Today I would like to write about a topic that I relate very closely to. Distance. And what is often coming with it, relationships. We use to talk a lot about long-distance romantic relationships but it happens less about long-distance friendship, no matter how more often we get into them.
(The movie-theme of today’s article is Obvious Child by Gillian Robespierre. I know it is mostly about abortion but it displays beautiful friendships too. And it is so fun)
I was lucky enough, at these times I consider it as a chance, to spend my all childhood and teenage years in the same city, quasi in the same house, with the natural consequence of friendships that are following me since more or less primary school. I never experimented the wrench, being 8 years old, to have to change city, house, school, favorite pastry shop, favorite playground, this wrench that is most probably known by kids who had parents more nomadic than mine.
The logical following part is the wrench from friends. When you are a kid old enough to remember things, there is very little things that can break your heart more than that. Amélie Nothomb, a famous Belgian writer notoriously fascinated by childhood, used to say that no romantic love story, no matter how passionate it may be, can suffer comparison with the madness born from the friendship between two 10-years old girls. Especially once you reached adulthood. And it is a good thing in a sense because to maintain such a friendship at the time of the 40-hours of work a week would quite look like an obsessive and abusive relationship. This is why, like chickenpox, it is better to experiment it earlier than later, it hurts really little and you even keep good memories from it. As a matter of fact, I was able to stay at home during one whole week, in bed reading comic books, it was worth all the scratch.
Talking about adulthood, friendship at that time is notoriously a complex matter because we barely have enough time to allow to our peers, as we already don’t have enough for ourselves. I spent 18 years in the same city, then 3 years in another one nearby attending college. Then after this long stable time, it became a mess. One year there, 6 months there, 3 months somewhere else, one year, then 2 then 3, then starting all over again someplace else. This way of life is common among people of our generation and it keeps increasing. We can choose to endure it or endure to choose it, most of the time both and most of the time not at the same moment. It is nowadays getting pretty rare to meet someone our age who spent all his or her life in the same city, even more the same village. We are spread out, scattered everywhere.
(And moving AGAIN)
Our birth city, the one where our parents live if it is not the same (and if they still live together), the one where we studied, the one of the internship, the one of the second internship, the Erasmus/EVS/civil service (insert here your favorite exchange/volunteering program), the one where we got our first job, the one where we got our second job (and so on), the one where our grand-parents live, the one where our boyfriend or girlfriend live (yes we will talk about romantic long-distance relationships, one day, one day…) if it is not where we live… And even more, chose everything, that’s what people do.
In these conditions, we do meet an enormous amount of people. And, like in love, some friendships just rise out of nowhere, without us being prepared to it. Some life periods are more suitable for them than others, like studies, that we pursue every time farer and longer. We meet people with whom we have to spend time anyway and who (and it is the crucial difference between college and working world) are most of the time sharing our points of view and preoccupations over many things (first year of college is easy: drinking a lot, going out late, sometimes even some remote interest about what this strange person down there on the stage is talking about). These also are years where you can afford to take your time, to wander around, if you are lucky enough for not having to work to support yourself. So you have time to make your friendships grow stronger, it almost doesn’t ask for any effort actually, you end up class, you go for a coffee, or to sit down on the grass. I have been reading a few months ago an article about, how accurate, adulthood friendship (whatever adulthood may be, I am going to let you judging). The author was developing the very pretty metaphor, being the difference between ivy-friendships and orchid-friendships. Ivy-friendships are exactly the ones I am talking about up there: circumstance-built friendships that develop on a quite anarchic way, with a very big potential of getting strongly rooted. On the opposite side of the spectrum, you have orchid-like friendships, the ones you get used to more once you start working. The ones asking for efforts, constant attention, not too much water, not too much light, specific fertilizer. Less wild maybe but very valuable. Isn’t it genius metaphor?
(And sometimes orchids just need a lot of beer and we just don’t think about it enough)
Be aware that obviously orchid-friendships also happen during study time and that ivy-ones may also develop at work or any type of other activity. Also it is kind of rare to meet them on their pure form: ivy also needs an ideal amount of water and light. Such as orchids can be left alone sometimes and being found still pretty later on. It is just that some contexts are more suitable for one or another than some others. It may also change in time, some friendships can start as ivy and become orchids, or the other way around. This is what plants, people and relationships do, they evolve.
What about distance then? Is it getting more complicated? Yes it is. How do you provide water from distance? How can you be sure they will receive the right amount of sun? It doesn’t even need to be a long distance actually. Sometimes it is even enough to stop meeting randomly. Somehow it seems to me even worse to loose someone you are closed to when you both live in the same place. We always think we are close, by heart and geography, we think we have all the time of the world to meet and enjoy quality moments together. So we allow ourselves to postpone our meetings or contacts, because life, dentist, work, transcendental meditation, aqua pony. Until the moment where there is nothing to postpone anymore but by the time we realized, it is already too late.
Taking how many times I moved out, change city, change country, I can tell now that I am not so bad at keeping friendships alive. I like to write out of spontaneity, for asking some news or sending a funny link and, if there is some answers on the other side it is making things easier, it is also teamwork. In order to do that, Internet plays a fundamental role. A dozen of different tools are now available to ease contacts, so much that we can get lost. Skype, Whatsapp, Facebook, Viber, Snapchat, I am most probably forgetting others. All on the sudden or almost, we were not obligated anymore to write long letters or even e-mails for keeping contact, not even to talk on the phone, we tend to feel voice calls kind of intrusive nowadays. Not anymore, here, just an emoji, a little message, a little photo whatever the time and here it is, contact. Superficial, some might say. Perhaps. One sure thing, we became so dependent on these tools (that are so obviously practical) that our disarray is huge when someone we would like to keep contact with is not using them, or not the same as us, or not enough. Like there is suddenly nothing possible anymore. Even my more defiant friends finally got into Facebook at some point, we are more every day to get into Whatsapp, which is implementing in us the wrong idea of an indefinite availability, than is not without causing trouble in some contexts (work, for not naming it). But no matter how much help it can provide, once you got used to meeting people physically, it can be difficult to adjust to this new communication way. You need to rebuild habits, rituals, sometimes it goes well, sometimes not. Sometimes the relationship takes a break, with no reason, because it was probably not the right time. And sometimes it is coming back, without any reason either, because it was the right time. It is a consolation.
(When you feel bad to the point of drinking bad wine inside an empty jam jar)
At the end, it seems than long-distance friendships are following the same modus operandi than the friendships you make in your neighborhood. They are coming and going, we take care of them or not, we try and it doesn’t work out, or at the opposite, it is doing well. So well that we decide to organize ourselves in order to see each other. We meet again, we grow stronger, and sometimes we become friends at this special although random visit. There is people we don’t write to for months but when we do speak, it is a bit like we’ve met the day before. So we organize a meeting and so on. There is also the ones we know actually that we will never meet them again. This is yet another story: how to keep contact? And even sometimes why? With them we will have to find a relationship that will only be based on distance, the one that feed only from the Internet and not from the real presence, generating a presence feeling without actually being there. We all agree of course that it cannot replace human warmth but is it even the goal? Isn’t it more to allow you to communicate with your dear ones in circumstances when, no matter what, you are physically separated?
When I came back to France during almost 3 months in 2016, I found back the pleasure to spend time in real with some of my oldest and dearest friends, pleasure not to need to take an appointment for talking on the phone but for drinking a tea, go for a walk. You do not talk about the same things in these moments. One of my friends, who was not exactly in the best moment of her life recently to say it on the gentle way. I have been trying to help her the best way I could, by talking by phone as long and often as needed, from where I am, still with the perpetual guilty feeling of not doing enough. The other day she told me that actually it didn’t change that much for her, that she felt she could count on me no matter how far we are now and for so long. If we would have been facing each other, we would have hugged, drank a tea. Instead of that we spent hours on the phone but I assume more or less the same things were told at the end. And that I probably couldn’t have done so much more if I would have been there actually. I don’t really know what it would change, I just know I am afraid about it to change, afraid that it would go away. So I keep writing and talking, hoping that it can be enough most of the time, it is still the best way to keep choosing everything.