One of the interesting side effects of moving across the world for an as-yet-undetermined length of time is seeing friendships molt, wither, and then–usually–fade into oblivion. Most friends and lovers (I hate that term, by the way, but it’s more palatable than “person you are occasionally boning”) become nothing more than a few conversations over the span of a year that consist mostly of “Man, it’s been forever. Wow.”
And I know what you’re thinking: “My friends/bffs/blood sisters/trusted clergy members are different. We would Skype regularly if one of us lived on THE MOON.” I know, I thought so, too. As does everyone when they take an extended leave of absence. When we leave, we do so with the best of intentions: Lots of hugs, a couple of tears, breathless promises to call all the time. And while some relationships can’t even stand the separation of a semester away, at least those come with a finite end, and can be planned for and adjusted to. When one just moves away, there’s no motivation to keep the spark alive–you guys might never regularly hang out again.
It’s rather depressing, the trajectory a friendship takes when put on indefinite hiatus. There are an opening few weeks or perhaps an excited little month in which you talk every day, almost. You have so much to say, things are so awesome, you guys can’t wait to tell each other all about that evil wench in line at the grocery store and this guy who could totally hit it if he wanted to but is–as of yet–oblivious to your existence. Then, gradually, conversations become less frequent and more of a chore. Recounting everything that happened since your last big chat–if there’s nothing particularly pressing to discuss–becomes an exercise in forced enthusiasm. “Oh, you took a poop today? TWO!? Big girl on campus!” Eventually, you are reduced to occasionally seeing each other on Facebook chat and barely mustering a “Hey, what’s up?” followed by a “brb” that never ends. And these are people with whom you used to share everything, with whom you exchanged knowing glances at house parties and shared Deer Park bottles full of vodka.
And let’s not even think about the path that most romantic long-distance relationships take, as that is far too sad to even consider.
But the silver lining on all of this is those one or two people that truly stand out–the ones with whom you actually do KIT (Keep In Touch, for the middle-school yearbook illiterate). When there is that person with whom you actually enjoy regular conversation, sharing mundane news, and talking about events that you didn’t necessarily experience together, it’s so satisfying in a way most friendships aren’t. It’s a love that says “You’re amazing and interesting even when it’s not easy to get to you. You are worth the effort.” It’s a beautiful thing and, in some ways, restorative of the perhaps over-zealous and often-broken faith we have in close friendships. It’s a selfless, platonic, mutual love. It’s a Shell Silverstein book drinking together over Skype.
Although we must also acknowledge what that really implies about most of our other friendships: Whether we like it or not, a good portion (if not the majority) of our relationships are built as much on proximity and convenience as on real love and compatibility. Which is fine, of course, as long as we acknowledge it. A friendship that will go the distance and be just as vital when there isn’t the daily drama and intimacy of shared experience is incredibly rare. We have a lot of friendships that are, ultimately, based heavily on amount of time spent at house parties and number of romantic prospects you laughingly veto over drinks.
So cheers to the friends who make it through the distance, and it’s a shame we can’t pick them out as easily when we’re together all the time. They certainly deserve the recognition. But I suppose, if you’re not going anywhere anytime soon, it might behoove you to ask yourself the question as you glance around the next drunken gathering: If I lived in Hong Kong, which one of these douchebags would snail mail me Reese’s cups?