accept who you are.
Likewise, they don’t need to have to put on a show to impress you. You want to be around them because you like them.
This acceptance is a powerful connection that allows you to destress and relax into yourself.
How to nurture old friendships
Old friends matter. Having them in our lives is proof that special bonds exist outside of the family.
You don’t need to be related by blood to be considered family. And that makes old friends extra special.
They’re the family you choose.
But how do you make sure that these relationships remain strong? In this busy and hectic life, it’s so easy to lose great friends, no matter the history you share.
The good news is it’s not complicated to maintain old friendships. Here are some simple ways to make sure your old friends don’t ever feel left out:
1. Proactively communicate
This is perhaps the most common reason why friends drift apart from each other. It starts with little things—forgetting to reply to a message, missing calls, until you find yourselves not talking for weeks, months, then years.
According to clinical psychologist Dr. Lisa Firestone, comfort is the enemy.
She explains: “The familiarity and comfort we feel with another person can sometimes leave us crossing lines or forgetting to show gratitude.”
She adds: “Slipping into a routine can leave us more likely to take friends for granted.”
Don’t take your friends for granted. It doesn’t have to be long conversations or weekends away—they just need a few minutes of your time to know you think of them.
What are you waiting for? Call up your old friend right now!
2. Remember the little things
I’ve always been a firm believer that it’s the little things that matter.
Honestly, when I think of my best friends, I don’t think first about the grand travels we made or the fancy restaurants where we ate together.
Instead, I remember the long talks during sleepovers, the road trips going nowhere, the funny, stupid gifts they gave me for my birthday.
When I talk with my old friends, these are the stories I bring up. And remembering these little things together helps us keep our bond strong.
You see, people appreciate it best when you remember the little details about them. It shows that you take notice, it shows that you care not just when it’s great, but when it’s real and personal.
3. Be honest
Yes, honesty is a crucial foundation for a solid friendship. In fact, it is when you are dishonest that the toxicity takes place.
Dr. Firestone says: “Keeping an honest dialogue helps prevent you from building up cynicism and boiling over in a moment when you feel triggered.”
Longevity in friendships happens because two people are always honest with each other. A friend who always talks to you straight allows you to live life in authentic honesty, too.
If there’s something that’s rubbing you the wrong way about your old friend, you owe it to them to let them know in a truthful, but respectful way. Clear the air.
4. Handle conflicts in a healthy way
This certainly is something I had to learn as I grew older. It comes with the maturity to realize that you can’t control everything, and you have to accept people as they are—not who you want them to be.
Now, I am surrounded by the most supportive and empowering friends anyone could ever wish for.
Conflicts still come up. No matter how much your friends have in common with you, they are still different people. And anyway, you should want friends who are the complete opposite of you.
They enrich your experience and perspective in life.
But it’s important to handle these conflicts with respect. It’s not about winning an argument or scoring imaginary points.
Instead, it’s about finding common ground and a solution to the issue at hand.
Remember, the two of you are on the same team.
5. Always choose compassion
According to Dr. Firestone: “A good rule of thumb when it comes to our relationships is to care more about doing what’s right than being right.”
And I couldn’t agree more.
It’s easy to judge our friends for their actions and decisions. But judgment is not what they need. If we truly love our friends, we should give them compassion.
If you are lucky enough, they will reciprocate it a hundred times more.
This is a classic example of you sow what you reap. Plant compassion and receive compassion.
Cutting loose toxic old friends
So far, I’ve only talked about the incredible benefits of having life-long friends.
But I think it’s also important to talk about the other side of it:
Here’s an important thing realization I’ve come to:
You shouldn’t keep friends just for the sake of keeping them.
Sometimes, we maintain relationships with people for the sole reason that we’ve known them for a long time—even when they’re no longer good for us.
We make excuses for our long history with them. And we use that excuse to justify their toxic behaviors.
But here’s the deal:
Don’t settle for friendships that aren’t bringing any positive value in your life.
Even when you’ve known them your whole life.
It’s okay to let go of an old friend when they’ve become a constant source of sadness, anxiety, worry, or depression.
If they’re always dragging you down, judging you, and making you feel bad about yourself, then they are not worth keeping.
You must love yourself first. This involves choosing your well-being and peace of mind over someone who cares very little for them.
When to know if it’s time to cut loose an old friend?
So how do you know whether it’s time to cut loose an old friend?
Here are a few key signs that your old friendship has run its course.
You have nothing in common
Friends don’t have to be completely the same. In fact, it’s healthy that you all have differences.
But if you only hang out because you feel obligated to hang out, that’s a sign that things aren’t right.
If you hang out, and you don’t have anything to talk about because you have zero in common, that means that your lives have moved in opposite directions.
This doesn’t mean the friendship is doomed, but don’t be surprised if one of you moves to cut things off.
Your friend is a constant source of negativity
Your friend judges you, criticizes your life decisions, and insults you.
If your old friend does this, they’re not your friend. Instead, they’re a bully.
Don’t settle for a bully, no matter how painful the break up is.
Your friend doesn’t make time for you
I get it. Life gets busy when we get older.
However, if your old friends can’t bother to make time for you, but expect you to jump through hoops when they need you, you need to reexamine the relationship.
Friendships need to be equal. If you’re being taken advantage of, it might be time to let this one go.
Your old friend doesn’t get you
This one hurts. You all used to finish each other’s sentences. In fact, for a while it felt that you all were “twin flames.” You were mirror souls.
Now, it’s like you hardly know the person. It even feels like they are your false twin flame.
The good news is you have options. You don’t have to cut the friendship off. Instead, you can do the hard work to get to know the new person that your friend is now.
If your friend pushes hard to work to know the new you, you’ll know they’re worth keeping!
Our old friends are the glue to our past. They’re beautiful relationships that have to be nurtured throughout our lives.
When these relationships are in sync, we can experience profound benefits to our mental, emotional, and physical health.
But it’s important not to hold onto a relationship for the sake of its history. Make sure that your old friendships are working for you. If things have fallen by the wayside, make time to rekindle what you’ve lost.