Goodbye, to a Life Long Friendship

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.

sunshine and book yay

I cat sat for A’s cat, Sunshine, for a week and got this excellent picture. Sunshine is a feminist cat queen.

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.

selfie w the merry recluse

A selfie I literally took just for this post, with my queen Caroline Knapp’s essay collection The Merry Recluse, in which she writes about friendship. Also, yes, I am listening to “No Tears Left to Cry” in this picture.

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.

24 Comments

Filed under Personal, Society

24 responses to “Goodbye, to a Life Long Friendship

  1. Dearest Thomas,

    Thank you for your heartfelt reflection. Although your situation is incredibly bittersweet, I take solace in the line, “And, I am welcoming the lifelong impact of our friendship into my heart, where it will live forever.” It is very precious, how we as humans, are able to do that.

    Currently all my closet girlfriends and I are single, and we do form a great connection from our solidarity (boys are really dumb, most of the time…) and I’ve sometimes thought about how our friendship would change as we each individually move in and out of relationships (and eventually, maybe never out).

    You must know “Call Me By Your Name?” Your post really reminds me of Mr. Perlman’s speech at the end of the book/movie. How it is better to nurture the pain than hide it; that we are lucky to find a matching soul in life, even if it is not for forever.

    Hope you are settling well into the colours and dropping temperatures of fall,

    Grace

    • Aw thank you so much for your compassionate and quick response, Grace! So happy that you currently have that friend group – it makes me nostalgic for mine, so I hope you honor how great it feels and work to help it stay alive. Though I don’t love Call Me By Your Name, I do like that line when applied to friendships and other healthy relationships, so I really appreciate you bringing it up. Hope you are doing well this fall too, thinking of you and sending warmth!

  2. ALEXANDRA ROTH

    As an old lady, I have watched many of my friendships circle away and back, like Halley’s Comet. I had a very close friend in college and just after, and then he moved away to the DC area and I figured we’d drift away from each other because I lived in NJ. And then I met my husband and moved to DC. And then I had kids and D and I hardly ever spoke because I was in Kidland. And things happened, and more things happened. We still both live around here, and we are back to being close. No fault, no foul. But when I see him, the feeling is amazing, because this person has cared about me for over 40 years. That can happen, or the other thing you are talking about, that it’s not a orbit, it’s a two paths that are parallel and then not, and you fly away from each other and don’t come back.

    • Aw, I’m glad to hear that you’ve been able to still have this friendship in your life and that it’s been beneficial! Yes, it’s wonderful that friendships and relationships can come back to the forefront of our lives at different times, and it’s also sad how friendship is often put on the sidelines for other types of relationships. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

  3. Gary Pete

    Dude, life goes on. Whenever that happens to me (and it has, several times) I throw myself into volunteer work and stay busy. I hang around other people, and hopefully make some new friends.

  4. Some of my closest friends are the ones that are long distance. With the right friends, you can call each other once a month and pick up right away. When I talk to them, we still laugh and commiserate the same way as before; it’s as if nothing has changed, and we’re still together.

    • Yes, it is great to have friends who are like that! I agree that those friendships are also wonderful and important to maintain, and I’m glad you have them. Thank you so much for commenting and sharing your thoughts.

  5. Rida Imran

    I understand how you feel..
    During a levels I had this group of friends with 3 people besides me, they all went to the same college during engineering, while I took up medicine and went somewhere else, while we still managed to meet every month for 3 years, it was just not the same, I felt left out and then I was..I don’t blame them we don’t have much common any more..
    Platonic relationships are very underappreciated..

    • Ugh, that sounds so painful Rida, I’m sorry you had that experience. It sounds like you were close to this friend group but then the distance and differing professional/academic paths created distance in your friendship. I can’t say I totally know how you feel like but as someone who’s had and is having similar things happen, it’s heartbreaking. I hope you give yourself space to feel how you feel, and when you are ready, to pursue new friendships and relationships (even developing the one with yourself) when you are ready.

  6. Patrick

    If you’re still texting and Facetiming with your friend, you’re still doing alright. I’ve had friends move away and essentially cut off contact. The tricky thing about a friendship is that is because it lasts only as long as you two want to keep hanging out, there’s no “breakup” (unless you have some really big, dramatic fight, which is rare). There’s nothing that says you can’t stay close even when you’re not living near each other. The friends you have to watch out for are the ones who tell you that they’d love to hang out sometime, but are always busy when you’re free, and have stuff come up even on the times when they said they would be free. Those are called fair weather friends, and it takes time to separate them from the real friends who are just busy. Your friend doesn’t seem the fair weather sort.

    • Ugh, I’m sorry to hear about the friends who’ve moved away and cut off contact, that really sucks. I feel like with friendship, kind of as you’ve written, it’s really all about how much energy you want to invest, because there’s no societally-based incentive like sharing property, money, kids, sex, etc. So, as you’ve written that may lead to some fair weather friends which sucks, but also when friends do demonstrate that effort it can be really beautiful and affirming. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Patrick, I always love reading them!

  7. A friendship is like a life, it can end which is sad, but maybe it’s just changing. Change is scary, but we cannot improve reality by ignoring it, embrace change accept things won’t be the same, find a way to make things better than ever. Might not be possible but you can always try.

    ECHO ECHO

    • Yep, there’s always that delicate balance of learning to accept things as they are while also advocating for them to change for the better. It really depends on the situation and the people involved. Thanks for commenting.

  8. This is a lovely tribute to and celebration of your friendship. Friendships do shift and change but I have several very long ones – a school friend I’ve been in and out of friendship with, three women I met at University I saw every day then and after and now we are all together perhaps once every five years but we’re all still on social media supporting one another, and my dearest best friend, met over half my life ago when she was my boss: we had a work friendship then I left and a real, naughty, drinking and chasing boys friendship. Then I moved to London wah then she did yay and she had two kids and I had an LDR and I was there for her and the kids and I’m like an extra aunt to them. I moved back to the Midlands wah and we had some times when it was seeing each other once a year and cards and letters, now it’s FB messenger every day and middle aged ladies popping up here or down there for lunch and we’re still as important to each other. I hope your friendships ride these long waves as mine have. There are lost ones and changed ones I mourn, but new ones do come along, one I firmed up at the weekend from someone i saw sometimes to someone whose house I’ve sat in for hours, her wife teaching my husband about photo editing out of the blue on the sofa.

    • Liz, I love this comment so much, it warmed my heart and your shared experience and empathy means so much to me. I’m glad to hear about the different friendships you’ve had, how they’ve been beneficial to you and connecting and wonderful, as well as how they do shift and change. It’s helpful to have that perspective, to know that even when things feel difficult or that they’re shifting beyond my control, new friendships can and will emerge, or old ones will be rekindled. Thank you for your thoughtfulness, I always love reading your wisdom in these comments.

  9. x.w

    Hi Thomas,
    I totally agree that it is very sad that we cannot have close friends living close to us. I want to share my friendship with my most trusted friend with you. We were friends in college, but we got closer and closer during years after graduation. Now it’s been 11 years after college, I am pretty sure she is the best friend, and best sister I could ever have in my life. But during the post-college years we only had met 2 times. We had both studies abroad, and living far away from each other. Now we are both back in China, we decided to plan holidays carefully and in advance, hoping we can at least met once a year or at least once every 2 years.
    We used to write super long emails, and phone each other. Thanks to wifi and smart phones, it’s easier now, haha. Due to different schedules, we still don’t call very other, but I test her every day. And we constantly share things we like on Instagram, etc. I also use voice messages a lot to talk about important things — it’s useful when I have a lot to say, but of course it’s not as good as phone call. But it could be fun 🙂
    Another great friend who has just moved to Japan for work. We talk through video calls each month. It’s like our little challenge, or tradition: if we can’t meet in person once a month, try talk each month. In fact it’s not easy to do, but so far the tradition is in practice 🙂 I hope you can keep in touch with your best friends and your loved ones. And I promise I will check in here whenever I have chance.
    Cheers!
    Xin

  10. Friends moving away can be hard, especially if you’ve been close to them like how you were close to A. Maybe you and A will keep in touch and meet up somewhere with time. ‘No relationship is forever’. This is true as you say, people move on or pass away… But I do like to think that relationships, be it a friendship or romantic one, can make us happy. With any kind of relationship, I do expect honesty and trust – without that, you can’t count on the other person. And also the person being there for you. It’s a great feeling to want to be wanted by someone else and someone to fall back on.

  11. Pingback: The State of Friendship Affairs | the quiet voice

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