When I moved from Washington state to California with a six week warning, among the hardest people to tell were my closest friends. We’d come of age side by side. They were there when I struggled with sadness, when I drank too much, when I met and married my husband, when I birthed my babies. They listened when I changed my mind, when I got lost, when I found meaning.
I couldn’t say the words aloud, so I wrote it in a card that I asked the birthday girl to read aloud. We sat at the fancy restaurant and we cried, tears dripping into our fondue, hearts breaking and broken. Our kids, born and unborn, were supposed to grow up together.
I knew our friendships would change, but I was more sure of their strength, their unbreakable nature. Our connection, our love, transcended time and place. This is the value inherent to true-blue friendship. Once you find and cultivate and invest in it, you have a friend for life. You will drift in and out of closeness, but nothing can change the foundation of what you’ve built together. When I visit my hometown of Seattle, I see my friends. And though I do not see every friend on every visit, our friendships endure. We take advantage of technology to stay in touch, we tend to our friendship in spite of the space that divides us.
As I moved to San Francisco, I did not worry about making a new batch of friends. Yet it only took a few months to learn that it didn’t matter how many friends I had scattered around the country, even the globe, I needed friends nearby. Friends to meet for dinner and at the playground. Friends to hug and invite to impromptu parties and sing karaoke with and dance with and cry to, in the flesh. Without friends, we struggle to belong where we are. Before I made friends in this city, I felt like an outsider.
With full lives, jobs and passions and kids and partners, prioritizing our friends can pose a challenge. We have no formal obligation to them, unlike our landlords and children’s schools. But the benefits we receive from friendship are not optional. Long-term friendships contribute to happiness more than anything else. People with close friends live longer. Though science has quantified the benefits of friendship, the reasons to make friends and maintain these relationships cannot be quantified. Friends are simply the sweetness of life.
The icing on the cake is the circle as it grows. Though we have limited space for daily interactions, the universe gives us as many friends as we can love. In order to keep them as we move through life, we must recognize and appreciate each friendship for its idiosyncratic essence; we must never expect a friend to be a savior, nor can we dwell on the chasm of space that inevitably lies between us. Friends will never be there for everything, nor can they know everything about us. We can draw strength from our connections without expecting them to carry us. We can be far in body yet close in spirit.
While I continue to miss many of my longtime friends, the friends I’ve made in my new city reflect the cutting edge of my current values. They echo my heart and inspire me daily. When I think of the friends I still have yet to meet, the faces I have yet to know, the voices I have yet to love, I am enlivened. Friends open doors, inside and outside of us. A good friend helps us to become more fully alive and more completely our unique selves by holding space for our greatest good. No matter the medium of the friendship, whether its the past or the internet, this city or the next state over, friendship gives back what we put it into it.