My best friend and I have known each other for about ten years now. We met like most middle schoolers do – shared classes and a shared group of friends. We were both part of the middle school orchestra (and both in the back of the second violins….), which is something we continued when we got to high school. I can’t remember when exactly we made the transition from “friends” to “best friends,” but I do know that by the time high school ended, we were all but inseparable (we even won the “Yin and Yang” mock award at the orchestra senior celebration).
It’s easy to have that kind of bond when you’re spending most of your day together – by the end of high school, she and I were in most of the same extracurriculars (theater tech crew, orchestra, yearbook, marching band) and also had shared classes. We literally spent five days of the week virtually tied at the hip. We were each other’s dates to dances (because let’s be honest, school dances were way more fun with your friends anyway) and were always there when yet another crush did not see what a catch the other was. Our bond was based on a plethora of shared experiences and the fact that we spent most of our formative years together – we had been with each other through all those awkward transitions from not-quite-girl to not-quite-woman.
After high school graduation, she spent most of the summer visiting family in China while I stayed home working my first real job. It was the first time we had really been apart for more than a holiday break in the five-ish years we’d known each other. We took laminated cutouts of each other on our summer adventures (well, she took “me” on adventures…I mostly took “her” to work and open houses) and kept a log of the things “we” were doing over the summer. I remember feeling this void where my best friend was supposed to be, and how intimidating it was to realize that this would be our reality in a few short months – even though we were both staying in the same city, we were going to different colleges, majoring in different things, and participating in different activities.
It’s kind of terrifying to realize that this constant in your life may no longer be so constant. It was a tough adjustment as we settled into our new routines and filled the spaces that used to only be for each other. I remember feeling envious of the new friends she made who got to share parts of her life that I wasn’t able to – friends who she could bond with over crappy professors, crazy work hours, and who were just there in the day-to-day way I no longer was (maybe she felt the same way?). We still had things like our high school’s plays and still made time for “dates” every now and then, but that first year (for me) was definitely marked with the separation I felt from my yin.
After a couple of years, she transferred to the school I was attending and we were able to spend more time together again – but while a lot of things stayed the same, we had begun to grow into different people than we were at 12, or 15, or 18. We were close but there were also many others I shared the same closeness with (her too) so it was hard to find our rhythm again. No one talks about how hard friendship is once you leave the sanctuary of high school and start to grow into the person you are becoming – no one talks about how challenging it is to carry the nostalgia of an inseparable high school bond and struggle to reconcile it with an adult-in-training one.
There are so many experiences we share that no one else can ever be a part of because we’ve been friends for so long, but it was a process to get comfortable with the fact that we don’t have to like all the same things or do all the same things to still be best friends. That’s something I’ve always known in theory, but in practice it’s hard to keep in mind that the person you used to share every life event with won’t always be in that role. It’s been a process knowing that’s okay, and that we can be distinct people while still sharing all the big things and retaining that piece of yin and yang.
Being 23 is hard. It’s hard because it’s the first time when you really have a chance to deviate from that “track” that everyone seems so committed to – elementary school, middle school, high school, college. After college graduation, all bets are off. Some go to graduate school, some find jobs, some struggle to find jobs, some go backpacking across the world, some get married, some have kids, some cohabitate, and some stay single. Life feels very amorphous and awkward and weird and even though there doesn’t seem to be a set “right way” to do things, it also seems like there somehow is. Friendship is really tricky to fit into that, because we’re all just struggling to figure out what the hell is going on with our own lives and it can seem challenging to find common ground and the same kind of shared experiences as sophomores in high school or seniors in college.
No one talks about the challenge of finding genuine human connection (even with people you’ve known for the better part of your life!) because your twenties are supposed to be fun and graduating college is supposed to be exciting and you’re supposed to be carefree but also have it all together and sometimes you just don’t. It’s hard to connect and reconnect, even with the people who have been with you through all the tough stuff so far. But, people don’t always talk about the payoff of those “growing pains” either. People talk a lot about friendships “fading” or “growing out” of friendships made when we’re young, and often forget to talk about the richness of friendships that evolve past that inseparable state in our youth.
My best friend and I are not the same best friends who were stand partners in orchestra, or e-board members of Circle K International. We’ve both graduated college and are figuring out how this “adult” business works exactly. We no longer share exactly the same circle of friends and we no longer go out to Noodles and Company for lunch every day, but we still share all of those inseparable moments plus all the new moments that we’ve created along the way. We’re figuring out where we fit in each other’s lives again and if there’s anything our bond has taught me, it’s that sometimes people need to grow apart to figure out how to grow back together. And just like they say soulmates always find their way back to one another, we always find our way back (and now we can find our way with a couple of bottles of Chardonnay and a really good fudge cake!). No matter whether we see each other once a day, once a week, or even once a year – we will always be soulmates. We will always be family. And family is forever, even if it’s not “all the time.”