I have the bad habit of moving away from the people I really want to be around. After traveling, graduating from college and moving across the country, I’ve left behind pockets of deep friendships in Chicago, Des Moines and London, and those people who were once cozy accessories to my daily life have become my long-distance friends.
I studied in London for four months last spring—too long to be a tourist and too short to be a resident. Regardless, I wanted an authentic experience. I wanted to leave with a real British accent and real British friends. There was a church across the street from our hotel, and every four months a new group of Americans would come through the church doors looking for community. Then they would leave to go back home. My friend Antony was catching on to this cycle and stamped “temporary” on my forehead.
After suggesting he come on some adventure I planned, he told me we shouldn’t become good friends because I was leaving soon. I fought back and whined a bit, saying that wasn’t fair. At what point do you decide you’ll have enough time to develop a good friendship with someone? How do you know if a person will be worth the risk of investing in them?
Later that week, he said he agreed with me, and we became ridiculously good friends. Then I left to go back to Iowa. We’ve talked a handful of times in the past year. That’s when the tension comes in. I developed these amazing friendships and connections and then moved away from them. I’m emailing and hoping to hear back instead of hanging out at a pub or meeting up at church. I’m writing letters saying that I’m not sure what to write, but that I miss them and I’m praying for them. What do you do with a friendship that is removed from your daily life, especially when it was founded there, in the everyday things? What should you expect out of the rearrangement of these friendships? There seems to be two options:
Option 1: Remain Hopeful
Being separated could potentially be very easy. I have a handful of friends who I won’t talk to for months, and then I’ll see them or get a phone call, and there’s an instant connection. We don’t have to explain ourselves; we just pick up where we left off. This is not the standard, though. A recent conversation filled with awkward silences isn’t a sign that you should give up. You can keep writing, calling, praying and adjusting with the changes. Expect different things out of the friendship and broaden your scope. You may not be so concerned with planning your outfit or a Friday night with each other, but the distance will give you a chance to talk about bigger issues. It’s especially a chance to encourage each other with the different ways God is working in your separate lives. There is a learning curve to developing a long-distance friendship. Things might be weird at the beginning, but if you’re intentional about the friendship, it will show, and good things will come out of it. I promise.
Option 2: Let Go
I was on a missions trip a few years ago, and when it was time to say goodbye, we tacked on the phrase: “If I don’t see you soon, I’ll see you in heaven.” It seemed to make it OK that as great as these people were, I may never see them again. Most of the time, though, I remember that phrase and think it’s dumb. I’d rather see the friends I miss the most right now. Sometimes when you move away from a friendship, it loses its context, and trying to hold on won’t do much good. You’ll be holding on to something that isn’t there. The best thing may be to remember the friendship for what it was—was being the keyword—and move on. I’m trying to give myself this advice because I still don’t get this and don’t like the grieving process of losing friends, especially when I know we could still be talking. In my dream world I would handpick my neighbors, coworkers and classmates so I would never have to miss anyone again. I realize this isn’t going to happen and that I will have friends who fall off the face of the earth. I’ve fallen off a few times myself.
At Girl Scout Camp when I was 10 years old, we would sing: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.” There was no mention of an Option 1 or 2, no advice on the impossibility of keeping in touch with all those people or learning to have a long-distance friendship. But as simple as the song may be, it might be right. Don’t become so tangled up in the pain or complications of old friendships that you stop making new ones. I still think I was right in what I told Antony last spring. We don’t know what’s in store for us, and that should make us more open to the possibilities than closed off to things that seem only temporary. Wonderful and complicated friendships are waiting.