Living in three different states over the course of four years is a revelation in many ways. The experience shines a light on the people in our lives, on those who choose to stay… and on those who don’t.
Proximity makes most relationships much easier. There are no miles to traverse, no time zones to maneuver. Stopping next door for a cup of post-school-drop-off coffee is so much simpler than sending a card or a handwritten note, or scheduling a Skype call, or catching someone on the phone in the midst of her busy day.
My kids, too, have been forced into figuring out who’s willing to make an effort to be a part of their lives (and vice versa). Mary Claire and I have talked about it many times. She’ll ask, “Have you heard from so-and-so? What ever happened to her? Why isn’t she calling? Why aren’t you calling her?” And the answers aren’t always simple and straightforward.
As sad and confusing as losing a friend can be — no matter the circumstances – I remind my girl that this unexpected grief can often be a delayed gift. Sometimes, we find a better version of ourselves when our view changes. And when a relationship is no longer serving both parties, it’s time to move forward.
New friendships are often doused in the glow of a stage spotlight, where everything feels exciting and bright and white-hot. But that intensity is difficult — if not impossible — to maintain, and eventually we have to settle ourselves into the every day. That’s where the lasting bonds are formed; that’s where commitment takes hold.
There are shooting star friendships, the ones that take your breath away, that unexpectedly light up your life… and then fade out into the night. And you’re left wondering, Did that wonderful, beautiful thing just happen? And why did it have to end when I’d just taken notice of how magical it was?
Some friendships take a meteoric path — racing through our lives with excitement and intensity, for months, years, decades — only to land in a cataclysmic explosion. You’re left in the rubble then, sifting through the pieces, choosing to keep the brightest, shiniest parts in a protected corner of your heart, leaving the charred and broken remains behind.
And then there are our North Star friendships. They stay in our lives, steady, constant. Sometimes we can’t see them because there are clouds or thunderstorms rolling through, but those weather phenomena pass and our North Star friends remain. They wrap you in their love and lift you with their far-away voices and hug you when they are able. They know you — all of you — and love you both because of and despite.
No matter the geography, here are the things you should both provide for and expect from a true friend:
Love, laughter, grace, fun, forgiveness, kindness, honesty, authenticity, support, a soft landing, the benefit of the doubt.
And here’s what you should never accept from or bring to a relationship:
Judgment, comparison, jealousy, sabotage, lies, assumptions, dependency, accusations, responsibility for her emotional well-being.
Having experienced all different kinds of friendships, I can say this to my girl: Some will fill you up, some will soothe your soul, some will suck you dry, some will break you in half… and sometimes, all that will happen within a single relationship. But every friendship leaves you different — and hopefully better — than you were before, if you choose to embrace the lessons.
We learn the most about ourselves, not in solitude, but from others. Every relationship has something to teach us. We get the good and the bad and the in-between, and we get to figure out how to separate the wheat from the chaff, how to hold on to what sustains and enlightens, how to let go of the petty and bitter parts of ourselves to make room for something more beautiful and outward-focused.
We also get to separate those who lift us from those who anchor. It is a great, generous gift to ourselves and to others to learn this special skill. Because at the end of the day, a relationship has to be mutually beneficial. It is a give and take, a push and pull, a lift and be lifted kind of adventure.
Don’t be anchored.
Don’t be the anchor.
If you both choose to remain in a relationship, remember this: Friendship is a two-way street. It won’t always play out just the way you want it to. That’s why is so vital to communicate openly, to love unconditionally, to make no assumptions. If you’ve been hurt, say so. Chances are, she might not even know. If you’ve hurt, apologize.
It’s also important to avoid hyper-sensitivity and the trap of self-centeredness. That phone call or text your friend didn’t return? The one that feels like it’s all about you? It probably has nothing to do with you and everything to do with her life, her commitments, her own overwhelm.
Offer grace. Don’t keep score. Give her a chance to decide if she wants to be a part of your life before you walk away. But if you need to close the door, it’s okay. Just don’t slam it in haste or anger or in the midst of a misunderstanding.
No friendship will ever be perfect. Why? Because you two are not the same. Your hopes, fears, experiences, expectations — they’re all unique and viewed through individual lenses. But the best friendships respect and honor those differences rather than using them as weapons of destruction.
And those North Stars? The ones who remain steady through the thunder and the tornados and the snow squalls? The ones who are ever-present even though many miles may separate you? They make everything worth the struggle.
Be a North Star, my love.
Find your own North Stars.
Nurture them. Protect them.
They will always guide you home.
~ ~ ~
Read more about women’s friendships in the HerStories anthology, “My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends” (pub date: September 15, 2014). You can pre-order an e-book version at Amazon.com.