Of the 11 guests who recently got wasted at my apartment, I'd guess that approximately zero could tell you my sister's name.
I doubt any would know if my parents are still together or who the latest guy I dated was. Maybe half would know I grew up in Texas. A casual observer might find this lack of basic information surprising, given how comfortable we were with each other: One guy lay on his back giving a girl an airplane ride on his legs, while a different girl swigged straight from a wine bottle on my couch.
Before that night, however, I had met all but one of my guests just a few times. The get-together was a reunion from an overnight relay we'd completed in mid-May, but we'd started as a hodgepodge of people who'd been recruited by someone who knew someone. The catch-up session was supposed to go from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., but the festivities continued until almost 1 a.m., complete with a photo session that would later be heavily edited and the requisite "That's what she said" jokes. The next day, the aforementioned human airplane sent us all an email: "So much pain ..." This prompted a flurry of notes from the members to the team recapping the evening ("really? prancing?") and discussing how special we felt to know one another.
It was our second such lovefest -- the first occurring in the days immediately following the race -- and though I was very much a willing participant, I was also fully aware of what was going on: As much fun as I'd had with these not-so-long-ago strangers, I recognized that they were not really my new best friends. Yes, we were all a little in love with each other, but the notes of admiration would drop off shortly. Aside from the occasional "like" or wall message on Facebook, there was a good chance I wouldn't even speak to most of them until our next group event. I would go back to my life and they would go back to theirs. But as I kept thinking about what a great time I'd had that evening, I realized that maybe it didn't really matter.
During the days after the race, friends and family asked how it had gone, and my general response was that it was physically exhausting but awesome. What made it such a positive experience was not just the sense of accomplishment, but also that for 30-plus hours, we'd lived in our own little cynicism-free bubble. It was 100 percent support and encouragement, from letting the next runner pick the pump-up music in the van to waiting with Gatorade at the top of a steep hill.
I put aside all major decisions about life, except to risk mine by running alone at 4 a.m. on the side of a dark highway. By the end, I was delirious and sore, my shins likely thinking ice was a pretty lame peace offering, and yet my reaction resembled that of a camper who can remember only how amaaaaazing
everything was. (Well, a camper who got to go out for beer afterward.) During the whole crazy adventure, my teammates were just genuinely happy to be in each other's company. And when we reconnected, albeit for a less healthy activity, we returned to our little mutual-admiration society.
The situation is not so different from the beginning of a potential romance, when the guy seems almost perfect on the first few dates. You're excited by the fact that you can talk nonstop for two whole hours but haven't yet noticed that his rapid blinking reminds you of a hummingbird or that he starts every other sentence with "One could argue ..." That same infatuation phase can happen with new friends, and though it can fizzle just as quickly with them as with a possible love match, it's more likely to be sustainable even if it doesn't evolve into a deep, tell-each-other-everything relationship.
I feel lucky that I'm still extremely close with many of my friends from growing up, and that I made some incredible friends during and after college. But because it's hard enough to keep up with the ones I have, I'm not necessarily on the lookout for (distant) future bridesmaids. Those long-term friendships are built on a foundation of memories and inside jokes that's
irreplaceable, but they entail much more than breezy blowout celebrations. Part of my duty as a friend is to play the role of a sounding board: listening to complaints about bosses, concerns about why that guy didn't call, really long stories that, all in all, don't really affect me. I listen because I'm their friend, and I know they'd do the same for me.
But truthfully, it can be exhausting sometimes. It's easy to be pulled into a friend's funk when she goes through a woe-is-me period, and it's hard sometimes to figure out if I should offer a totally honest opinion and just tell her what she wants to hear. Plus, my friends from home and I have so much history that, when we finally catch up, there's no such thing as a quick conversation. I love lying on my couch for an hour discussing who's going to get engaged soon and why so-and-so is mad at so-and-so -- but it's a real commitment.
In our first few years out of school, we make new friends as we enter a new phase of life, but with rare exceptions after that, we tend to settle into our routines and the opportunity presents itself less frequently. Should we get married and have kids, we may find ourselves bonding with the parents of our children's friends, but until then, the people who come into our lives can seem slightly less permanent -- even when we are convinced at the time that we've found our platonic soul mate at a party. At this point, I have enough people I can cry to if I'm feeling anxious about a guy or stressed out by my to-do list or just really, really full from how much dessert I ate, so the new friends that I get temporarily obsessed with don't need to see that side of me – and vice versa. If we can enjoy a whole lot of unqualified highs without dealing with the lows, is that really such a bad thing?
A few days after the race reunion, a girl from my team -- the wine-swigging one -- texted me to ask about a date I'd mentioned briefly. It was a small but thoughtful gesture that showed she cared enough to follow up beyond our group activities, and I said I'd keep her posted. Will I? To an extent, if we happen to talk. And if our casual friendship were to develop naturally into a closer bond, I'd hardly resist it. But if we spend the next get-together once again rehashing all the funny things that have happened to our team and making "That's what she said" jokes, well, that's OK too.
Lori Fradkin works on the Welcome Screen team at AOL and has written for New York magazine, Marie Claire and DailyCandy. Her grandma can't believe she's the same girl who wouldn't go to sleep-away camp.