There is an honesty from these friends that I have come to rely on. If one of us starts to take herself or life too seriously, the others quickly get her in line. If one of us is hurting, the others help to heal her wounds. When we are struggling with life decisions, we can count on blunt feedback that would be difficult to get from others. But mostly we laugh. Hard. This continues the entire time we are together. There is a shorthand humor among us that cannot be recreated with newer, less seasoned friends. This type of humor can only come through a long history of sharing life's challenges and joys, without judgment.
Friends give us something different than our families give us. I am not sure exactly how to describe it, but feel very grateful to have it. If you are lucky enough to have friends like this, be sure to hang on to them.