Friends for a Season

Friends for a Season - The MudroomI see them smiling together on Facebook, their photos gleefully captioned “Mom’s Night Out!” as they escape their kids for wine and pedicures. They comment on each other’s throwback Thursday pics, poking gentle fun at the teased bangs one had peeking out from under her graduation cap. I imagine they wore the matching heart necklaces in middle school – BE FRI on one half of the heart, ST ENDS on the other. They’ve been besties as long as I’ve known them, as close as sisters for most of their lives.

And I’m jealous.

I envy their shared histories. I envy the way they have managed to grow as friends, navigating the separation of college, the rock-your-world transitions into married life and parenthood. I’ve had intimately close friends throughout my life. But the faces of those close friends shift and change across the years.

My childhood bestie and I had matching Cabbage Patch dolls and were as comfortable sleeping over in each other’s houses as we were in our own. But we went to different schools, and despite summers lounging together at the pool, eventually we drifted apart. We still keep up on social media. I run into her mom now and then, and we smile at the fact that it’s our turn driving the carpool line, watching daughters of our own giggle in the backseat. If we went out for drinks and pedis, we’d surely laugh about the old days, attempt to catch up. But I suspect we’d soon run out of things to say, our current lives many miles apart.

In college, I found, for the first time, a circle of friends who were all friends with one another. This little dorm community was formed through the intensity of being on our own for the first time, away from the supportive safety nets of high school pals and first loves. We became fast friends, connecting over shared struggles in Chemistry 101 and failed efforts find romantic chemistry with the boys down the hall. We bonded through bouts of homesickness and bad dining hall food. We wrote letters, paper letters, that first summer apart. But when we came back together as sophomores, still living in adjacent rooms, it wasn’t quite the same. We began to grow in different directions, distracted by sororities and heavier academic loads and boys. I loved these girls fiercely and wholeheartedly in those early college days. And outside of the Christmas cards we still exchange, I’ve not talked to any of them in nearly a decade.

As an adult, two women came into my life and promptly became my best grown up friends. They showed up at the hospital with milkshakes in hand when I had my babies. They cleaned out my fridge when my toddler’s hospital visit stretched from days to months. Theirs were the shoulders I sobbed on when I lost my mom. But they were also besties for the non-crisis moments: the Friday night crafting dates, the ones I’d text when I couldn’t decide what to wear. I called them my chosen sisters; still do, actually.

Lately, though, I feel the closeness waning. We try to meet for coffee, and the first date we’re free is 6 months out. We pass each other in the church hallway, but the conversation rarely makes it past “I’m good, busy as ever! We should get together!”  I see us slipping from sisterhood into mere acquaintances, and I feel powerless to stop it. I could list a hundred reasons why it’s hard to remain close. They work full time while I’m home with tinies during the day. The older our kids get, the more time we spend schlepping them to swim team and soccer practice. It’s easier to hang with preschool moms whose schedules line up neatly with mine. Lame excuses, of course. But I default to them when I can’t explain the patterns of our friendship shifting.

Looking back, I see that the moments when my friendships were close emotionally are the same as those when we’re close physically.  My childhood best friend and I were closest when we could walk around the corner to play together. When my college friends weren’t spending as much time in the dorm, we grew apart. Friendship is intertwined with proximity, of course; shared time is the heart of human relationships. But I refuse to believe that I can only remain close with people I see every single day.

Why do I keep losing touch with people I love dearly? I see myself as someone who takes time to invest in important relationships. I pop off a quick text to say “This made me think of you.” I try to squeeze time for coffee in an already overloaded schedule. I pray for them. I wonder, though, if I’m making the wrong kinds of efforts to sustain friendship. Do I need to be better with birthdays? Set unbreakable standing coffee dates? Call instead of text? Could those simple efforts stop the slide with my chosen sisters?

I wonder, though, if I’m doing something unintentionally to push friends away. Maybe I’ve only got so much bandwidth for friends. It hurts to think that time spent building new relationships erodes time for old friends; both deserve my attention, my heart. Perhaps the efforts I think I’m making to sustain a relationship are only halfhearted. I try to accept the fact that relationships come and go and change, that some friendships are strong only for a season. But in my heart, I will always wonder what I might have done differently.

So I pull out my calendar. In red pen, I write “Coffee with Chosen Sisters,” circling a Tuesday evening six months out. It feels a little futile, like it might already be too late to restore that sense of sisterhood. But having seen the pattern of close friends slipping away, I long to know that I made the effort, that I showed these women how much they matter to me. I’m torn between a sense of resignation that friendships change and a desire to change together.

I wish I knew the secret to making it last.

Image courtesy of the author.

Jen Foster
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12 thoughts on “Friends for a Season

  1. Thank you for this. I have moved many times in my adult life and when I have stayed in the same place my closest friends have been the ones to move on. I’ve found it really hard to make new friends since becoming a mom. I am thankful for all the women I have been close with, but I understand the longing for someone to pass through life with not just be close with for a short season. I’ve even considered moving to another country to be nearer some of my dearest friends!

    • Moving to another country?! Now that’s loyalty! Making new friends as a mom is definitely tough.

  2. This is an inner conversation I have with myself frequently. The answer is always the same: it’s not easy and it takes work, intentionality. It’s not at all like a scripted 30-minute comedy show. If only…..Circle that 6 months from now date in thick red and know that it’s worth it. The waiting and longing and changing and growing is worth that every few months you have face to face. To make it worse for me…I don’t drink coffee or wine! 😉 Don’t lose heart Jen.

  3. I understand this and something I have struggled with. I’m single, no kids, and I have watched as friends have moved on. Marriage, children…etc. I struggle more with some friends thinking once they are married they have to let go of the single friends. But after being separated for 15 yrs my childhood best friend and I have reconnected. It as if we were never apart, even though we live in different states. SHe’s married and the mother of 3 and we are both making sure we take time out of schedules to skype each week.

    • What a wonderful story – glad to hear that reconnecting with your childhood best friend was a positive experience for you! It’s especially hard when you’re in different places in your lives. Some things are worth fighting for.

  4. As Deb said, it takes intentionality. There have been many friends that have been so precious and yet when we weren’t in the same community the closeness waned. But there are the wonderful relationships that have stood the test of time. A group of six who began to meet monthly for adventure and catching up when a church situation scattered us. Thirty years of life have separated us more and now we meet yearly for sure as a group and keep in touch with email and coffee dates with two or three when possible. The interesting thing is that these were not originally my closest friends, but they did join me in intentionally pursuing relationship over the yesrs and now we have something not easily replaced. I spent yesterday with another friend. We met 40 years ago when we were young teachers. We were housemates and great friends. She got married and had a family; I remained single for many years and longed for children. Through the years our contact has waxed and waned, but the deep love and care we have for each other is constant. All it takes is for one of us to lift the phone or write and meaningful contact is reestablished.

    • “Through the years our contact has waxed and waned, but the deep love and care we have for each other is constant.” This so eloquently says what I was aiming for! I’m in a place of waning at the moment and want to resume genuine closeness. But the love I have for each of these friends is unchanging.

  5. This. This right here resonates with me and my longing to stay in touch with everyone. I have seasonal friends and lifetime friends. However the seasonal friends still hold a place in my heart forever, even if I don’t see them in forever. And then there is grief. Grieving that takes place for the lost friendship and learning to accept what is the new norm with that friendship. But maybe that’s where lifetime friendship comes from. Making the effort for grieving, accepting and being vulnerable to the ‘new’ friendship. Love this Jen. I will have coffee with you!!!

    • Thanks, Rochelle! It’s a complicated thing, finding acceptance of the change and wanting things to stay the same. We should certainly have coffee sometime!

  6. This touches my heart. I knew others felt the way I do about this, but it is so comforting to hear that from someone who captures how this feels so eloquently. I know my friends love me, but so often I feel I am the only one who ever does the reaching out, but I continue to try because I love these women and I want to share and be with them – good times and bad. Never enough time and busy schedules seem like a cop-out but I will keep trying because it is love it is connection it is so important to me. I do have one group of friends I worked with 25 years ago and we meet monthly for dinner but sometimes I miss having the intimacy of a best friend.

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