I've lived in four different states in the last six years. Each time I've found myself in a new place, I've made three or four close friends, and then I've had the terrible task of saying goodbye to them.
Saying goodbye to weekly lunches or ANTM nights hurts in a very old-school way, because even though I'm happily married, it doesn't mean that I don't need my girls.
Last week I sent out a silly Happy Halloween email to some of those pals, and I got a response from one of my BFFs letting me know that her partner's surgery had gone well.
That's when the sticky guilt kicked in, and I realized that it'd been a while since we talked ... because I had no idea why her partner had had surgery.
Isn't that the kind of thing friends are supposed to know?
I wondered whether this is something that happens to everybody when they grow up ... or was I a bad friend?
Maybe it's OK for some people to drift out of your inner circle. With some friends you make and move on from (physically or socially), the annual catch-up is all you need. You know, the kind where you run into each other at Target or casually play phone tag for months so that you can eventually tell each other about your work, your relationships and your newest hair color. No one has hard feelings, you fall right back into old banter, and you have a blast. It's not the deepest of relationships, but it's comfortable and lovely.
But for the BFF who you didn't go to lunch without consulting to see what she was doing, a long silence can be deafening. And awkward. Voicemails are left for each other, Gchats are initiated that juuuust miss the other person, emails are returned with a rushed "Sorry, I'm swamped at work but I miss you too."
Slowly, time creeps by and you realize that the thing with your mom you'd been stressing over and needed BFF advice for has resolved itself, and you feel both proud of yourself and ashamed that you didn't actually need her. You have a spare hour between assignments and think of calling her, but you're stressed and you kinda just want to zone out and surf the Internet instead. The back corner of your mind may wonder what was so vital about the friendship in the first place since you seem to be doing fine. And more days go by.
The longer you wait to check in with a best friend, the longer you know the phone call will be, and the less time you seem to have to make it. Soon you just resort to texting her an inside joke and requesting that you catch up "soon," which is code for "I don't know when this will happen." So what's to be done in this situation?
The only thing I can recommend is complete, awkward, vulnerable honesty. If it's been awhile since you've caught up with someone you consider to be a best friend, start as soon as possible. Like today. Pick up the phone and call her, and then say the thing you're both thinking. Say that you hate not knowing what's going on in her life every single day, and even if it's not possible to keep each other posted constantly, you have to start somewhere.
Don't mention the times she didn't call you back, and don't make excuses for why you didn't call back; just acknowledge it and move into the good stuff. (Side note: Try not to do this when you're in the midst of an emotional crisis. It's a tough pill to swallow when someone you haven't spoken to in weeks suddenly calls you crying hysterically about her breakup.) Don't just update her on how your job is going or your kids are doing; make sure you throw in that time two weeks ago when you accidentally dumped sriracha on yourself at work and had to force everyone into ordering Thai food to cover up the smell.
When the catch up call is drawing to a close, don't tell each other that things will be different from then on. Because we do get busy, and making promises you can't keep just prolongs awkwardness. The scary truth is that when you're an adult, you can
get through life without checking in with a best friend, the question is more "Why would you want to?"
Make a plan to check in once every few weeks for sure, in between if something fun/horrible comes up, and don't feel weird about planning a conversation with a friend. Couples schedule sex these days, so why not? If you're still feeling disconnected and guilty, you can try a technique I've used: Text or email each other what you had for breakfast that day.
It sounds silly, but when I wake up on the West Coast and see a text from hours earlier on the East Coast that says "Thought about oatmeal, got a banana and pita chips instead," I can hear my BFF talking. I feel loved, and more than that, I feel like I should make myself oatmeal and text her back, bragging about it.
That's what friends are for.
Emily V. Gordon was a couples and family therapist and is now a freelance writer and Lemondrop contributor. She lives in Los Angeles and tries to be a good friend to animals and people.