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
Latest posts by Jen Foster (see all)