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Long Distance Relationships...

When I was in 3rd grade, my family moved from Fort Morgan, Colorado to a working cattle ranch in the sandhills of Nebraska. It wasn't the first time our family unit had moved, but that move sticks out in my mind because it was the first time that I remember leaving friends behind. For the year following our move I exchanged letters/cards with my best friend in Colorado, Jon. I can vividly recall the Christmas card he sent me that year. It had a little gray mouse on the front in an over-sized Santa hat. To this day, thinking of that card brings a smile to my face.

At the end of 4th grade we moved again. Then again in 5th grade...twice. It became overwhelming to try to keep up with the friends I had left behind and soon the sending/receiving of cards/letters ceased. Even when I left high school, and to some degree college, friendships that once been day to day connections quickly faded. To put it bluntly, over the years of moves I had kinda developed an out of sight, out of mind approach to relationships as I looked at moving on to the next stage of life. I sometimes think about the names and faces that were part of my past. Faces that today would just be strangers in the crowd should our paths ever cross.

This past weekend marked 8 months since our move. At times I still find myself incredibly homesick for the familiar places and faces we left behind in Grinnell. Also this past weekend I ran away to Omaha for 30 fabulous hours to meet-up and chat (and eat sushi and drink wine) with my college girlfriend Jen. It's the first time we've gotten together since last spring (so we had lots to catch up on) and I brought up how much I'd been thinking about how hard I find it to maintain, in a meaningful way, long distance friendships. If anyone understands how much I struggle with maintaining long distance connections, it's Jen! (Thankfully she's patient with this less than attractive part of my personality.)

The thing is, I suck at long distance relationships. I don't think to send cards/letters. I don't remember birthdays. I'm horrible at mailing gifts even if I've taken the time to get/make something for someone. The times that I think about calling someone up for a chat are generally times I know they will not be mid-afternoon while I'm at home and the most of the rest of the world is working. I've even become more and more sporadic with email communications because while it's nice to check in, it's not the same as a conversation. One would think with the popularity of Facebook I would find it easier than ever to stay connected with people, but I don't even know if we should open that often awkward connected but not REALLY connected can of worms. It's not limited to just friends either...I'm not much better at keeping in touch with family. I'm sure my Mom would be the first to agree that I can at times seem more distant than just through the miles that separate us.

What's my point with all of this? I'm not really sure. Except to say that I'm finding this aspect of our relocation more difficult than any other. I'm having a hard time finding a balance between holding on to what's important about each of the relationships with those that I have left behind (or that have moved on themselves) and letting go what will inevitably change because of the simple fact we no longer share the commonality of living in the same community. I want desperately to assure my Grinnell based friends (and those with strong Grinnell connections) that just because I have moved, they have not been forgotten. I hold them each very dearly in my heart each and every day. At the same time I think about the importance of giving myself time, and the permission, to explore new relationships in our new community. Relationships that will add, not replace, to the wonderfully rich fabric that is my personal social network.

It's definitely still a life lesson very much in progress...



Jane said…
I do not share your moving history, but I do understand how you feel. I have had difficulty maintaining relationships with even old neighbors who have moved a few streets away or parents/families from an old school. I think in our busy family lives a lot of relationships are based on our day-to-day activities, so seeing someone outside and chatting does a lot to build friendships. It takes genuine time to keep relationships going - something that many families don't have anymore. I truly like email because it can be done on my time. As my kids got older, evenings were just not an option to talk on the phone. Too much homework or running, etc. That said, you are right, Facebook and email gives you a quasi-relationship - sometimes one-sided. I have been out of college for 25 years and my best friend/roommate, who lives 3 hours away, and I see each other at our reunions. That's it! We never call, write, email - anything! But when we are together we share an incredible bond. We both know we don't have to talk to each other every day to still be friends. So we accept that. Others drift in and out of my life. I lost a friend that I went through 12 years of school with. I lament that I didn't write to her or email these past 20 years. But there is still a special spot in my heart for the memories we shared. I don't think you need to let your friends and family go, but I think you should free yourself to make friends in the moment. I'm completely a proximity-friend! Sometimes that feels hypocritical, but other times it's simply practical.

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