The Geography of Friendships

I was thinking about my closest friends today during the ride home from work. These are the friends who appreciate me as much as I appreciate them, the friends who think about me, keep in touch with me and are here to support me when I really need a friend.

In this context, however, ‘here’ is relative. My five closest friends, for example, the five I know I can count on, the ones who know some of my deepest secrets, the ones who have known me forever and have survived my many changes as well as the newer ones who are just remarkably open to knowing about me and helping me when they can, are scattered across the entire planet. None of them live in Maryland, where I live, or in any adjoining states.

This mobility phenomenon is relatively new in the history of the United States: Boomer generation and newer. Both of my parents, for example, can trace their ancestry to other countries with immigration as recent as their own grandparents. But in their generation, they stayed put. My Mom and her siblings lived their entire lives within a hundred miles of their birthplace. My Dad and all but one of his siblings lived their whole lives within the same twenty miles. Their friendship and family support systems were geographically close.

My closest friends are close in spirit … an email, text or cell phone call away. I’m grateful for that, but wish we all had more face time. At least I did see three of the five this year.

A brief outline, using initials not names, in the name of privacy …

P lives in Louisiana, a friend since high school. Nobody knows more about me than she does. We share news about house projects, other friends, work; we whine about our spouses. We joke about high school, chat about music.

S lives in Hawaii. She’s been a friend for decades; we first met during the very short time she lived in my hometown. She is just slightly older than me, yet she retired years ago. She and her husband fell in love with Hawaii on their honeymoon and always knew they’d live there one day. She called me the day after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans because she knew I’d be worried sick about my Mother and my sister.

L1 lives in Wisconsin. We have known each other for at least two decades; we met when I lived in her home state. We have shared many conversations about music, jobs, animals and crappy love lives. She always remembers my birthday, even when I forget hers, and sometimes she calls me at midnight on December 31st to wish me a Happy New Year. She knows me well enough to know that wherever I am I’ll be awake at that moment. I was able to spend some time with her and her new husband in the past couple of years.

F lives near London. We met on the job many years ago when she lived in Virginia. We used to eat out together every few weeks – long lunches or dinners during which we analyzed our jobs, love lives, music tastes, childhoods, parents. She is now a parent herself and I have pictures of her son on my computer.

L2 lives in North Carolina. We’ve known each other either 3 months or 2 years, depending on how you count it. In that short amount of time we’ve become very good friends and share conversations about music, psychology, photography, food, wine, spontaneity vs. over-thinking, love lives and relationships with parents.

These are five unique individuals, with some things in common: all are female, each loves music, each has at least one failed relationship that I know something about (and they know about mine) and each lives hundreds, or thousands of miles away. Oh, and I guess they all have me in common.

I am a lucky man! But sometimes I disagree with the phrase “small world, isn’t it?”