This post is part of a series of tandem posts that my friend Ammie and I are writing together. The theme for this installment is long-distance friendship. Ammie’s post can be found here. Enjoy!
Few things can change a friendship as dramatically as distance. For me, it feels a little like pulling the petals off of a flower and flinging them into the wind, then watching as they float away from each other, once part of a whole and now forced to fend for themselves. It is heartbreaking when a short-distance friendship becomes a long-distance one.
I’ve survived that transition at least three major times and countless minor times. But I can’t say all my friendships have survived. I suppose a certain amount of drift in friendship is not unusual, as interests and obligations pull us all in different directions. Drift is the easy way out, the no-effort answer to a friendship that has suddenly become much more difficult to maintain. But drift is lonely and sad and a little scary, too. How am I to know the difference between giving someone their space and freedom versus letting them drift away without even so much as a good-bye?
I try to gauge my long-distance efforts by reciprocity. I am willing to work for friendship because I know how precious those connections are. I am not willing, however, to be a force of nature that carries the burden of friendship on my back. I need my friends to call me back, write to me, tell me they want to see me whenever we can arrange a visit. I need to know they are thinking about me and missing me. I need to know they care.
All this neediness can make a person feel rather vulnerable, but I believe something that I came across a while ago: without vulnerability, there is no intimacy. I cannot tell you how deeply this idea resonated with me when I first read it. Without vulnerability, there is no intimacy. In my world, friendship is an emotional intimacy with another person. In the moments when I’ve been able to really embrace the scary process of opening up to someone, I could almost see our friendship blossoming. It was such a powerful, exhilarating feeling—few feelings come even close to the magic of those moments.
But distance, while very challenging, is not as bad as it seems at first. Distance is like a puzzle or an enigmatic poem whose meaning must be decoded. Though I am, right now, in a phase of missing Matt more than I would like, the distance between us heightens the romance in our relationship. It makes me more aware of his absence and his presence, and as a result, I am more grateful for both.
I’m also very grateful for all the efforts that Ammie has put into our long-distance friendship. This is a woman who, in the recent past, has declared that she has too many friends. Her social life is almost a full-time job to the point where she has to schedule time for herself to just chill, alone, at home. So I know that when she makes time for me, it really is making time. Our friendship resembles a little tiny bank where we both make deposits of love and time, hope and good cheer, knowing that the other will see these deposits and feel like she just opened a treasure chest.
I suppose that’s what it’s all about: treasuring what you have. It’s the great irony of love that the only thing we can do with it is give it away. Love cannot be saved, it can’t be bought or sold—it won’t even get you a free lunch. But we can give it away, hearts eager and cell phones at the ready, arms open and plane tickets reserved. Just like flower petals, I throw my heart into the wind and know that somewhere, a friend will catch it and we’ll be reminded all over again why we choose to stay in each other’s lives. At any given moment, long distance is a temporary condition, and it’s only the love that we can try to make permanent.