I have this little pit in my stomach that never leaves, and I have diagnosed it. It is friendship guilt.
The pit manifested itself right after college graduation, when distance separated me from the handful of kindred spirits I’d met at school, when my engagement with Jordan happened, and when life became more about the 8 to 5 and less about coffee meet-ups and weekend getaways.
That friendship guilt, I’m sorry to say, has only expanded over the years as more friendships have been made, and Facebook has convinced us that somehow it is, in fact, possible to maintain all of our friendships at the exact level of commitment of which we have always been capable.
Of course, that’s not true. Just as we’ve all watched our parents’ friendships come and go over the years, our friendships, too, are sometimes meant to come and go with the seasons of our lives. Social media may try to tell us otherwise, but you try to keep up — genuinely keep up — with all 300 of your friends and acquaintances, then get back to me. It’s just not possible.
Last week, Kelle Hampton wrote about the friends she treasures, and how, just like with anything else, those relationships take time. They must be maintained and manicured. They must be met with gratitude and with grace.
And I wondered: What have I been doing with my own little tribe? With both the friends who live far away and the ones who are right down the street?
I treasure them, but do they know?
As a little girl, I was a good friend. The best kind you can have. I was devoted and opinionated. I would tell you what I thought, but — I hope — with love. I would defend your honor. I would invite you to my house and my family would become your family. When it became evident that our friendship was no longer your priority, I would gracefully bow out and move on. I was imaginative and silly, stubborn and kind.
I was not the perfect friend, but I very earnestly tried.
Now, I’m not so sure.
I have forgotten birthdays. Left emails sitting in my inbox. Ignored texts. Looked at my calendar and, in the blink of an eye, given up.
I, quite simply, do not know how to do it.
I do not know how to keep up with everyone I love.
I quit Facebook with the hope that I would be more motivated to keep in touch with the friends I love. To some extent, I think my strategy has worked. I’m no longer pursuing superficial relationships. I don’t know everyone’s business, and it is glorious.
For a while, my lack of Facebook interaction inspired me to send more emails, to respond to texts in a timely manner. But that hasn’t been the case for months now.
So I made a list. (Lists are what I do best.)
In five years, who do I still want to be a member of my “tribe”? (Is tribe a term Oprah made up? I feel like it is, which means I need another word, and stat. Ideas?)
Who do I want to be able to know I can count on in five years? Who do I want to call if Jordan and I have children? Who do I want to cry to, to elicit prayers from, to laugh with?
I wrote down the first names that came to mind. I did not self-edit. I did not think practically. First, I just wanted to see how many people my gut wanted to keep in touch with.
I will not be sharing that list here — I’m not entirely convinced it’s complete — but I will tell you that it consisted of 10 names, and one of them was my husband’s (because he is my best friend, and let’s face it: Marriage takes time and effort too). Surely, with all of my responsibilities and hobbies and duties and to-do lists, I can manage 10 friends, 10 people who I want to share my life with in the coming years.
The list was a start. It helped me realize that really, my community is manageable. Ten relationships are manageable.
But the question remains: How can I best cultivate these friendships?
Many of the names on that list belong to people in a different time zone. How do I handle those who I love long distance?
A handful of those friends live right here in Tallahassee. What am I doing on a daily, weekly, monthly basis to show my love and appreciation for them and for their friendships?
How can I be a better friend to those who are mothers?
Those who are single?
What does friendship with another couple look like?
Realistically, what do my friends expect from me?
What do I expect from them?
What do I want out of these friendships?
What do I want to give to these friendships?
I want friends who don’t contribute to the pit of guilt I’ve created in my stomach. Friends who show me grace when life gets hectic. I want friends who make time for a monthly dinner or a weekly breakfast. I want friends who will actually call and tell me when they need something, who know I mean it when I say I’m there for them. I want friends who will plan road trips and pray for me and will put in the effort friendship takes.
Most of all, I want to be that for the people I love.
And I’m trying.
This wedding has taken up a lot more time than I anticipated, but I am trying.
I’m trying to respond to emails in a timely matter.
I offer to babysit and remember to send birthday cards and gifts.
I’ve got a beach trip planned for one set of friends, and Jordan and I are working hard to schedule another weekend vacation with some friends from college.
I’m trying to initiate breakfasts and get back on track with friendships that have fallen by the wayside.
I’m trying to celebrate these friends because they are worth it, and because I need them in my life.
Last week, these words from Kelle Hampton kept ringing in my head:
I think in this enterprising, demanding time of life when kids and family and paying bills are our obvious priorities, we constantly make efforts to trim off excess responsibilities. When we're busy and stressed, we lighten the load of our ship by jettisoning things that aren't necessary in our schedule--T.V., naps, long showers. I think sometimes though, in "Time Triage," we cast off necessary things, thinking the trade-off preserves more family time. Sadly, precious time with friends is one of these.
Let me tell you something. Friends. Should. Never. Be. Abandoned. If your ship needs to drop weight, throw the clothes overboard. Chuck your cell phone. Hell, get rid of necessary food. But friends? They are the life raft on the ship. The one with the big yellow sticker that says "Do Not Tamper." And, God forbid, if your ship ever goes down...you need them.
When my life gets busy, I don’t want my friends to be part of the “unnecessary.”
I want to show them love and grace and acceptance and loyalty. I want to remember them and to celebrate who they are and what they mean to me.
So I’m wondering: Am I the only one with friendship guilt? How do you stay in touch with your long-distance friends? What about your in-town friends? How do you maintain these relationships?
What are some things you do to make sure your friendships are celebrated and not ignored?