Sorry for the overly dramatic click-bait title. The title is technically true though, kinda. They ARE leaving.
Fair warning, this is a pretty honest post, filled with vulnerabilities and ideas that stem from some of my less-than-admirable traits, such as fear of abandonment, selfishness, etc. Hopefully, what I share will resonate with you, but if not… don’t worry, I’l have another lighthearted post soon filled with clothing, decor, and other fun favorites.
The whole “friends leaving me” (and—I know—they aren’t leaving me, they’re just leaving the place I reside) thing started with my closest college friend Sara moving back to Colorado something like seven years ago. (She also happened to be like, my ONLY female friend at the time and it was a bit of a hit.) Then, about two years back my dear friend Lara did this awesome thing of traveling the country while living out of a van for a year, but instead of coming back to Indianapolis when she was ready to settle down again, she stayed in the new city that had captured her heart—Seattle. And most recently, another bestie named Katie (who, along with her hubby, happens to be PASSIONATE about climbing) decided to relocate to Chattanooga, TN – to be closer to mountains. Not to mention the numerous friends who are in a constant state of moving “consideration.”
It’s nothing to take personally. I know that. But it still stings to lose people you love; the people that, in many ways, you rely on. These friendships are close, and wonderful, but the thing about friendships is that it doesn’t carry the same “rules” as romantic relationships; nothing prevents friends from moving away. There’s no expectation of remaining in the same place. No romance = no requirement to be within “xx” miles of one another. However, just because it isn’t the common expectation of friendship, when you learn a member of your tribe is moving away, there’s a moment where you feel a bit abandoned.
Since my divorce five years ago, I’ve made my friendships a major focus. Why? Because I realized I’d seriously neglected my friendships for the seven years I was with my ex-husband, and I never wanted to find myself in that situation again. I never wanted to find myself alone, again. I was not ready for a long-term traditional romantic relationship at that point, so I funneled energy into my new friendships. These friends became my significant others. They became my family here in Indianapolis. Every “Plus 1” invite I received ended up with Leslie and a gal pal.
As I reflect on these friends leaving, I’ve found that perhaps this was (is) to be expected. I gravitate to strong, ambitious, and adventurous women as friends. The type who pursue their best lives, even when it means moving away from what’s familiar. And, many of my friends are not yet married, and still childless (not counting furry babies.) So they lack the traditional roots that could motivate them to stay.
But, with each friend that leaves to pursue her next chapter, I wonder about certain things.
Which type of “relationship” has less security? And, does that even matter?
Like I already mentioned, committed romantic relationships tend to come with the shared understanding of staying in the same city. Not always – but commonly. However, as the daughter of divorced parents, and someone who has been divorced herself, I am all too aware that being “in love” with someone doesn’t always come with promises that stick. In some ways, friendships hold more security because they don’t require exclusivity, and therefore carry less pressure. But, as I’ve witnessed, friendships don’t come with the expectation of taking part in each other’s major life decisions. Friendships can be potent and dear, but we hold them more loosely. I’ve always understood this fact, and believed in the benefits of having a GROUP of friends as a primary support system, because no one friend can realistically act as an emotional substitute for a romantic significant other. But a tribe? There’s always someone there to bring over ice cream, wine, and Kleenex during life’s hardships, or champagne and cupcakes in celebration of accomplishments. However, I didn’t anticipate such a significant erosion of that tribe.
Should I just expect a certain amount of turnover in friendships?
I am still close with friends who have moved away. But, I’ll never claim that it’s the same. The distance is felt, and I’ve not shown a great success rate at staying in close contact with people who are not in the same city as I am. We text periodically, and visit from time to time. Things feel the same when we get together, but those instances are limited. I look at photos of the core group of girlfriends I had in the first couple of years after my divorce, and a fair amount has changed. Whether its a result of moving, or conflict, or changed priorities… the “group” looks different. I’m not sure if it’s my desire for consistency, or my longing for security, but I wish that wasn’t the case. Not to say I don’t adore the friends I’ve made in more recent years; I just wish they’d been additions rather than replacements. I’ll admit, now when I host dinner parties, I feel (to a degree), like I am hosting a group of MY friends, rather than a group of people who are all equally close to one another. And, perhaps that makes it feel a little less like the family unit it once resembled.
Do friendships have to change when new romantic relationships enter the picture?
I know the answer to this is yes. But, to what extent? And, how does the dynamic change when one friend is in a relationship and the other friend is not? Does it create an imbalance? One “needing” the other more? This question isn’t directly related to the topic of friends moving, it just ties into the question of security in friendships. Our romantic significant others simply get more attention from us than our platonic significant others. Even though I believe wholeheartedly that you can have chemistry with platonic friends (I learned this from Anne and Diana’s Bosom Buddy friendship early in life), it doesn’t stack up to the levels of dopamine that get released with romantic attraction. (Apparently, the friend chemical is oxytocin… more of a “B-player” when it comes to intensity.) *Today’s science lesson brought to you by Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.* So, friends will always play second fiddle when there’s a romantic relationship in the mix. And, I, as a friend, am needed less by them when they have a boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife. Which, then makes me feel a little guiltier about asking when I need them.
Why does no one want to stay in Indianapolis?!
Everything Ken wrote about Indianapolis is true, and I love almost everything about living here. (Exception: Winter.) But, the lure of mountains and water and more culture have pulled these friends away. To more exciting places. To places that are a better fit for their lifestyle and interests. I resent the reputation Indiana seems to have in many other parts of the country (thanks to some of our laws and majority politics), because the “rep” has never really aligned with my personal experience. Granted, I live in the downtown bubble of Indianapolis and work at a tech/marketing agency, so my perspective is likely skewed toward liberalism. Regardless, I’ve found contentment in the people, the hospitality, the pace, and the cost of living. But, does everyone moving away know some secret that I don’t know? Are other cities far superior?
Short of requiring contractual agreements from new friends that they will NOT move away from Indianapolis (which, would immediately stunt, if not halt, development of new friendships), there’s no way to prevent this from happening. Nor, would I truly want to. I want each and every one of my friends to be living their best life. And that even though I wish their best life could always be found within the confines of downtown Indianapolis, that will not always be the case.
So what life lessons can be found here?
Appreciate them while they’re here
We’ve all been guilty of taking for granted those who are closest to us, from time to time. We should try not to do that. As a proclaimed introvert, I spend a fair bit of time by myself. While that’s important for me to re-charge, there are some instances when I’m fully charged but just being lazy when I turn down invites from friends or don’t extend them myself. Instead of that, I should be enjoying the people who ARE here; taking advantage of the moments I get to experience with wonderful people, now.
Do something amazing and memorable to see them off.
Katie’s (aforementioned friend) move came really quickly, and it didn’t allow for much time to plan a big send-off. (Luckily, one came together without my assistance.) But, I was able to give her a really meaningful gift, and it felt GOOD. Every friend who moves onto a new chapter of their live, deserves a celebration of the old one. Putting a little extra effort into showing support as they leave is a really kind and wonderful gesture. It’s a lesson I hope to put into practice moving forward.
Get inspired by their bravery.
I like getting comfortable, to some degree. I nest, in every possible way you can envision someone nesting. I “nest” in my home, in my city, in my habits, in my job. I enjoy a degree of predictability. However, I know those traits and tendencies might be ones that have held me back. I HATE winter. Yet here I am, living in the Midwest and hibernating through the cold months. Living my “not-best” life November through March. Perhaps, seeing friends move and thrive, will inspire me to make bolder decisions with my own life. Explore opportunities that I might have overlooked in the past because they didn’t fit into my patterns and what I’m comfortable with.
Keep seeking new friendships.
A few years ago, I was so RICH with close friendships, I kept potential new friends at bay, because I felt like I was maxed out with the attention/time I could give to others. I put all my energy into maintaining my current friendships, instead of cultivating new ones. (I feel INCREDIBLY lucky to have ever had that “problem” at all, by the way.) This is a good reminder that it’s never a good idea to take that stance. If anything, with new friendships, just be honest about the amounts of time and attention you have to give, so no one is left feeling disappointed.
Learn to be better at long-distance friendships.
Yes, LDFs require more work. But I know that I have a shared responsibility in periods of time that go by without communication. With iPhones, and Skype, and Amazon Prime, there is NO reason to be out of touch with friends, or to let life’s milestones go uncelebrated. Perhaps I have an opportunity to get exposed to a new type of friendship that I’ll really appreciate if I put the energy into it – the long distance friendship. The one that means cards and phone calls and little gestures. Plus, if all of my friends move to cool cities, it just means I’ll be motivated to travel more often (and do it more cheaply, with a built-in place to stay.)
I’m honestly not the type who feels I need to find a lesson in everything that happens in life, but… I expect this might continue to happen, and I don’t want these losses to every turn into a reason to stop opening up to and building relationships with new people.
How about you? Have you confronted this challenge? How do you stay in touch/connected to friends after they move away? What special things have you done to see them off?