Friendship and distance

Recently, I saw one of my oldest and closest friends for breakfast for a final time before she left for Darwin to start a Master of Psychology. It was an early Sunday morning after a very late night out, and Goodwood Road still had that hazy, slow air to it that soothed me as I sipped my coffee. After I waved goodbye as her car rolled away from mine, I drove to help another of my closest friends move house, entering the new address into maps and still somehow getting lost along the way.  

I think about these events happening in parallel; two sides of the same coin, two sets of transient experiences. They are significant moments in the lives of my two friends, one of whom is moving 3000 km away from me after I’ve only ever known her to live on the same street, and the other who has left her old home—which was just a stone's throw from my ownand relocated to a new suburb, a foreign distance to be travelled.

I am not someone who likes change. I meet it, at best, with trepidation, and, at worst, with defiance. But I am at a point in my life where change is inescapable. It is a promised thing. I have been lucky to surround myself with friends who are like family; their presence a permanent fixture in my life. I've grown attached to their circumstances, to the idea that they'll always remain in the places I leave them. As a result, their change is my change, their loss is my loss. There's a comfort and sense of belonging in this, but there's also a selfishness. I understand that now. 

The truth is, we can't hope to remain fixed when the pieces around us move freely, no longer bound by something we perceived as certain, something which perhaps never existed to begin with. What I'm encountering, then, is more than just a dislike of change: it's the realisation that we must evolve alongside the people in our lives. My friend who left for Darwin has been tied to me since I was 12, when we struck up a friendship in the early days of middle school and proceeded to navigate a shared teenhood together – sleepovers, breakfasts, holidays, events, and movie nights with a collective group of friends who I am bound to in a way that I can never hope to replicate. Now, I see the imprint of that teenhood disappearing, or perhaps just evolving into something else, some new form of lived experience which I have a responsibility to help cultivate.

Being left by those we love, even just temporarily, forces us to reckon with a difficult truth: they are gone and we’re still here. I'm not particularly good at processing my emotions in the right way or at the right time. Those are feelings which are too affecting to absorb and too vast to absolve. But what is the alternative? Speaking from past experience, I know it to be an absence; a cold where there should be heat, detachment where there should be grief. Worse, it’s a sense that you’re too late, that your failure to access those emotions at the time has made them difficult to access at all. They’re out there somewhere but you can’t see them, can’t taste them, can’t feel them. Every now and then, you might spy a shadow; it might be while you're driving, while you're at the checkout, while your exercising, in a bar, on a date. You’ll be struck down momentarily with a force so firm it catches your breath. The ghosts of the emotions that we refuse to digest do not disappear, they simply change form. Observable but unreachable.

I don't want that for myself, or for anyone. When it comes time for the people who have helped form us to leave, we have to be anchored by something else in their absence, we have to find a home in ourselves that does not depend on something or someone to confirm our existence. It's a reminder that we aren't just our pasts, we don't 'finish' at 20. We keep going because we have to. We owe at least that much to ourselves. 

Tagged in Wellbeing, friends, relationships, mental health, What messes with your head