used to be friends

My Annual GirlFriend Group: The Benefits of Long Distance Friendships!

Tomorrow morning I fly out to San Antonio for my Annual SoCal Girls Weekend. SO EXCITED! SoCal Girls Group

We used to all live in Southern California (hence why I still refer to us as the SoCal group!) where we would get together weekly for an evening of tea, book talk, and life sharing. I think we met for just over a year before life started moving some of us to new places, but we made a pact that we'd all get together at least once a year for the rest of our lives. We're seven years in to that commitment. I love that we made that decision.

Since I'm always championing local and new friendships, I thought I'd rave today about  some of the pay-offs that come from our time spent with more long-term, albeit long-distance friendships:

  • Provides Ongoing Intimacy: I rate myself pretty low on the "good at staying in touch" with long-distance friends scale.  If it weren't for this annual weekend these would be women who I simply would drift apart from. Sure, some of us see each other here-and-there if we're traveling through each others cities on business or visiting family nearby.  A few texts and phone calls are exchanged between different ones of us throughout the year, and we also try to periodically stay in touch on a group Facebook page and via a couple of scheduled conference calls.  But those are all just updates.  It's staying up all night talking for a weekend that brings us back to real Frientimacy.  These weekends are where we share the real stuff with women who know us.
  • Non-Negotiable Commitment: It's a no-brainer every year to buy the airline ticket. Since we already made the decision years ago that this is going to happen, we don't ever have to ask "Can I go this year?"  We don't get input from our busy calendars, our budgets, or our spouses/kids as to whether we can go this year-- we just say yes. The truth is we can always talk ourselves out of things if we raise the question--work will always be hectic, funds will always feel tight, kids will always need us-- so it's nice to have the important things in life already decided. Our friendship is important to us so we'll keep the weekend short and inexpensive, but we will always be there.
  • Protected From Life Change:  Since our time together is really only a weekend every year-- my friendship with these women doesn't go up in flux if they get married, have another kid, change jobs, move to a different city, or go through a divorce. That's a gift right there.  Most of our local friendships are constantly being impacted by the choices we all make-- we get our feelings hurt when one person is too busy or goes through a big life change. So the downside to our long-distance group is that we may not know each others kids and husbands well, but the up-side is that any of that can change and it won't change the fact that we are getting together for our 3 days.
  • We Know History & See Growth:  One of my favorite parts of our time together is that we all answer a few questions on paper about what our lives look like right now-- things we're grateful for, wounds we're nursing, fears we're feeling, goals we've set-- and we put them in a folder that we only look at this one weekend.  This year, we'll all open our long-forgotten page from last year and see how life has changed from then.  It's like this mile-marker for life, giving us a chance to say "oh yeah, I remember feeling that fear... look at me now" or "interesting that this same thing keeps showing up every year on my page..."  We share with each other what we've written-- sometimes crying, often cheering, but always loving. It's nice to have friends who see us deeply once a year.
  • A Bigger-Picture-Type of Sharing: I love my local San Francisco girlfriends-- we can talk on the phone ten minutes here-and-there, get together for tea, share dinners, and know what we're each facing every week ahead.  There's a consistency there that supports me in the best way ever.  But there's also something really special about the friends who are removed from my day-to-day life, the ones who only see me occasionally. We talk about different things. Whereas friends here might ask what I'm doing today or this weekend, these friends ask about highlights and lowlights from the last year. The conversations give me a chance to think about life in a broader way, to reflect on the bigger issues.  They observe changes in me that might be harder for people who see me all the time to notice. They ask about things I'd long forgotten. They hold a space for me to learn about myself in different ways.

I tell you all this because if you don't have this and want it-- you can make it happen.  We did not all know each other when the six of us all started getting together weekly.  It's not like we were all a clique from college.  I was new to SoCal and just started asking some girls if they wanted to come over for a weekly book discussion. Some of them invited someone else they knew... and our group formed.  You can do that.

For many of you it may be that you already have a few women flung across this country that you love and it may be that you simply need to make the decision to be the catalyst that gets you all together.  It can be affordable-- Southwest has flights on sale all the time, hotel costs decrease when split among several of you, and you can just buy a few groceries to keep it simple.  This kind of friendship is worth the investment.

So tomorrow I board the plane knowing that on the other end will be women that I may not have seen in a year, but that I know will hug me and love me like few others can.

 

Used-To-Be Friends or Still Friends?

We all know those fabulous women we have loved over the years, the ones where our shared history with them puts them in that special category of proven friends. When we talk to them, we  pick up right where we left off.  They're the kind of women we don't have to explain ourselves to, apologize for the time lapse or call them all the time to know we're still loved. So certainly it pains me to pop that bubble of idealism, but sometimes it must be said: Just because you can call her and know she'll be there for you doesn't mean you do.

One of the most common traps that keeps us in denial about needing more friends is that we used to have good friends.  And, the greatest risk happens when we think of them still as our closest friends.

Used-To-Be-Friends Or Still Friends?

This trap throws off the best of us.  We can quickly name 5 amazing women we call friends, and often feel better with our sense of connectedness. But then we still hear that nagging voice whispering that we think we need more friends. We feel lonely.

If you’re only sending Christmas cards, seeing each other once a year, calling every couple of months and giving little sentence updates on facebook—that may be why you still feel a sense of loneliness?

Risking redundancy, it stands to be pointed out that your current loneliness is not because you haven't had amazing friendships before. Rather, it's because you may not be engaging in them now.

I know for me, when I moved to San Francisco, I pushed away my awareness that I needed to make new friends by telling myself how awesome my friends were.  And yet, even though they were only a phone call away.  They were still a phone call away.  A phone call I didn't make with most of them frequently enough to keep it intimate and easy.

southern cal girls

And I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't have these "former" friends.  (And by former, I only mean that the intensity & consistency may have been more in the past than the present.)  My girlfriends from Southern Cal lived through some of my worst and best moments with me-- I will always want to stay connected with them.  Those friends give to us in many ways by knowing who we used to be, giving us a sense of a wider net in our lives and helping us feel less alone in this world.

It's life-changing to know you have these friends you can call if you are diagnosed with cancer. You need to know you have people you can count on in the "big things."

However, I often talk myself out of calling these friends because while I know I can pick up where we left off... that's part of the problem.  I have so much updating to do with them to catch them up to life right now, that I often decide I don't have the time for a long conversation.

What Do We Most Need to Add to our Connectedness?

But what most of us crave are the kind of friends you can call to just ask her what she's making for dinner. Or how her day went. Or what she bought over the weekend. Or whether she wants to go get drinks tomorrow night. The "small things."

We usually feel more intimate with the people we can talk about nothing with as easy as we can talk about something with.

For the truth is, fortunately, that we make dinner more than we get cancer.

No matter how many women you used to be close to—you can still feel lonely now. And sometimes just knowing that you can call isn't enough. To abate loneliness we actually need friends we can go live life with, not just report life to.

SF girls

I ended up having to start over with local women.  It doesn't mean I don't still meet up with my used-to-be-friends every year for a weekend together.  Or that we don't call when the big things happen.  But it means I now have friends to call for the small stuff.  The small stuff that actually feels more important on a day-to-day basis.

So by all means, love those used-to-be women for the history they hold and the way they make you feel known, and by all means stay in touch with them!  But I invite you to own the fact that your loneliness may be your hearts way of saying “I would like some women who can journey with me more regularly.”

And perhaps 1-2 of them can step into that role. I called up one of the women in this circle for me a few years ago, told her how much I missed her and asked if we could schedule a weekly standing phone call to live life together a bit more.

But maybe that's not enough.  Maybe you still need new friends?

But either way, don’t confuse who used to be your best friend with the fact that you might need additional ones (or rekindled ones?) in that place now.