I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship recently. OK, that’s actually not a very new train of thought for me and I’ve been thinking about the importance of friendship for as long as I can remember, which is maybe why I chose to write an open letter to my Child(red)’s future friends instead of to a supposed spouse… but after this summer where I got to attend the weddings of two friends I’ve had for almost two decades, I’ve been specifically musing on the trajectories of friendship, and how they look a little different than my younger self would have guessed.
I think my high school self thought that friendship was fairly linear. Sure, some friendships might grow faster or steeper than others, but you basically found your friends, put in the work to create a friendship, and it would steadily grow throughout your life. I’m not sure if that model was based on the deep hope I had to never grow apart from these people I was forming super close relationships with at Xavier, or if it was just the sweet naivete of not thinking about the fact that people die, people change, and life is messier than a straight line and doesn’t come with a syllabus. I thought that part of being loyal to those you love meant that we could count on a certain number of conversations and meet ups and inside jokes throughout our lives together and that was that. I thought it was a sin to grow apart and so I hung on to some friendships longer than I probably should have and nursed hurts about others that were just going through a dormant season.
But loyalty doesn’t demand linear growth. Some of my closest friendships have had times where our communication has dipped, times of exponential growth, and long plateaus. With other friends have been sudden endings, slow drifting apart, or unexpected moments of coming back together after years of just occasionally getting Christmas cards or sharing the BIG announcements of life but not the day to day stuff.
One of the really lovely observations one of my best friends made when I got engaged and told him it felt weird that as I got closer being married there would necessarily be someone else (my wonderful hubby) who was going to become my best friend, the person who knew the most about me, the closest person in the world to
me. My very wise friend responded that this wasn’t going to hurt our friendship, that just because someone else moves closer to you doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone else moves further away. He described it mathematically like dots moving closer to the center of a circle and its an image that’s stayed with me. All these beautiful people inside the perimeter of this friendship circle and just because some move closer to the center or more move inside the circle, it doesn’t mean that other dots have to get pushed out or that you’re failing at friendship just because how close they are to the
center of your life necessarily changes from season to season. And the work you put into a friendship isn’t wasted if it doesn’t last forever (the term work is never wasted is actually one of my favorite gems from grad school and it applies here as well as so many other areas that have nothing to do with school assignments).
My friendships have changed based on locations, schedules, interests, life stages (parenting has required my non-parent friends to have a whole new level of patience and understanding with my communication limitations and has also brought me a whole new set of friends I might never have met or become close to if it weren’t for my kids!)
There’s a strange paradox when it comes to old friendships. Sometimes those who have known you
the longest have the hardest time seeing who you’ve become in the years since you met and won’t allow for the beautiful changes that are happening in your life- or maybe can’t even see that they are beautiful. And sometimes those who have known you the longest give you the best perspective of the long game. They keep pushing you to be better and offering a hand to help you get there. (I know that from my end, I’ve been on both sides of this paradox!) And I’m especially thankful for the way weddings can celebrate both some of those changes everyone has been through as well as the old memories that laid the foundation for those friendships. I got to hang out in San Francisco this summer with friends I met in Phoenix who are now scattered throughout the country and I got to hang out on Mackinac Island with friends I met in Arizona and California, who are now scattered throughout the country. There’s something magical about that.
There’s something even more magical about friends that inspire you to keep going or try something new. This kind of expands on that idea of friends who push you to be better. Last year was pretty difficult for me in many ways and I had sweet friends encourage me through celebrating my newfound love of gardening and giving me sage seeds in a beautifully motivational pot. It told me to keep going through the hard time and to keep pursuing my newfound love of making things grow and tending to goals little by little. When I was having a particularly hard time with anxiety this spring and debating whether or not to make some big changes, one of my oldest friends made me a “grown up easter basket” with a whole bunch of anti-anxiety gifts like lavender tea. I’ve stalled out a bit on running with Arizona’s hot temperatures and when I planned to go for a short run on my vacation to somewhere cooler, I got to run with one of my oldest friends who cheered on my progress, pushed my pace, and encouraged me to go further than I originally planned so we could keep running together a bit longer. This doesn’t even begin to get into the number of video messages and FaceTime dates and text chains that have saw me through my last pregnancy when I was too sick to get out of the house for more than an hour or two a day- IF I was lucky! Or the many
sweet well wishes and home cooked meals and groceries from friends just before and just after my babies were born. My friends inspire me to find new ways to encourage others, give back, and to keep going when my own path seems difficult and I can’t seem to see past my own troubles.
Still, no matter how awesome they are, your friends don’t get to run your life- this is something I legitimately had a hard time discovering and wish I could tell my younger self. I had a hard time and lost some friends when I was ready to find my voice and make my own decisions. Some of those friendships were slowly repaired, others ended and made the ones that remain that much more valuable and important to me because I hadn’t realized before how easily they could end. And I became even more acutely thankful for those friends who had waited patiently while I chased after new friendships that let me down or were only situational (thankfully I’ve had very few of these! but they are definitely there, and they hurt to think about).
I know life will continue to change, and maintaining friendships can be HARD when you have small children (and I’m told it gets even harder when those littles start having all their own activities and friendships that require a whole new level of scheduling and driving! Here’s hoping my own friends can stay patient and help me navigate that struggle when it comes!) I am the first to admit that I have made some crazy life choices, but through it all I have known that no matter how poor I was or how low I felt, I was rich in friendship. They didn’t always look how I thought they would or grow in the manner I anticipated, but it turns out some of the best things in life aren’t linear, and friendship is one of those.