If I close my eyes tight enough, I can see back to that August night nearly nine years ago, when I sat with a group of my closest friends, hoping that the silence and our tear-filled eyes would keep us there in that very moment.
We found out then that heavy hearts just don’t beat quietly, and when the silence broke, we did everything we could to bottle up all the last words that we said. Carrie Underwood was playing on repeat in the background, drowned out by the sound of desperate voices clinging onto our youth.
And she says, ‘I don’t want this night to end, why does it have to end?’
We talked about all the ways we would keep in touch. We would write letters, send cards, mail each other care packages. We would have our own version of what the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants had. We calculated the miles between all of our colleges and mapped out the road trips we’d take. We made plans for all the weekends we’d see each other, and all the holiday’s we’d come back to this spot. Our plan was fool proof. Nothing would change.
They’ve been dreading this moment all summer long; the night before, life goes on.
We made promises and plans for the future. After college, we’d get apartments together. We would travel together. We were going to take on the world together. We promised that no one would ever love as deeply or laugh as fiercely or feel as close. We promised that despite the miles, and schools, and states, and new friends — nothing would change the fact that we had history on our side.
They take one last drive around town and man, it already looks different. He bangs the wheel and says, ‘life ain’t fair. And this growing up stuff, man I don’t know; I just don’t want to let you go.”
At 18 years old, the promise of forever felt real.
The best way to describe where I am today is somewhere stuck in the space between moving on and nostalgia.
The years following college graduation and really settling into adulthood are strange in a number of ways. You suddenly get sucked into the vortex of what real life is about. You went from being on the very same page as all of the people in your life, to occupying the same space, yet somehow living in different time zones.
You realize that living out your dreams of squeezing 6 friends into a studio apartment in Manhattan sounded so much more romantic when you were 18. Truth be told, when you’re 18 years old and looking towards the future, it’s so hard to see beyond those four years of college. It’s hard to imagine life when your friends – especially the ones who were so much a part of your existence, are not your priority.
The truth is, we blindly made those promises to each other nine years ago.
We never could have anticipated what was to come. We didn’t have a crystal ball that told us what it was like to turn 22, and then 25, and then 27, and how things would evolve during that time. We somehow had blinders on to the real world. We thought that growing old together would be the same as growing up together, but with more freedom than our parents granted us as kids.
The reality is this: you look around and you’re suddenly real adults, and you’re not sure when that happened. You scroll through your Facebook feed past several engagement photoshoots. People your age are announcing pregnancies — planned pregnancies. They’re buying houses and learning how to garden and choosing curtain patterns. You start really understanding the importance of a 401K, healthcare plans, and the seriousness of keeping a good credit score.
Your life becomes a routine. You wake up, go to work, make a living, go home, sleep, wake up, and do it all over again. If you’re lucky, after rent and utilities, student loan payments, and credit card bills, you’ll have enough money at the end of the week to get together with your friends. And if you’re really lucky, getting together with your friends can be more than just half price appetizers at Applebees. But if you’re anything like me, you’re tired (because my God, adulting is exhausting). Canceled plans are like Christmas morning, and days spent sitting on your friends couches are the only kind of hanging out you have the energy for.
Life is no longer solely about socializing. It’s about savings accounts and deadlines and job interviews and trying to figure it all out. It’s about toying with the idea of marriage, or maybe putting yourself out there and finding a boyfriend, or maybe trying to make this whole thing work alone. It’s saying yes to being in (A LOT of) weddings, and deciding if you’re going stag, or bringing a plus one. It’s going to showers – both baby and bridal, and trying to muster up the energy to cook healthy meals, do your laundry, and stay up late enough to watch prime time television.
You suddenly become the center of your life, while your friendships are soft-focused in the background.
And when you look into that lens, you see the few people who stand out. These people are your soulmates. These are the elastic friendships that make their way around all the growing up stuff. These are the people you carry with you above the rest into adulthood. They’re the ones who bend with you, who stretch with you — the ones whose lives still flow with your own. And there’s nothing wrong with the rest of the people who sat in that same circle nine years ago — nothing either of you did to cause a rift. But there is a tangible difference between your friends and your soulmates — and the difference lies in the elasticity of their friendships. There is a deep-rooted and profound appreciation for these people.
There is more planning that goes into seeing your friends. Hanging out with them is no longer natural. We don’t just pick up our phones, send a text, and meet at the swings on the beach. It takes an invitation sent out a month in advance. It takes planning, and effort, and the hope that when that plan comes up, you’re not exhausted from the week before. It takes, ‘okay, you bring the veggie platter, you bring the salad, you bring the cheese and crackers, and I’ll bring the dessert.’
Your soulmates are the ones you can talk to all day or not at all. They’re the ones who require no real plans when you get together. They can come home once every other month and you see them for a half hour for coffee or Chic Fil A, and conversation is effortless. They’re the ones whose house you run to after work each Thursday to watch your favorite Shonda Rhimes shows. They’re the ones who you can call up and say, “hey, I’m going to Target, wanna come?” and they’d be on their way within seconds.
Your relationship with your soulmates are effortless.
Their couch is your couch. They are the family that takes you in when there’s a pending snow storm, so you don’t get snowed in alone. They’re the ones who never have to ask what’s new, because their daily phone calls to and from work are exactly how they know what’s new. They’re the ones who know how you feel at any given point. They’re the ones that really get you through this whole life thing.
And don’t get me wrong, accepting this is much harder than it sounds. It’s hard to fully accept that life can’t be like what it was like when we were 18 and full of wonder. Life just can’t be about funneling beers and shaking off our hangovers the next morning with pork roll egg and cheeses on the beach. Life can’t be about the big and bold plans to live together and take over the world.
I’m inching closer to accepting that this is the way it is — that this whole growing up thing is about relinquishing the preconceived notions I had when I was younger. All of those promises and wishes that we made nine years ago were genuine and real then, but they aren’t timeless. They can’t stay true.
The truth is I can’t be all the things.
That’s the part I’m struggling with the most. I want to believe that I can close my eyes and go back to that night in 2007 when we promised that nothing would change. That, no matter what, we would still be everything to each other.
It’s hard to admit that I can’t be everything to everyone, though I desperately wish I could. I want to be your friend, but I want to be the best friend. I want to be the person that shows up at your door step with a tub of ice cream, 90s romcoms, and a box of tissues when you’ve had your heart broken. I want to be the one who shows up, unannounced, with a car full of girlfriends, a bottle of champagne, and reservations for a girls night out when there’s something to celebrate. I want to be your girlfriend, but I want to be the best girlfriend. I want to find your favorite childhood memories, and spend a weekend recreating all of them for you. I want to be the one who shows up with all of the things you need. I want to be the best sister, best daughter, best writer, best counselor, best employee, best person.
I want to be all the things to everyone, but I just can’t be.
So, I guess that’s where I’m at these days — still stuck somewhere in between growing up and nostalgia. I’m learning to slowly loosen the grip on the idea that I can be everything to everyone.
And maybe this is a harsh lesson that we all need to learn. That we don’t need to apologize to our younger selves for making promises that we didn’t all keep. We were so, so young. We had no idea how life would unravel. All we saw was the immediate future. We saw the freedom of life outside of our hometown. We could have never anticipated that the future was more than just having fun with your friends.
On any given day, after shedding the excess layers of fat, I’m realizing that this is perhaps what we all need: people who show up, people who sit with us, head on our shoulders, and hear the noise in our silence. We need people who make life effortless — who make friendship effortless. We need people who see through us, who gets us, who grows with us.
Maybe all we need is someone who shows up and says, “I will be here on the days that you need me and the days that you don’t. I’ll sit with you through the tough stuff and dance with you through the fun stuff. We can stay in on a Saturday with too much sushi in front of us, or we can book a road trip to the Poconos for a weekend. We can talk all day, or we can say nothing at all. But I promise you’ll never doubt this. You don’t have to be all the things to everyone; you just have to be all the things to some and that will be enough.”
Today, this is all I need. Quality over quantity. People who make this growing up thing easy– because as we all know, going at this life thing is hard enough as it is without the people who make the ride effortless.