When I was little, friendship seemed easy. If we both liked to swing and play in the sand box, our friendship was cemented in pre-school. I had a couple of neighbors who were about the same age and so, we became friends. In elementary school, I lived in a small town, and in my tiny class of 17 students, we all seemed to be friends. We ran in a pack, we organized games of horse and soccer on the playground, and in the classroom we learned together. I might be idealizing those days a bit, but that’s how I remember it, and I can recall playing one-on-one with each and every one of those 16 other people who shared my days of learning.
In the summer between sixth grade and seventh grade, we prepared to move to another small New Mexico town. My mom got a new job as a teacher. My best friend threw me a surprise going away party at the town swimming pool, and it was fun to splash and play one last time with my classmates and other friends. Junior high and high school were sometimes quite challenging in the friendship department. I forged some friendships, but many I realize now were friendships of convenience and even some of survival. But I found them. I had friends who played sports like me, so we might not talk a lot in the halls between classes, but we shared time on the courts and in the locker rooms and on the bus rides to games. Again, I lived in a small town, so friendships often were predicated on being the same age and participating in the same school activities.
I remember senior year, and all of a sudden our small high school seemed tiny. My class of 18 was the smallest graduating class in a shrinking town. As the oldest, our class suddenly became close as a group instead of fractured into four or five small friendship groups. School activities weren’t the boundaries of friendship anymore, and we bonded in our all-senior classes of English and Government. We talked of our beliefs and politics and families and our futures. We reminisced and we became closer. By the spring, with graduation around the corner, mostly we laughed together, enjoyed senior festivities, and counted down the days until graduation. We knew that would be goodbye for many of us.
The summer after graduation, I quickly folded into a deep friendship with a high school classmate. I worked as a waitress in her family’s restaurant. We spent long nights together hanging out and gossiping and dreaming about our futures, wondering what college would be like. I remember being startled by the closeness of this friendship. We had always been friends, but she had usually had a boyfriend and was frequently “best friends” with popular older girls. That summer, she didn’t have a boyfriend and the older girls were away, and so we bonded.
I arrived in Wisconsin in the fall to start college near Lake Superior, hundreds of miles away from the grasslands and the mountainous horizons of my home in New Mexico. In some ways, college felt a bit like pre-school. It seemed easy to make friends, like it did when swings and the sandbox were the currency. It was simple to talk with the other women on the second floor in the dorm; there were only four dorms on campus, and mine was the only women’s dorm. Some friendships ebbed and flowed, some people drifted, some people transferred or dropped out, but for the most part, there was a pack of eight to twelve women (give or take) that were good and close friends. We helped each other through breakups and applying for summer internships. We wrote letters in summer and sent e-mails, and we showed up for each other and the friendships continued as we moved and grew and changed over our college years.
Over the years, this group has stayed friends, even as we scattered across the country. Some of us married and had babies, others stayed decidedly single (ahem). Some went to grad school, some started small businesses, one started a small farm, one started a nonprofit, while others navigated careers. We had an e-mail listserv to stay in touch before we succumbed to fb. Even now, some of the those friendships are still close. I have lost touch a bit with many as I don’t do fb, but I regularly keep up with one through a few texts and random phone calls. I still feel a firm foundation with this pack of women, no matter the time and distance. They are still the ones, no matter how much time had passed that I would turn to for help, advice, or just a good long talk.
I have maintained being in touch with a professor/mentor whom I now consider a good friend. We chat or message occasionally and maintain social media connections. Over the years, we have had a dinner or a good talk when we have been in the same town, which has only been a handful of times. While being in touch is less than frequent, I am grateful for the calm guidance and trusted friendship of someone I admire deeply, both personally and professionally. I love that I can call this person a friend. Some friendships grow beyond the shapes in which they started.
About five years ago, I knew I was preparing for changes: moving to Albuquerque, training for a marathon, and making time and major effort for healing and life on a spiritual path. When I was on fb, it was easy to keep up with people. Friends cheered on my marathon effort, sent love for my articles and essays that got published, and wished me well as I moved to Albuquerque and got a new job. When I got to Albuquerque, it was easy to make some new goals, because after the last 10 years where my friendships had mostly been limited to my sister/roommate and my long distance nolstagic college ties, I wanted to forge new in-person friendships, regardless of or in spite of social media.
Making friendships is harder in adulthood. I’ve said this a thousand times, and I’ll say it again: there are many ways designed to meet a significant other, to meet someone to mess around with, or to more formally date. There aren’t as many ways to meet to become friends. When I was seven, I just ran and jumped on the swings and was automatic friends with those who also liked to swing. In high school, whoever was on the track team became a friend as we shared winded workouts and long track meet days. In the first year of college, whoever was awake at 2 am or 8 am or 2 pm on the second floor of Memorial Hall became fast friends as we shared adventures of finals and living away from home.
Albuquerque has been the home of some of my hard won friendships. A couple of people that I met in a book group became close, but then they moved away and those friendships drifted away.
I have one good friendship that began on my first day in Albuquerque. We had been friends over the miles, but in person and in the same town our friendship grew and evolved. Over the last few years, we have become pretty close. It’s been bumpy, but we have found a steady rhythm, checking in with each other over text and less than occasional coffee visits. I still joke that this person would be my “one phone call” if I ever got in deep trouble, but there’s a deep trust amidst that chuckle. Somehow, we speak the “same language” that has nothing to do with English.
Another friend I met via ig. I saw she owned a small vintage clothing shop near UNM. I visited her store and bought a couple of dresses and a purse. We talked on that first visit over our love for vintage and we both felt able to share our quirkiness. It was only later that we realized we had even more in common: we both write and are on self-professed spiritual paths. I used to come over to her shop more and we’d visit while I tried on a few things and purchased a few. I still try to visit her store every couple of months or we make plans to meet up for coffee. She came over to my house for dinner a couple nights ago and it was wonderful to see that we have much to talk about and much to share.
I have become friends with my boss at work. At first, this seemed precarious. She wasn’t always my boss, but we weirdly realized that our apartments were across the courtyard from each other. Over the last year and a half, we have become close, at first, just occasionally sharing an after work beer. Then, she went through a breakup. I shared my own “boy drama” and we bonded over many other things. She’s moved to another apartment complex and we no longer share the pine tree out our windows, but we share something that goes beyond workplaces and romantic ups and downs.
A woman whom I met in massage school and I have become close. Even though it’s a been over a year since we were in school together, we meet at least once a month or so for coffee and to catch up. In many ways, I’m surprised we are close, but it took some dedication and a few missed coffee dates to stay in touch.
I have also become really close with an artist I met in my first year in Albuquerque. We met through work; she led a program that intersected with mine. Then we happened to see each other on a random summer day downtown a few years ago. We exchanged numbers. We kept in contact for work things, but then slowly got in touch for other reasons. We meet for coffee or a meal, or a hot springs soak, we text, and I have attended her art shows. She supports my fledgling writing career. I remember liking her on the first day I met her, and now we’re really, really good friends.
There’s a woman who comes into the co-op where I work and we always chat at the register, talking about life and so forth in short spurts. I remember thinking I wanted to reach out to her and then wondering if that was okay, or wondering if she would think I was hitting on her. Finally, one evening, I was on break and sitting out on a bench and reading. I saw her coming into the store. When she was going back out to her car, she walked by the bench and I said hi. We immediately started chatting and I took a deep breath and immediately confessed my interest in becoming friends. She threw her head back and laughed and said she’d been thinking the same exact same thing. So, we exchanged phone numbers and made tentative plans for a hike. Then, she got busy with work and I didn’t want to force things. We got in touch a couple days ago and we’re going to hike on Saturday, followed by dinner at my house.
There are three women from my hometown with whom I’ve become close again. Two were two of my best friends in high school, but we weren’t always in touch over the years. The other friendship in adulthood was surprising and welcome, because we weren’t especially close in high school. We text occasionally and I’ve made plans for a phone call with one of them this week. The other two, I see maybe once a year. Lives and distance can get in the way of friendship, but we eke out visits where we can and reach out to remind each other of our ties, our kinship.
This morning, I reached out to one of my closest college friends. She wasn’t really part of the college pack mentioned previously, because she transferred colleges after sophomore year. She and I have stayed in touch, at least peripherally, over the years. I asked her if we could have a phone call. She replied that she would love to get in touch again.
I also reached out to my first boyfriend, someone I only found on social media after the death of a mutual friend. Every once in a while, we will chat via instant messaging. I reached out because he’s recovering from an accident that happened over a month ago. About once a week or so, I’ll send him a message, asking about his recovery and touching base. We reminisced a little after his update and I pray for his health and recovery.
Making and maintaining friendships is an exercise in nonattachment. Yes, there are people we feel very connected to, due to certain events or circumstances, but even the closest of connections can evaporate. Other friendships, forged in easy proximity (school, children who are friends with each other, workplace, etc.) can very easily disappear. Sometimes, we choose to let a friend go. Other times, friends go because we move and grow. One of my closest friends has always talked about the temporary circumstance of human relationships. We aren’t always meant to be in each other’s lives forever. We often take for granted closeness and then we can see how easily it can slip away.
When I stopped using fb, I assumed that the “close” friendships I had resumed would cross the digital divide, that we’d keep in touch with texts and phone calls. That didn’t happen. Most of my college pack is on fb, but rarely do we reach beyond the social medium. When I was changing jobs and getting ready to begin massage school a couple of years ago, I realized that a couple of close friends that I had made out of workplace bonding were not healthy people. I used the welcome change of a different schedule and not seeing each other at work as a way to retreat from the unhealthy dynamics. I know that I have friends who have let go of me because they needed boundaries or things, that at the time, I couldn’t provide.
I read recently that fb and other social media outlets often artificially extend “friendships.” Friendships that were only important due to the structure of a working or social relationship last far past their “expiration date” due to social media connections. All of a sudden we find ourselves connected to not-close work colleagues, elementary school mates, and not-quite-related people we meet at weddings and funerals. How we maintain those relationships is of our choosing. I’m planing to look at my social media accounts and let go of the ones whom I don’t really know or don’t really feel connected to, even if I don’t really use certain accounts. I want to let go of them naturally and quietly, just as we moved out of each other’s lives originally.
In the spring, I visited two good friends of mine. One was a good friend from college and the other is his wife. I say this, because this is how we became friends. Over the years, I have become close friends to both. She has been generous and reached out over our mutual love of country and folk music. She has invited me and hosted me twice for long weekend visits at their home back east. Both times, we went to awesome country concerts and spent the rest of the time visiting and enjoying books and food and easy company. I welcome the friendship of that couple, the two individuals, over distance and across time. They are home to me and somehow our friendships have endured so far.
I have learned to let friendships ebb and flow and even dissipate. I make effort and fight to keep friends, but I also know that time and distance can be large factors. Disagreements and different lives can influence close bonds. Yes, there are people you will always be connected to, and if reconnected, you’ll have things to chat about. There are the updates to make: where are you living and working, what are your creative outlets, what are your shared interests, updates on kids and relatives. But after that initial chat, you can lose the small talk. Are there deeper bonds, deeper reasons to reach out? Is nostalgia all that remains?
Recently, an old college friend, not one of the second floor dorm pack, reached out. We used to be close, occasional one-on-one, in the midst of lots of mutual friends. When we both lived in the Midwest after college, I helped him and his wife (who also became a close friend) move more than once. In weird happenstance, I dropped in twice during two moving weekends, one right after the birth of their first child, and once before they moved for her to begin grad school. Moving them and helping them pack up their lives was a fun and easy bookend for friendships. We sweated and lifted and taped boxes. We talked and we pondered lives in transition. Recently, I have enjoyed a couple of long phone calls with the male friend. The marriage that I thought was indestructible has ended in divorce with shared custody and new paths. We talk spirituality and brokenness and healing. We talk hard won wisdom and lessons learned and what now.
I can think of countless friendships that have ebbed, yet perhaps not ended. And I think of peripheral friendships that feel important, within their context and construct. I am “blog” friends with an individual from Norway who found my blog. He liked my writing, I liked his photos, and now, after more than six years, we connect over the miles and over social media. I welcome that friendship in what can feel like a cold cyber existence.
About five years ago, I had an article published in a religious/spiritual magazine, and it fulfilled a life goal and dream. Part of the fun of that article getting published was the invitation to write a guest blog and to interact with the readers and commenters online the day of the devotion’s publication. I read and commented and shared with people about my most intimate writing to date. I posted my blog link and two readers who commented on the article continue to read and comment to this day. They’ve probably read more from me than my mother and sisters and close friends. I don’t know these individuals in person, but I welcome the friendships made over an internet connection and a bond over mutual spiritual experience and insight.
Recently, I feel bonded to a woman I “met” on ig. She is an entrepreneur, running two businesses. She’s fierce and funny and we both love, among other things, brunch and words. I cheer on her work and she has reached out to support my writing.
Someone who can see you and wants to spur you to success is someone to seek out. We find connections and we bond, regardless of circumstance.
In the spring, a person I have seen at the co-op said hello. We used to chat at the register, but I didn’t think it was anything more than polite conversation. One day, when I was wearing a burgundy sweater and grey pants and my trusty black clogs, he commented that I looked really pretty. I held my breath and said thank you. We chatted a little bit more and exchanged our names. Then a few days later, we each gave our phone numbers. We had a first date. It’s exciting and more fun than I have ever had in my entire life. As we ease into the end of summer and the transition into fall, I wonder. Maybe it will become something significant, maybe it ends as a summer fling. I don’t know and I have no attachment or any expectation. I welcome and I let him flow into my life. He welcomes me with no attachment or expectation. This is the first time that I have been able to understand and participate in the deep connection and deep release that is that bond of friendship, of togetherness, of letting one be, and of letting one go (even if they stay or go from your life).
You find the friendships and you feed them. You fight for them. You make an effort. You retreat and give space where needed. You don’t take them for granted. You reach out in times of grief and tragedy. You say hello on a regular day. You type out a greeting. You lose touch with some and deliberately cut ties with others. You share a pot of coffee and smiles. You fight and recover and forgive. You cheer someone on, even from a distance. You bond over mutual interests. You take and welcome people where they can meet you and where you can meet them. You let the friendships and people be as they are. The struggle with others usually begins because we expect something beyond what someone else can give in our intimate and casual relationships.
Friendships are found and forged and fulfilled. We come together. We let go.