For those of you who don’t know, I went to one school for eleven years. Then, last year, I switched to a different school, where everyone else had already been for nine years. I also have gone to a few different, fairly intense, intellectual summer programs, and I’m in a youth group that spans the continent. This means that I’ve developed a lot of very different types of friendships.
I attended the same school from preschool through eighth grade, when it ended. My oldest friends are pretty much all from this school. This is the group of people who has seen me at my absolute weird, wacky and nerdy best. They’ve been there for everything—that time I believed I was a fairy, that day when I wore a purple butterfly dress to picture day, my bossy streak and my book obsession. When I hang out with these people, at school reunions, or just for fun, we don’t need even a second to fall back into our old dynamics. We understand each other no matter what, even if we don’t keep in touch as well as we probably should.
That collection of people also includes a subset. I was at that school for eleven years, which is a pretty long time. People came and went. So there are the people who came later, but became close friends nonetheless. One of my best friends in the entire world, I have only known for three years. But she has seen the nerdiest side of me I have to offer, and is one of very few people who has ever dealt with the full extent of “Loopy Maxxe”, aka me at 2am. She lives in California now, but we still call, text, and Facebook chat each other almost daily. We have the best Snapchat conversations this world has ever known.
My “group” of friends at my new school (not so new anymore, ha-HA I’M NOT A NEW KID ANYMORE) is different. They have all been friends with each other for a very long time. Opinions and biases have already been in place for a very long time, and when I showed up, I was a wild card. Somehow, through sports, classes, and some very lucky happenstance (the people I knew going in, the people I met on the first day, and my current group of friends are all the same people), I found a solid group of people on whom I can rely. They’re awesome—about as crazy as I am, if not crazier. Also they make me laugh, which is always a good thing.
And then you get my long-distance friends. These friendships come from all over the place. Debate. Camp. Awesome summer programs. See subset of type one. But whatever. Long-distance is even just across town, when you’ve gone to school with someone all your life. These are the people who I have to make an active effort to remain close with, because our schedules DO NOT EVER match up. Most of us are stuck on opposite sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. Many have religious obligations to not use the phone on weekends. They are mostly in different youth groups than mine. Facebook and email have been really, really useful in keeping these friendships alive. Also, cell phones. Never underestimate the power of a really long, really good phone call with someone who cares about you.
I started thinking about this because I was at a picnic. It wasn’t an ordinary picnic, or else it wouldn’t have sparked a blog post. My old school, the one that I call home because I spent a lot of hours there every day for a lot of years, hosts a Family Picnic every year. In all of the years that my family has been connected with that school, I have only missed one or two of these picnics, even as an alum. This pas week’s was no exception—I showed up, and some of my friends and fellow alums did too. We connected easily, chatting with teachers and with each other as though we had never left.
But there was a very melancholy element to this dynamic. We were overly cheerful. Overly huggy. There were only four or five of us, instead of the nine or ten present last year. The teachers with whom we were talking represented only a small fraction of those who had actually taught us. The rest have since moved on, and are raising their own children, or teaching in different states, or different countries.
And we’ve changed, too. Most of us became friends through policy debate. Now almost all of us have quit. We used to talk every day, and read the same books. We used to play the same board games, and hang out on the weekends. We don’t really do any of that anymore. Some of us barely even talk.
I don’t think I understood how disconnected I am from these people until that picnic rolled around. We were joking, talking, and acting like everything was normal… but it wasn’t. I then had a long phone call with my close friend from a summer program (it was her birthday), and I realized that I had only known her for six weeks, and she’s still one of the best friends I have, and even though I don’t see her, and she lives more than three states north of me, I’m more connected with her than I am with some of the people who live in my own city. That friend of mine who lives in California? When we hang out over Google Hangouts, or when we send ridiculous Snapchats back and forth at 1:30am, it doesn’t ever feel forced. And that’s because we make a point of communication. My preschool best friend, with whom I’m still close? We have never gone more than two weeks without a conversation, a check-in, a “How are you? What’s new?”
Because really, that’s how friendships survive, regardless of distance and time.
You keep talking. Even more importantly, you keep listening.
The friendship cannot remain reliant on old jokes from seventh grade. It cannot cling to the same people and the same dynamics. It just doesn’t work that way. The people from the odd groups have to mingle together. New jokes have to form.
No gathering of close friends should ever feel forced. The most comfortable reunions, the ones that make me feel warm and fuzzy and good about the world, those are the ones that don’t feel like reunions. They just feel like good friends, hanging out.
No matter where they come from, your friends are the people who drive you crazy have the time, but when it’s really important, they keep you sane. They’re the ones who keep you off the ledge. They’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, and they’ve all seen different sides of it.
(This picture describes my friendship with many of my close friends. I’m shorter than most of them, and also I make faces at them a lot. They seem to find this entertaining. The result is rather similar to this little Smaug-like dragon.)
Some of them will slip away. It’s painful, but it’s true. Some people drift, and when it is no longer convenient to be friends, they will not make the effort, no matter how hard you try. It’s a two-way bridge, and if only one of you is working for a friendship, it’s probably not going to last.
But the true friends, the ones who you can call at any hour of the night, and even if they won’t answer right away, they will call you back, the ones who will fuss at your family because you all might be adopted into each other’s houses anyway, the ones who love you for your weird, wacky, wonderful 2am-and-exhausted self, and also your slightly angry and screamy 11pm stressed out self? Those are the ones you hold on to. You hold on tight, because they’re holding on even tighter.