October 11, 2019 | Narrative
communicating (in) long-distance friendships
I’ve been in a long-distance friendship for a year now. Sure, such a feat doesn’t elicit as much sympathy or awe as maintaining a long-distance relationship does; I’m sure you or someone you know is friends with someone separated by coasts or continents, seas or time zones. But still, I find it impressive.
We’ve done this before. Anita left for college in Los Angeles last year while I trudged through my final year of high school up in the Bay Area. As I agonized over college apps, she dealt with meal plans and midterms, new friends, partying, and hookups. How strange that a year ago she was in exactly my place now, and how odd that she still knew someone stuck on the other side.
But this is the first time we are an entire 3,000 miles apart, the distance between Providence and Los Angeles separating us. The three hours between us feels like it stretches out my day and accelerates hers; when I call during dinner, Anita reminds me that she still has class, whereas later in the night, I sometimes fall asleep before she gets the chance to text about her day.
The chaos of my first semester has intensified our disconnect. Two busy college schedules are hard to coordinate, whereas last year, I was very willing (you could even say grateful) to procrastinate on schoolwork to talk to her. Now, I tell her I need 10 more minutes until I’m able to call, but then I have to get to class or pick up something or run all the way to Pembroke campus because I’m late to orchestra, and I end up forgetting. And when I text Anita something that reminds me of her it can take days for her to respond. It’s frustrating. It’s especially frustrating when we do call, and I’m reminded of how comfortable I feel with her—more so than with anyone else I’ve met here.
You know what they say: It takes time. It takes time to get to know people—to really, really get to know people, and it takes time to adjust, to get settled. But I feel settled, I am adjusted. When I talk about going home at night, I mean my room in Keeney. I no longer turn my key the wrong way to unlock the door, and I’ve mastered the most efficient routes to class without Google Maps. I found my friend group on my second night at Brown during some fair on Simmons Quad. Introduced to them by one of the many fleeting friends I made during orientation, I clicked with my now tight-knit circle immediately. It was easy, finding all these new parts of my life. Harder, though, to figure out how the old parts fit in.
Anita and I have a system; we call it ROTD, or rating of the day. No matter how busy we get, we try (really, really try) to remember to send each other just one number, a one-to-ten scoring of our day. No explanation needed. Just a simple integer to somehow capture the vast minutiae of our everyday.
Our actual ratings have ranged from 2 to 10 (the latter happening only once or twice). If you plotted on a graph all of our numbers since we started this system, you might be able to guess what happened when: when I fell in love, when she came out to her parents, when I had my heart utterly broken, when she fell in love, too. You could tell by June’s high average I was having the best moments of my life in Europe while touring with my youth orchestra. You could infer when Anita’s three summer jobs were completely zapping her energy—but also when meeting her girlfriend started to turn things around.
Though our system sometimes falters, recently we’ve been calling each other more than ever before—in no small part because the walk from Andrews back to my dorm in Keeney is so far that I might as well make use of it. Every time I call her is an opportunity to let my guard down. I can be annoyed and frustrated about the stupid stuff without padding it with politeness. She’s amused at my casual misfortunes and knows when I’m taking on too much and cautions me against it. When I call later and admit that she was, in fact, correct, she’s not afraid to say ‘I told you so’ before helping me figure things out, as she always does. Maybe that’s what differentiates a best friend from a good one: unflinching honesty when you’re being dumb, but also the proclivity to remind you how much you’re loved when you can’t see it yourself.
When Anita and her long-distance girlfriend broke up a few days ago, it was my turn to be there for her. They had been dating over the summer and were happy together, but with the start of school, things started to get complicated. The distance was too difficult, Anita argued, the future too far away. Four years to wait for what, exactly? Eventually getting married or breaking up? I understood her pain all too well, familiar with the seemingly never-ending frustration and uncertainty that comes with a long-distance relationship myself.
Secretly, however, I was relieved to be reminded that our own long-distance relationship wouldn’t face the same demise. With friendships, there are fewer expectations for commitment, and with great friendships, there is no end—at least, not one you have to wonder about like in romantic relationships. Perhaps it’s naive and idealistic, like many long-distance relationships may seem from the outside, but I don’t see Anita and I breaking up anytime soon. We are so far from what was familiar—from all the times in high school when we sped down the road in my car to make it back from lunch on time, or cried from laughing too hard in her driveway—but she’s always going to be one of those friends who’ll laugh at my dumb jokes, no matter how old we are. Even at our most distant, we’ll exchange updates on our lives and how we feel, even if they are conveyed in just two numbers.