"Yes'm, old friends is always best, 'less you can catch a new one that's fit to make an old one out of."--Sarah Orne Jewett
Is anything more precious than an old friend? Now that we are not young anymore, I suppose "long-time friends" might be preferable to "old friends," but both describe those people who have known us and stayed with us over many years.
New acquaintances look at photos from when I was a young woman and say, "Is that you!?" (And then I'm tempted to get ugly and say, "Well who do you think it is?") But old friends say, "Oh, I know that girl." When I see my old friends, they appear in my mind's eye not only as they are today but also as I have known them over the years before grandchildren, wrinkles, and knee replacements. Their beauty is only compounded with time.
With old friends, one word can bring up an inside joke that will throw us into hysterics. My old friends have not abandoned me when I've made a complete fool of myself. They have been by my side through heartaches and partied with me in celebrations. Old friends seem to think the friendship is worth enduring the quirks and flaws that we see in each other, and can even value and laugh about them.
You don't have to explain yourself to old friends because they "knew you when." They knew your parents, or your siblings, or your school. They remember when your children were born, or when you found out you couldn't have any. They know your past accomplishments and activities--things you would not tell about yourself, but are a part of who you are. They know your struggles, silent to almost everyone else, and don't judge but empathize.
Maintaining your friendships is one of the most important things you will ever do for your friends and for your own well-being. When you meet someone new, there is always the possibility that you have just encountered a potential old friend. Cultivate both the old and new with tender care.