How do you deal with a long-distance friendship? I ask because one of my closest friends, A, moved away from the DC area about three months ago. Though we still text almost every day and FaceTime about once a week, I still feel sad. As I write this, I sit alone in my apartment’s living room space with all the lights on, covered in a semi-thick blanket, though I wish I were sitting a few feet across from her on her old apartment’s worn-down yet comfy grey couch. I am mourning: remembering the closeness we once had and confronting my life where I still have it in some ways, yet in other ways, no longer.
A and I met when I moved to the DC area for graduate school in August 2017. Our grad program hosted a get together for grad students at a current student’s apartment, where several of us sat in a circle, exchanging some small talk amidst pizza and drinks. The conversation, at some point, turned to books, and someone, maybe me, mentioned Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. A and I both let out a startled gasp, made eye contact from across the circle, and launched into our shared feelings about the book. I said, Omg, I literally read that book on the floor of my dorm’s lounge because I was so emotional. She said, Ok, when I read that book I basically ignored my pregnant sister who was curled over in pain because I was so into it.
We made plans to get dinner the following week. I remember, several months into our friendship, A said: Thomas, I was so pleasantly surprised that you actually reached out to me to schedule dinner. So many people say things like that but never follow through. Reflecting on this brings a smile to my face because, in so many ways, I think that’s what my friendship with A has always consisted of: following through, again and again.
For about a year, A and I saw each other at least once a week, several times more than that. Our tradition consisted of me driving to her apartment, where we would get take out – oftentimes from Bon Chon, where the employees eventually asked if we were related because we went so many times – and then talk about our lives and our relationships, our feelings about our families and our experiences with men, our vulnerabilities and fears, and much more. We bonded over so much, such as growing up in similar family environments, going to the same undergrad and grad school, our shared disappointment in dating men, our passion for reading and writing and feminism, and much more. A few memories, because I cannot capture them all here: her, laughing so hard at a joke I said that she covered her face with a pillow to cope; me, lying down on the blue carpet of her apartment floor, to symbolize my awe at the quality of the tea she spilled about someone we both knew; us, making a Google doc where we wrote down multiple pages of iconic memories from our friendship, after watching several episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend in succession.
Now, we are separated. I am writing about our friendship’s past, while feeling uncertain about its future.
A has moved several hours away, and our friendship has shifted. I still feel its strength, in the emotional support we give one another, the consistent shared sense of humor, the planned visits and sleepovers. And, I am grieving. A has a romantic partner now, so we are navigating how to talk, or not talk, about romance and relationships as much, given our diverging paths in that area. While I feel happy for her given that the guy sounds more than alright, I miss our solidarity in singleness, the ways we would lift each other up and encourage one another to live full lives without men. And I miss the physical proximity, how with a ten minute drive, we could see each other face to face, and talk for several hours about anything and everything, again and again.
I am writing this post to honor the beauty of our friendship in its first year, as well as my grief over that year’s passing. Compared to romance, friendship is so undervalued in society. If you Google “long-distance relationship,” hundreds of articles appear about romantic relationships, yet almost none about friendship. We rarely plan our lives around our friends: people move to be closer to their families or their romantic partners, or for their jobs or their retirement. Songs and plays and movies and poems rarely make friendship their center. The beauty of friendship, then, as Hanya Yanagihara writes, is that consists of “two people who remained together, day after day, bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property, but only by the shared agreement to keep going, the mutual dedication to a union that could never be codified.”
I loved that first year of our friendship and I miss it. I miss it so, so much. And I still love our friendship. But, in processing my grief, I am also letting go of the notion of a guaranteed lifelong friendship, of a security in knowing that A – or any friend, really – will stay beside me for my entire life. A lot of people pursue romantic relationships for the eventual promise of forever, even if the relationships lack meaning, or warmth, or chemistry. And I think I, without admitting it to myself fully, have subconsciously wanted a similar promise in my friendships, even if I would never actually hold a friend to that standard or announce that desire explicitly.
I know, though, that no relationship is forever. People divorce, people pass away, people change or move on or just stop keeping in touch. A slip of paper and a fancy ceremony does not prevent that, nor does any spoken promise or vow. And still, a relationship that has ended can still mean, or have meant, the world to you, just like my friendship with A, and a few other close friends, has meant the world to me.
I have no clue what will happen with me and A. Perhaps our friendship will stay strong, buoyed by our disdain for the patriarchy, our love for feminism, and our shared passion for emotional labor and tea and supporting one another. Or, perhaps it will fade, if she pursues a more traditional life path with a male partner and a kid and we have nothing to talk about, or if any number of circumstances get in the way, really. And, who knows, maybe I’ll meet a new friend who I share a similar level of chemistry and connection, just like I did with A, who I fell in friendship love with when I least expected.
No matter what, I will remember this first year and our overall friendship with fondness and with warmth, across our successes and our challenges, across hours and hours of talking and laughter. I am saying goodbye to the idea of a lifelong friendship. And, I am welcoming the lifelong impact of our friendship into my heart, where it will live forever.
What are your experiences of friendship lasting or changing? How have you navigated friendships throughout your life? I’d love to hear from all folk reading this about their friendships, as well as any book or movie or other media recommendations that center friendship (everyone should check out Gail Caldwell’s Let’s Take the Long Way Home, tbh.) I have so many more ideas for blog posts so let’s hope I carve out the time away from grad school to write them out! Hope you are all well.