What Is It about Camp Friendships?

Danny Kerr

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 longtime 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.

As the years roll along — and thanks to the twenty-first century opportunities offered through social media, e-mail 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 twenty-five years ago (Julia and I really did begin as friends), but my children’s godparents 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 women 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? Why do you think you and/or your children have made such great friends at camp? What do you and/or your children do to keep in touch with these friends? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this wonderful reality of the summers we spend at camp! Fire away in the comments below!

Danny Kerr is the director of Camp Pemigewassett, a traditional, sleep-away summer camp for boys in Wentworth, New Hampshire.

Photo courtesy of YMCA Camp Kitaki, Lincoln, Nebraska

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