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Friendship for a Season
In the ebbs and flows of life, it's ok to accept that some friendships are not forever
In Accepting the Unexpected, I step away from writing about travel to comment on the bigger journey of life. While the topics may vary, the central theme is always the same: living life means learning to deal with the unexpected.
The summer between my seventh and eighth grade year, my family took a vacation back east from Wyoming to visit family and friends in Michigan and Illinois. I couldn’t wait. After two years of exile in the desolate wastelands of central Wyoming (because I still hadn’t opened my eyes to the true beauty of the Rocky Mountains), I would finally get to see the friends I had left behind in northern Illinois and Detroit. In my adolescent mind, my friends had missed me as much as I missed them, and they looked forward to my visit with the same level of anticipation that I felt.
It would be my first harsh lesson in the ever-changing nature of friendship.
Were my friends in both places excited to see me? Yes. Did I have fun with sleepovers and a trip to a waterpark? Yes. But did I have the same place in their lives as I had before I had moved away? Decidedly, no.
It is a lesson I would learn through several more moves through adolescence and then adulthood. Friendships change as we and the world around us changes. It is neither inherently good or bad, but it can be painful to discover that others have moved on while we are still clinging to the past or our needs in the moment.
My best friend in high school became my best friend because of both proximity and shared experience. Our dads both worked for the same church, we lived two blocks away from each other, and we were only a year apart in age. We went to the same church, we were both avid readers and top students, we knew almost all of the same people, and we connected on multiple levels. Sure, in many ways we were complete opposites. I was boy crazy; she didn’t really want her first boyfriend until she was nearly graduated from high school. I used track to hold onto athletics for a little longer while she avoided most sports. I harbored a secret desire to rebel and found ways to use more colorful language outside of her presence, while she was the perfect example of what a pastor’s daughter should be.
But she was my best friend, and nothing was going to get in the way of that.
Except my family moved 1000 miles away, partly because of issues at the church we had attended together for four years. And my friend committed suicide, although she did know him because of our mutual friend groups. And I met a boy she didn’t think was good for me, but I stuck it out and married him. And we attended different colleges, although both were connected to the same faith tradition. And I went to Europe for a full semester and had my whole world opened up to me in ways that she didn’t experience in her short trip across the pond with a roommate.
By the time we were in our 20s, we were different versions of ourselves, not better or worse, just different. And we no longer knew how to relate to each other. Honestly, there are a lot of things I could have done better to preserve our friendship, but I wouldn’t even know where to start over again.
It’s just one of many friendship casualties over the years, and probably one of the more painful ones, but that is just part of being human.
There are friends who I’m pretty sure I could go years without seeing and we would be able to pick up right where we left off, the challenges and changes in our lives running parallel courses that allow us to reconnect with ease. These are the friendships that make me thankful for social media, because I have been able to see these friends grow in their careers, marriages, and families. I appreciate the online connection that allows us to see glimpses into each other’s lives, with occasional messages that say, “Hi” and “I’m thinking of you” on those days when we decide to forgo polite speech for the sake of honesty.
There are past friends who positively impacted my live in the moment, but the connection is broken. If we were to see each other again, our conversations would be as shallow and fast as a creek in spring. It doesn’t cheapen the experiences that we shared during the years when we were most important to each other, but life moves on. Of course, that doesn’t make it any less painful for any of us, which became pretty clear when I asked about friendships for a season on Twitter.
I struggle with change, a point that becomes pretty clear to anyone who reads my latest book. But one of the reasons I struggle with change is because of how many times I’ve felt left behind by others when my life has changed because of circumstances outside of my control. It is human nature to move on with our own lives. We have to because we have our own selves and families to look out for. Should we care about the friends who life has left behind? Yes! Should we check in on them? Yes, but that doesn’t mean that we can expect and demand that from others all the time.
But friendships matter and finding our villages is what helps us both survive and thrive. Friendships may change. Friends may not be able to stick with us through hard times because they are in the middle of their own troubles, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. It just means that in that moment, they can’t be the people we need.
For the lucky ones, there are the “ride and die” friends. The friends who are willing to sit with us. There are the friends who will support us through the worst shit. The friendships that extend beyond a season are those where they don’t just encourage you from the sidelines; they are willing to have their own worlds transformed by witnessing your navigation of the worst that life throws at you. They are the ones who start to rethink everything that they thought they knew about health care when they watch you struggle with health issues that are outside of your control. They are the ones who reconsider everything they thought they believed about marriage and divorce after holding your hand as you recounted the events that caused your own marriage to fall apart. They are the ones who are willing to reinvestigate their own understanding of faith and spirituality after watching you suffer abuse at the hands of your mutual religious community.
So while I struggle with the reality that some friendships are only for a season, I’m thankful for the ones that have lasted across many changes and seasons over the years. Because those are the relationships that keep me going on even my worst days.
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