the ones you least expect: on friendship + the challenges geography brings

broadway lafayette

Over text the other day one of my closest friends tells me there was a time when I pushed her away and she took the hint and stayed away. I tell her I don’t recall this, although much of the years I spent working at an agency were a blur of anxiety and boundaries crossed. If you would’ve asked five years ago if this friend (Amber) would be one of my closest I would’ve dismissed you. Not because she wasn’t kind, smart or fun to be around–my friend is all these things–but because I never expected it. You have an idea of who’s going to be in your life and you’re often surprised. The first, for most, comes when you graduate high school and you realize most of your childhood ties you aren’t so binding. Then college, and the first few years of your adult life, and then marriage, children, geography–all of these things shift the ground beneath your feet and you find that you have to hold on to the grasp to stop yourself from slipping.

There was a time in my life (late 20s/early 30s) when I wasn’t a particularly kind person. I have a stockpile of reasons for this, none of which are particularly interesting, and cost me years and dollars in therapy to resolve. I remember the feeling of having dozens of numbers in your phone book but no one I could really call. So over the past decade I’ve resolved to be present, to listen–to be a better friend, the kind of friend I want to have. And this is not to say that this resolve comes unblemished because I’m human, fallible, blah, blah, blah, but when I left New York this year I felt as if I had a foundation. I collected a motley lot of strange, wonderful, brilliant people and we would endure the challenges that geography brings. We wouldn’t have the kind of passive friendships that only require a quick scroll and a read. Oh, I know how she’s doing; she posted that photo on Facebook! I don’t need to make an effort, do the work. No, I thought. We wouldn’t be this until we were this, and there’s that.

When I first moved to Los Angeles I met an east coast transplant who’s lived here for two years, but only until recently she felt comfortable calling L.A. an adopted home. I remember that first week when I was jubilant, high off the weather, physical space (no more crowded subways! no one booking one-way tickets to my sternum, etc), and vernacular, and my new friend shook her head and told me that I was in for a big awakening. After the new car smell wears off, you’ll start to see the people who are unencumbered by distance. And I’ll tell you, she said, it’s never who you think it’ll be.

It took me four months to realize she was right.

I’m seeing a psychiatrist, and while I won’t talk about the specific goings-on of my offline life, I will say that I’m working on dealing with loss. It only occurred to me that I suffered a lot of losses this year–most were good and necessary, others were surprising and heartbreaking–and I was too busy, too focused on my move out west, to deal with them. I would just consider the loss at the time, say, oh, this thing is happening, and move on. And then I moved here and things got quiet, really quiet, and the losses stockpiled and smothered. Individually, they could have been managed, but collectively they were the equivalent of an emotional monsoon. Think of it as if you’re running the longest marathon you can imagine and you only feel a portion of the pain while you’re in the thick of it, but after, the days after, whoa, you are bedridden.

Through all of this, it’s been interesting to see who’s remained on the sidelines, demonstrably silent, while others emerge, become omnipresent. And like my friend warned, it wasn’t who I expected. My friend Amber and I text nearly every day and Facetime a few times a week. Yesterday I asked her if supermarkets in New York had aisles of wine–I couldn’t remember–because every market in L.A. offers a sommelier on-demand. We talk about our days, but mostly I know she wants to check in, to see how I am, because she cares and she can take the dark bits with the good. My friend Liz, whom I’ve known for half my life, is an incredible mother, brilliant lawyer and devoted wife, but she still makes an effort to call me on her drive home, and now that she has an iPhone (finally!), we can iMessage with ease. When I was in college I never anticipated that Liz and I would be as close as are for as long as we have. We’ve endured distance, marriage, children, my multiple addictions and emotional instability and frenetic careers–but we still fall into that comfort we had when we were 19 and wearing flannels and bad baseball caps. Sometimes I miss how we were then–how we’d walk around campus in the dark and ride the train into the city, feverish over the night’s possibility, or studying for finals in our pajamas while watching 90210. But it’s also wonderful to witness how we’ve grown as women. In so many ways Liz and I are completely antithetical, but our friendship works and I never expected it would, but I’m grateful it has. Same with Amber. We were always friendly, always enjoying our banter, but it wasn’t until we took an interesting holiday together did we become close.

The past year I’ve seen cracks in the fault and efforts at repair. I’ve seen those whom I thought were essential in my life drift or disappear altogether. At the same time, I’ve seen new friends enter the frame, and although I’m trying to reconcile the losses, I can’t help but feel privileged for the slow and mounting gains.

I love the saying “play it as it lays”, and I’m trying to be present for all the change. I’m trying to accept that geography plays a powerful role in who’s in your life and who isn’t, and this isn’t about anger, it’s frankly about reality. And although it’s challenging for me to make new friends I’m trying. And that’s all I can do for now–the work.

14 thoughts on “the ones you least expect: on friendship + the challenges geography brings

  1. I’ve moved nearly 15 times. Never planned to do that, but it has resulted in the kind of geographic displacement of friendship that you describe. Even some of the really good friendships, the ones that hung on for many years, finally dissipated in the end because of distance. Starting over locally is a hard and painstaking process, and once you get to a certain point (children, job, etc.) you don’t have a lot of time for it.

    “It’s not about anger, it’s about reality.” Well said. And isn’t it interesting who sifts out at the bottom after all the seismic shifting takes place.

    Also- grieving of this kind is not acknowledged for us culturally. We have rituals for death, but not of these quiet losses.

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  2. Felicia, I’m coming from a different set of experiences that involve haunting loss, and although I have a friend who is a recovering addict, I know not to presume I understand anything about another’s pain and struggle. So I know I can’t say anything to ease your or even my own soul wrenching pains. Except maybe that I discovered how the wonder and promise in life isn’t fixed and static. Every single minute is new. This little thought, fact, is somehow freeing. Keep on writing! I admire that you share what you share.

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    1. You’re absolutely right, and I appreciate your thoughtful, caring words. I’m actually coming out of that dark place (I hope I don’t sound bleak in this post as that wasn’t my intention), and I have to keep reminding myself that part of the wonder exists in the space within this ebb + flow.

      Warmly, f.

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      1. I think I recognized someone with a lot of feeling, and without desire for judgment or platitudes, reaching out. I definitely didn’t read bleak <:3 Sandra

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  3. I totally get what you mean. I’m also at a loss over friendships I’ve lost and I keep wondering why. What plays? And am I a bad friend? Is it my fault these friendships, that I thought would last a lifetime, dissipate? Thanks for sharing.

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