What is it About Camp Friendships?

I see it at every major life event—weddings, graduations, baptisms, bar mitzvahs, any time family and friends gather to celebrate a significant milestone—that huge smile and even bigger hug when one very long time camp friend sees another. The immediate connection and feeling of absolute familiarity take over, transcending time, geographic limitations, and the busy pace of our lives. Yes, camp friends are our best friends, one of the many, many benefits of the years a boy or girl spends at a summer camp like Pemi.

As the years roll along—and thanks to the 21st century opportunities offered through social media, email and Skype—I have been able to keep in even closer contact with my decades old camp friends than I ever thought possible. So, recently, I wondered why are these camp friends my best friends? Not only did I marry a “friend” whom I met at camp more than 25 years ago (Julia and I really did begin as friends), but my children’s God Parents are camp friends, my weekend get-always are very often to visit camp friends, the largest contingent of friends I have on Facebook are camp friends, and the idea of missing a camp reunion and the opportunity to spend a few more precious days with these best friends—at the actual place where these deep bonds were formed—is not an option! So, what gives? Why are our camp friends so often our best friends?

I have a few theories, including the uncomplicated life we enjoy at camp that affords us the time to develop these close relationships, the success and growth we experience side-by-side, and quite simply, that camp is a place we can return to for so many summers. Indeed, many of us were lucky enough to begin camp at eight or nine years old, and we continued through our school and college years, into our young adult years and even beyond. These are all sound premises, but admittedly, I don’t have an exact answer to this very happy reality.

In his book “Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow,” author Michael Thompson interviews a group of five woman in their forties, all with families of their own, who first became friends at a summer camp. Together, they’d progressed through the ranks of young camper, senior camper, counselor in training and head counselor. Thompson, too, could not find an exact answer as to why camp friends are so often our best friends, but he came up with a few theories of his own after speaking with this group. These include the ritual activities and traditions at camp, the freedom and opportunity to be the person you want to be at camp, the shared love of camp, and the physical intimacy of the unfettered cabin life that campers enjoy. Each of these theories makes sense, but the sum, of course, is far greater than the individual causes, to the degree that even Thompson admits there is something else going on here that perhaps no one can completely identify.

So what are your theories? My guess is that if you are reading this you’ve been in touch with a camp friend very recently (I know I have) and that you’ve also developed and maintained these deep camp friendships over the years.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this wonderful reality of the summers we spend at camp! Fire away!

~ Danny Kerr


2 thoughts on “What is it About Camp Friendships?

  1. Seems to me one of the major intentions of the founding quartet of doctors, and one of the opportunities of my attendance for 3 long eight-week summers in the 1940s is the development of CHARACTER. There were rewards for achievement: access to boats after a swimming test, celebration of Polar Bear early morning dippers, earning Junior Life Guard patch, even lanyard weaving, not to mention the names engraved on the cups lost in the dining room fire. The same kind of bonding that results from trials and victories of war buddies is, I speculate, a result of this kind of immersion in a character building sub-culture.

  2. At camp a person, through his counselor’s guidance, can focus on building his skills. A clumsy kid can become a skilled first baseman and play first base in future games. By heeding his coach’s recommendations and focused work, he earns a place of greater responsibility for his team and himself.
    In our [out-of-camp] adult lives, that efficiency of deploying self improvement to benefit our employer, (for example), is frustrated by political turf-guarding and senior leaders who practice myopic ignorance, arrogance and duplicity as virtues.
    Camp friendships reconnect us to a world that is ruled by honesty, tempered by positive reinforcement and in the case of failure or disappointment, illuminates other paths to success.
    I am grateful to Danny for coaching me on a process by which I communicate more clearly with others.
    Joe Dunhill CEO Secured Capital Partners Ltd. & camp Pemi sous-chef 2012.

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