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When friends grow up together.

I have a few friends I grew up with in one sense of the phrase; as in, I remember being a kid with them. I remember trading basketball cards, dancing around to N*Sync and rollerblading (sometimes simultaneously). I remember passing notes in class, writing phone numbers in yearbooks and playing basketball after school. (Did my whole childhood revolve around basketball? Perhaps, and all the better for it.)

But there’s a different kind of growing up happening with my friends now—it’s harder to explain. It’s not about fun—although of course I have fun with my friends (even if it’s just cooking dinner—maybe not as cool as the N*Sync dancing days). It’s not about similarities—my friends are often significantly different than I am. It’s not about who happens to live down the street from me or who happens to be in the same sixth grade class—almost all my close friendships are long-distance now. (My people live in Kentucky, Indiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, New York, Michigan, and even outside the States. Good grief.)

It’s about the in-it-for-the-long-haul kind of doing life together that survives outside of logistics. It’s almost about a preemptive backward look; as if I already know that, one day, I’ll know that these friends were the ones who helped me mature. They were with me when I was figuring everything out. They were the ones who saw me without answers and helped me find them, who helped me make sense of my life. They were the ones who taught me how to love, how to be a friend I’d want to have. How to care about things that matter, and how to figure out what those things are.

One thing that is so hard and so lovely about this post-undergraduate-we-all-live-apart moment is friendship itself. We need close friendships desperately but we’re constantly in transition. We end up missing the friends from whom we’ve moved away, yet we get through that feeling by talking to them. And then we miss them more. I’ve had moments where I think that it must be easier to disconnect, not to be tied to so many different places and people. For my heart not to be tugged in so many directions.

But I know that’s not true. What matters is that my friends are helping me grow up, wherever they happen to live. And I’m helping them do the same. It almost doesn’t matter that we’re apart (even though it does, of course—can I just get all my people in a room, please?) because that’s the very thing that we’re all helping each other understand. Do we need this moment, this separation, to grow up together and apart? To be ourselves within our group? I wish we didn’t. I wish I could grow while being comfortable. But so far that’s not the story.

The other day I was talking with a friend about how our friendships had changed, even just in the past few months. We’d gone through a full range of emotions in those months—joy (when we were together), sadness (when we had to be apart again). Confusion (when we didn’t have answers) and triumph (when we thought we did). We talked about how happy we were to have such solid friendships and how annoying it was that we couldn’t be together all the time. We talked about how we were assured that some friendships would last.

Toward the end of the conversation, when I couldn’t really name what had changed, I told her, “Maybe we just grew up.”

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