long-distance friendship

In ALL, FRIENDSHIP, LIFE OBSERVATIONS by Stephanie Klein27 Comments

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Dulce, Stephanie, Smelly

I forgot one of my best friend’s birthdays. It was mid-November. If I were in New York, there’d have been an evite, or at least talk of how we’d be celebrating come the weekend. We’d detail where she’d be eating with her husband, what she was planning to wear, even. And then I’d ask about all the things she bought in the name of, "Well, my birthday is coming up, and I totally deserve it. So, why not?" And I’d get to see said purchases. But I’m in Austin, and it’s not the same.

With all my friends in other parts of the country, we aren’t able to love one another in detail anymore. Broad strokes love is there, the deep kind that makes us all feel safe, and I’m sure it always will be. But we both miss out on the details. With remarkable ease, we can say we’re "pick-up friends"==friends that pick up just where we left off. And it’s true, we swing right into our back and forth, asking the right questions, getting to the heart of things. But, still, we miss the sidelines. And it sucks.

I want to know what my friends are fighting about with their significant others–not in the way you recount an argument a week later, in breezy, "Yeah, but we worked it all out" generalizations. I want radio-announcements as it’s happening. I want to hear the excitement in her voice, to know what the next step is with her job. What she’s thinking of getting him for the holidays. Instead, phone calls are cut short by the lives we’re living across the country. And the details are shared with the lives lived closer to where we are. With new friends, different friends, friends closer to where we are in our lives, situations and proximity.

Even via IM, knowing the friend is so far away, we’re less apt to discuss plans. There’s very little "what are you up to tonight?" because as far as we’re concerned, every night is the same, and it’s lived without us in it. When you’re in the same city, you get windows, unexpected opportunities to see each other. Other plans fall through, work lets out early, oh, and there’s such lovely drinking to be had. "What’s up tonight?" allows for, "maybe we’ll grab dinner." Or, "come over, and let’s bake and play Christmas music and sing like muppets!" But across the country it becomes, "What’s new?", which is never answered with details. It only asks for the general.

One friend used to IM me for wardrobe brainstorming before a party. It’s harder now. I don’t get to see her as often, no longer know which are her best pants or shoes. And there’s no longer cause for, "I ate at Irving Mill last night"–not because  Irving Mill is a Danny Meyer knock-off, but–because when’s the next time I’m even going to New York? I’d only get food jealousy, anyway. The point is, I no longer get the dish on their dishes, dates, or dramas. I get the broad strokes. The panicked phone calls, the big news, the "we need to catch up already!" And I miss the unimportant and ordinary in my extraordinary friends. I miss ping-ponging phone calls, the "Shit, that’s him on the other line now. I’ll call you right after and tell you what he says."

When the grandparents are able to spend time with the tots, I notice they all take pride in observing. They feel more connected with Lucas and Abigail because of what they notice. "He rubs his ears when he’s tired." When they can speak of their grandchildren in details, it makes them feel like they know them, like they’re closer than they are. They can watch on the nanny cam’s we have stationed in the playroom, so they don’t miss out on the little things. "She took twelve consecutive steps today and seems to absolutely love the yellow car. Is that a bath toy?" All of us feel more intimately connected by what we know about others. And when we see it for ourselves, it’s tenfold.

Left with outlines, we get less to love. We miss the nuances, the everyday dramas, and in turn, the friendship we had. I fiercely love my friends and know they love me just the same. But it’s still different. I know each of them would drop everything if I needed them, and they know, I too, would schlep my ass across the country for them, kids in tow. And there’s comfort in that, but it doesn’t come with details.

Happy belated birthday, Smelly. I love you very much. Congratulations on your engagement, Alexandra (I’m honored to be a bridesmaid)! Dulce, how I miss all your sweet dilemmas, your sweet voice, and our crafty therapy sessions. I miss my Moniquey so, so much! And my Yasmin (it has been too long). Of course my sweet Amy and all her eye rolling, all the nicknames, all the love. And always, Miss Kimberlee. I miss Christine and her Christmas brownies, creative drinks with Miss Hillary, and wish I were there to see Jen K’s belly bloom. I hope Natalie is coming to Austin over the holidays to visit her sister, my Austin lovebug friend Lacey. I miss my close knit of New York chicklets (including the ones I haven’t mentioned) and wish they all had nanny cams. 


  1. That makes me sad because I've been feeling the same way since we moved to Ft. Lauderdale. All of my best friends are now scattered across the country (or in the last city I lived in for a significant period of time) and it's just horrible – the "generalizations" you write of and the glossed-over details that make you more than just acquaintances seeing each other on the street and stopping to say hello. So sad. And no new friends down here. :( Bummer.

  2. Love it. I am going to send this to all my dear friends who are spread across this giant country. We should all send this to our best girlfriends and include a note about something mundane from our day – to try and fill in those details. Like how I ate a very health lunch of hummus, veg, and pita…but then broke down and ate several christmas cookies. Sigh.

    FROM STEPHANIE: I love this idea! It will let them all know how missed they are, and they'll love the:

    "I went to Burger King this morning. Phil calls it Burger Shwing. I went because he likes it, but they were only serving breakfast. I got him the french toast sandwich with sausage, egg, and cheese, plus a large hash browns. Then I went shopping at Janie and Jack (great sale) and Gymboree. And it got cold. And he called asking for lunch food. So I went back to burger king and got him a double whopper with cheese, with a side of angioplasty. THEN I ATE HIS DAMN BREAKFAST."

  3. You just made me cry. I'm in my 8th year of living "abroad" (there comes a point when you wonder if "abroad" is really home…) and while I am very much settled here, I totally get where you're coming from. I have friends here, good friends. Everyday dramas, like a crap day at work or a rough patch with my fiancee are unfortunately dealt with, with the "here-friends" as it's easier, because you don't have to do the whole "when did we last speak" and then rewind and fill in the gaps so that the NOW makes sense. We go out for drinks, hang out hungover, all that – but it's not the same. My "home-friends" are still the ones where words are unnecessary.
    That seems such a contradiction now that it's written down, but so it is. When we DO meet up, we slip straight into how things used to be, and that's so comforting. At the same time, it's so very, very sad to miss out on the little big things – X has bought and renovated an old house, I wanted to be there to help knock through walls and rip off wallpaper, Y went through a breakup, I wanted to be there, literally as a shoulder to cry on. Z is pregnant, and the other day she had to drive herself to the hospital because the baby stopped moving. I wanted to be there to drive. Instead, I get to live with them in catch up sessions. It's not the same but still better than nothing.
    Umm… sorry about the marathon comment. I guess what I'm saying is, it seems to stay exactly the way you've just described it even as "enough" time passes. (At least it did for me.) You just somehow learn to compartmentalize your life, and live in little snippets. Makes you feel slightly torn sometimes… but it just comes with the package of moving thousands of miles. Luckily feelings aren't measured in distance!

  4. This is one of the hardest things I've found about moving. With friends now spread from Florida to San Diego, Texas to Seattle, and a few great excuses to visit Las Vegas, I completely relate. I miss being there for the planning of a new haircut, instead of just seeing it crop up on their MySpace photo. I, too, want to hear about the trials of the dud dates in between the ones they like enough to call and rave about. And more than anything, I resent seeing my best friend's daughter grow up a few months at a time. Maybe she needs a teddy bear for Christmas with a nanny cam inside…

  5. Good! I know you planned on writing how friendships have changed after you moved. I have about 4-5 friends who I truly feel this way about- we can just pick up and catch up with no awkwardness and yes, ask the right questions as you wrote here. But still, knowing we are pressed for time (until the kids interrupt on either end or someone has to head off somewhere) the details get muddled. I'm grateful to have the general info calls though, knowing the big stuff can always be handled by these few friends.

    My favorite is "I miss the unimportant and ordinary in my extraordinary friends." Sums it up so perfectly.

  6. i have a question. i have a hard time making female friends, and i was just wondering how and where and when you met all of your amazing ones. every time you talk about your friends, you have such love in your voice, and all i've ever experienced is a lot of back biting and lack of trust with females.

    FROM STEPHANIE: I write about how I met Dulce and Alexandra in Straight Up and Dirty. Smelly, I knew from college. As for my friends here in Austin–a city to which I moved, knowing NO ONE (my husband went to college with the Fox News weather man)–I met most of them, in one way or another, through this blog. I met another fun friend through a baby/mommy web site message board. One I met, get this, while naked. I was trying on wedding dresses, and she was the sales associate who helped my knocked up self into the dresses. She's now pregs, and I just adore her. I wrote about meeting her somewhere on this blog. If I haven't written about friendship enough, you might find an article in a magazine about it soon :)

    I'll let you know.

  7. "A side of angioplasty" that's hilarious! You have great wit I must say. I know that e-mail is a sad substitute for the real thing when you miss someone, but keeping in touch that way, can still brighten your day when you hear back from a friend.(wow, talk about a run-on sentence!)

  8. errr, nevermind! I thought the show would relate from the introduction but it really didn't much at all. whoops!

  9. This post of yours encapsulates so much of whatI feel living in Dallas now. In New Orleans I was fortunate to be a solid part of a mixed (girls & guys) motley of friends. We lived the life of a Hemingway novel and in turn forged deep connections. After the Hurricane K, alot of us where spread willy nilly across the country. Some have gone back, some like myself can not go back. But we all try to stay in touch religiously, and for the most part, with the given distance and responsiblities, we manage. But there is abosolutely nothing and I mean nothing than can compare to sitting across from your dearest friends and spill the trival details of a bad day, good night, or the unbelievable boots you bought, or having the gang round for a meal or to "whoville" up the house for X-mas festivities. What I would not give to have my pals together all at once instead of in dribbles and drabs of visits. But those were halcyon days of the past. So all we can do is just keep holding the connection. Best Holiday wishes to your beans & your man and you.

  10. I miss knowing how to get places, complete with alternatives down side streets. On really bad days I'll lay in bed and in my mind, drive down Old Country Road, Route 110, Manetto Hill Road, South Oyster Bay Rd, take the Northern State to the Meadowbrook, drive out to Stonybrook, etc.

    FROM STEPHANIE: That's like me. I hop beds when I'm trying to fall asleep. Remembering my bed just off Hillside Avenue.

  11. you know, it's so weird that you just wrote this because last night i was journaling about how weird it is to have the people who were once the closest to me, the best friends i could imagine – feel so removed. other people are now there where i used to be, and now i miss things in their lives. which is what happens when people move away or start new adventures, but still – it's so hard.

    i relate. send yourself a reminder to remember the bdays next year.


  12. This one really hit home, Stephanie. I'm also a transplanted New Yorker in Austin, just over four years, and I left behind friends so dear that "new" friends cannot compare. It's taken me all this time to find one or two who I hope will someday be those seasoned friends.. but it's not a process you can rush.

    I did a similar thing – missed the mid-November birthday of one of these dear friends – a few years ago. She had moved to Seattle, and things slip. What made my forgetfulness especially awful is that she had never forgotten mine- even when it happened to fall the day after losing a child. She wasn't able to call me herself, but had her sister call to tell me that she was thinking of me. After that, I signed up with Birthdayalarm.com. And I swore that no matter what, I'd never forget the birthday of that dear friend. It doesn't make up for the year that I did, but it's a start.

    I miss the everyday stuff – running errands with a friend, having a quick manicure, indulging in Magnolia cupcakes. Nursing the same cup of coffee for too many hours at a very tolerant local diner. Having a girlfriend come over to preview the outfit, or lend a wrap. The day-to-day gives us an intimacy that the phone and the quarterly trips home just can't match.

    Aristotle said that friends should live together. At times I think he was really onto something…

    FROM STEPHANIE: Aristotle never went to fat camp.

  13. KKKKKKKKKatie,

    For fucksakes then, why did you need to move to Austin? Was the need for warm weather greater than your endless needines for your "friends"?

    Oy, you're a contradiction!

  14. This post is the one I relate to more than any other post you have ever written.
    I moved to the west coast from the middle of the country three years ago and I miss the deep friendships I had there. They came out to be bridesmaids for my wedding, but had to hear about the engagement on the phone. I am pregnant (3 months) and I haven't told them because I wanted to do it in person at Christmas. I hate that they missed all the stuff that happened the first trimester.

    Friends like that will always be the deepest, but I worry that we will lose the closeness as years go by. It's hard to call sometimes when you know it will need to be an hour and a half catch up call, and all you have the energy for is 20 minutes.

    Here's to longtime friends and the hope that new friends will become as close.

  15. I just wanted to say that you have put into words what I feel very often.

    I too miss my friends a great deal. I've live in Austin for 4 years now and it has been very hard to recreate my connections with friends back home. I try to call them all the time to tell them everything from a great hair cut or a bad day at work. But life does get in the way. It sometimes makes me sad to hear that they are off to parties that we once would have gone together. We would then gossip about what people wore, what they said, and how they said it in great detail.

  16. I moved from the east coast to Chicago over two years ago and since the second I moved here I have been trying to pinpoint exactly what I was feeling with regards to how my relationships with friends from the east had changed. You have said everything so perfectly. Thank you for giving me the words…I have sent this to all my friends!

  17. I forwarded this on to my closest friend who lives in LA, about 1000 miles away from me. In college, we never were more than a door away from each other. After college, we intentionally moved to the same city. And then, regardless of how much we loved each other, we both had lives and life decisions. And good friends allow for those decisions. We both moved to other apartments, other cities, other countries. I will hear from her tomorrow about this post and we will talk for an hour, and I'll feel great knowing I have such a good friend. But there will be a certain amount of bittersweetness surrounding the conversation for both of us as we both realize there will never be that familiarity again.
    Excellent post, Stephanie.

  18. I relate completely. I moved to Japan about a year ago and found that the people I thought would stay in constant touch … didn't. Time differences. Schedules. Relationships. It's hard for everyone to keep touch through 14 time zones. If it weren't for the internet … and, honestly, that's a scary thought. I have made very few friends here (all male, to boot) so I miss my girls even more. Not that I can complain too much; it was my decision to move here and I don't regret that so I can only accept the negative consequences. My best friends and I went through a lot of changes this past year but only were able to read about it rather than share, and that hurts. I am sure that when we see each other again next week (I'm going home to NY for the holidays!) we will pick up as always but it's the in-between times I miss so much. When we do get a quick second together on the IM it's just as you describe; we cut right to the heart of the chase and I learn nothing about what they ate for lunch. I miss the lunch.

  19. I've lived in four different states and six different cities over the past ten years, and have left close girlfriends behind in each. As I read this in my office yesterday, I started tearing up, and immediately forwarded it to my three closest friends– living in three different parts of the country. Each wrote back telling me they were in tears reading it . . . thanks for putting down on paper how each of us feel.

    The one thing that makes it all ok, is that with those special friends, when you get the chance to be together again, all that time apart passes isntantly, and for a least a few days, it's like you live in the same city again.

  20. This is heart-wrenching. Just so sad and undeniably true. Yes, things have changed, and your ability to stay connected across the miles is a testament to the great love between you and your friends. It never ceases to amaze me how, if you remain in any place long enough, you build new roots that grow much deeper as your life progresses than the roots you left behind. I think that's because you'll change and evolve into an even more mature person with yet deeper thoughts and more substantial moments to share with the "new" friends. Eight years ago, I moved to a city where I had always wanted to live, and I knew no one. I left many wonderful friends behind and was very sad to do so. Now, I am more connected here than I've ever been in any place, including the city where I grew up for the first 18 years of my life and for every summer the four years after that! The thought of ever leaving the people I love in the "new" city (now home and not at all new) stops my heart, and fortunately, I can't foresee any reason that I'd ever be forced to do so. But if I had to, I know that the process would repeat – that new people to love would enter my life and become a part of it. It's really magical the way that happens. But yes, it's painful to leave the ones we love behind. Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece.

  21. I posted about this last Tuesday after my best friend visited me in LA for the weekend. I moved to LA from NYC a little over 3 years ago and I can honestly say there's not a day that goes by where I don't miss the ordinary details of my best friends lives.

    Your description of "pick-up" friends is perfect. Most of my closest friends have become "pick-up" friends…and I know it's supposed to be a great thing that it doesn't feel like a day has gone by…but those days DO go by without contact and details. And it breaks my heart.

    I don't like to live my life thinking about what I'm missing because then you miss what you're living…but some days it's hard when you know that you're missing so much with so many people that you love.

  22. Hey! I just saw you on a "Holiday Cookies" special on The Food Network, must have been from when you lived in New York. You were having a cookie swap, which I think is a great idea, by the way.

  23. great post. you put into words what i've been struggling to come to terms with at age 29. i sent it to my best friend and will remember it.

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