Calling All Friends
It was the first day of college orientation. I sat in the basement of the all-girl dorm to which I had been assigned, listening to the RAs drone on about policies. My eyes scanned the crowd and quickly connected with a tiny brunette. She immediately felt familiar. In her eyes, I saw what I was feeling: fear, nervousness, and hope. Neither of us had hit it off with our assigned roommates, and we sat next to them feeling alone and disappointed. We started talking and for the next few weeks, we were there for each other as we jumped into the great unknown of our new college experience.
As we settled into our routines, meeting more classmates and dorm-mates we saw less of each other. She lived on the third floor, and I was tucked away in a small, hidden corridor off the main lobby. I was studying communications; she was undecided. She made new friends near her room, as did I.
A few months later we were invited to the same fraternity party and again leaned on each other as a familiar face and friend. Our bond was rekindled, and she became one of my closest friends on campus. She traveled abroad junior year and took me with her through the postcards detailing her adventures. Senior year, we were roommates. After graduation, we took turns flying to visit one another in our post-graduate hometowns. She was in my wedding, and I couldn’t bear to miss hers despite an awful case of Montezuma’s Revenge from my honeymoon in Acapulco. We shared the amazing roller coaster of pregnancy and the first life-changing months of parenthood as our first babies were born within a month of each other.
Over the years as moves have taken us to different time zones and more children have added to the chaos of our lives, we still manage to thread in phone calls and make it a point to connect in person once a year. This weekend was our annual reunion. She traveled across the country to stay with me and my family. After a year of being apart, we didn’t skip a beat. She jumped right into the circus that is my daily life: watching my daughter run around naked choreographing dances and singing, listening to my middle child lose it when told his video game time was up, and prodding a conversation out of my eldest who is eager to be mannerly, but not quite sure what to say yet.
This soul I met 23 years ago still resonates with me in a way so few people do. When we are together, we don’t have to be going 100 miles a minute or fill the silence with chatter. We don’t have to be “on” or partying like we did through so much of our college years. We share secrets, stories, memories, tears, and a lot of laughs. We enjoy the quiet. We ask questions and challenge each other. We continue to lean on each other and revel in the similarities of our trials, especially in parenting and pinpointing our purpose.
During our talks this weekend she mentioned a statistic that most people’s friends change every seven years as a result of the ebb and flow of life and evolving interests. Whether it’s true or not, it made me think. I have certainly lost touch with some friends reluctantly, purposefully, and even indifferently. There are some friends who no matter how hard I try, just don’t seem to care as much as I do. And, others who always remain bobbing along the surface. But, there are a handful of friends who stem from different stages of my life I cannot even imagine not knowing. I would do anything to maintain a connection with them. They are the few who know the real me and as the saying goes, love me anyway.
I’ve never been the type to have lots of friends. Instead, I make strong bonds with a small circle. There are women in my life right now who help me get through the daily grind, pick up slack with the kids, counsel me through my ups and downs, and laugh it all away. They are my village, my kibbutz. My faraway and long-ago friends also lament over the never-ending laundry, battles for self-preservation (a.k.a. me-time), and ugly attitudes of our children and other personalities in our lives. Sometimes hearing that they understand—or even better—experience the same exact thing, makes it all bearable, and makes me feel a little less crazy. I’m not the only one!! My friends, the people I love in this world, feel, act, wonder, and fear the same things that I do! It’s an unbelievably liberating feeling. And, it reminds me of what a unique and vital role friends play in our lives.
Science actually confirms this touchy-feely phenomenon. According to the journal Plos Medicine, a meta-study released in 2010 from researchers at Brigham Young University indicates social relationships–friends, family, neighbors or colleagues–boost your likelihood of survival by 50% over those without friends. The study parallels low social interaction to being as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, being an alcoholic, never exercising, and twice as dangerous as obesity.
After the long weekend with my kindred spirit, I can see how friendships can be such a significant factor in our longevity. Friends (including friend-relatives) are our mirrors and our watch dogs. They remind us that we are worthy and to stand up for ourselves, and they call us on our bullshit. They invigorate, calm, and humanize us–with them we don’t have to do everything and be everybody. They listen. They love. I am so grateful for all of my friends and the memories, advice, laughter, and love they have given me. I hope to do a better job of keeping in touch and making these authentic friendships the priority they should be.
It’s as easy as picking up the phone and calling, emailing, texting, or even Facebooking our pals. Set up a night out–or better yet, a weekend retreat; pencil in an appointment to talk on the phone when the stars align; or just shoot them a, “Hi friend!” message. Let them know what they mean. Whether it is a lifelong bestie or the newest member of the neighborhood, every friend in your circle adds value and, well, life to your life.