Go West, Part IV: What About Your Friends?

In mid-June, after leaving California, I spent almost a week in Washington state teleworking and otherwise helping out my dad during my stepmom’s hospitalization. In late 2018, they had made their relocation from California to Washington permanent, selling their primary home outside Monterey and moving the last of their things north.

After enjoying the uber-green surrounds plus the most alone time I’d had with my dad in years – wonderful, but a sad result of my stepmom never being released from the hospital during the duration of my visit – it was time for me to start heading towards Virginia and home. “Back east,” as west coasters say. My dad and I checked the Volkswagen’s oil and kicked the tires, and then I set off on my first leg for Idaho.

The first day of the trip I wasn’t in a hurry to overshoot my planned destination for the night, sleeping in, eating breakfast with my dad, and going less than 450 miles. I wanted to sleep in Coeur d’Alene where my friend T had gone to high school in the early to mid-nineties. I’d had the idea of getting a memorial tattoo to remember him by floating around in my head for a couple of weeks, and my decision had crystallized. I would do it, and I wanted to do it there.

He had gotten his own tattoos in northern California after getting out of his parents’ house in Idaho and deciding to return to where we are from. During our relationship he had suggested a few times that should I want a tattoo he “knew a guy.” I’d always been adamant it would be like wearing a piece of jewelry I could never take off. I felt the same way about permanent makeup; I like to change my appearance and had no interest in doing something I couldn’t modify. How would it look when I got older? What could I possibly want in my 20s that I would want to see every day in my 40s? And my 70s?

Some of my girl friends had tattoos too, even back then: butterflies, cartoon characters, or sexy designs across their lower backs that frat guys charmingly dubbed “tramp stamps.” Yeah, not my thing. I pierced my belly button and later, to my parents’ dismay, my left eyebrow. That was plenty radical enough, and probably partially – albeit indirectly – linked to T’s influence on my personality over the three preceding years.

Plus, I saw the way people looked at the flaming (?!) skull on his arm with a stake through it, the tribal pattern, the barbed wire, the fierce colorful dragon. I thought they suited him, and it pissed me off that people judged him for the ink, and for his hair that was almost as long as mine. But wasn’t that the way of the superficial world in which we live? People have a split second in which to make an assessment about who is walking towards them, and the unique components of each individual person are too complicated to allow for the quick categorizations we make to automatically profile risk and help keep ourselves safe.

Going for a walk in my dad’s post-retirement town of Cathlamet, WA – I stood at this fork for a moment contemplating my choices before picking the uphill path.

But his death had changed my mind and I very much wanted a memorial tattoo; I had an image of what I wanted even though I can’t draw, and was sure about it. Me being a person who had never gotten a tattoo before and having no idea what I was doing, plus being deep in grief and having compromised executive functioning (picking up a phone? planning where I would be more than a few days in advance?), it turned out the Idaho artist I wanted to do the work was booked out for several months. I went to the shop the day I arrived and it was supposed to be open, but no one was actually there. I went back the next day, but none of his apprentices could take me on the fly. I contented myself with exploring the town for the first time and trying to remember something, anything T had told me about the years he had lived there. It kind of reminded me of Lake Tahoe and I could see why he had spoken fondly of it.

Given my failed attempts to get a tattoo in CdA had held me until almost lunchtime on the second day of my road trip, I then hit the road with purpose. What I hadn’t intended to do was drive 824 miles clear through to South Dakota, not stopping until after 3am the next day. However, the last opportunity to grab a motel around 10pm in Montana before striking out across hundreds of miles of Crow and Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservations in the pitch black had not, unfortunately, been evident to me. No posted speed limits and nowhere to sleep.

Thank Christ that 10pm stop had included topping off a half-full gas tank for some reason I still cannot pinpoint. There were a couple of hours where I contemplated trying to sleep in my car hidden somewhere in the woods to keep me from passing out behind the wheel, but somehow I got a second wind, rendering that unnecessary.

Clear Creek Falls Overlook, WA ~ June 2022

On the way to Idaho. It’s a long way down…

Perhaps it was mild terror at rocketing past highway “walkers” I didn’t see until I was already past them, on a road with a shoulder so soft it threatened to pull my tires off into an oblivion I didn’t dare turn my head to face lest I steer towards it. Or maybe it was being chased by dogs as groups of people stood around burning barrels, orange flames leaping up several feet in the air and illuminating the odd blankness of their expressions as they stared at my car. But I was wide, wide awake.

Where the hell am I? I asked myself before I saw the first casino and my heart sank. What a logistical stuff-up.

Despite my desire to get back to the interstate, after what looked like a wolf ran out in front of me and I didn’t even have time to touch the brakes, I kept my speed around 55mph, the fastest speed I felt I could safely handle. I maneuvered the Volkswagen into the center of the highway and drove right down the middle of the double yellow line, giving me a few yards’ more reaction room on either side. I half-expected some buffalo to lumber into the road and me, too punchy to react, to total my car before I knew what I was looking at.

I only saw two other vehicles as I finished crossing the state of Montana into South Dakota as the hours ticked by in the dead of night. I found six or seven motels after leaving the res; all had posted “No Vacancy” signs; I didn’t bother getting out to inquire. By the time I found a place to stay in Rapid City, SD, I almost didn’t care but forced myself to stop. It was the right judgment; I don’t remember the very second after my head hit the pillow.

Big sky country Montana, as seen through my dirty windshield… little did I know what kind of night I was going to have.

I was in bed by 4am but still had to check out of my hotel at 10am – it was brutal. I had no energy to negotiate for a late checkout and the face of the girl at the counter when I checked in made me not want to try.

I’d decided given the progress I had made on the road the day before, I would hang out in Rapid City for the day and see if I could find a place to get my memorial tattoo. Idaho hadn’t worked out, but I was still hooked on the idea of doing it on my road trip rather than once I was home in Virginia. Getting it seemed important to make part of the trip, although that did complicate things slightly given I was on a schedule. I did some research over coffee and found a few artists I wanted to talk to.

No-makeup selfie after an extremely and unexpectedly long night on the road through Indian country! Happy I have maintained my 100 lb weight loss goal that I reached back in January 2022.

I don’t expect to get any more tattoos, but it was a great experience and not something I would ever regret!

I was lucky enough to find a great artist who took me as a walk-in, conceptualized the image I had in my head, drew it out, and did the work within a few hours. I decided to get it upside-down, or facing me; the idea of broadcasting it to others while I looked at it upside-down myself made me deeply uncomfortable. After all, the idea for me was to keep T’s memory close, and to serve as a reminder to me to be a better and more in-touch friend, not to announce to the world I’d lost someone.

On balance, getting a walk-in tattoo, after being up all night, in a place I’d never been, and by someone I’d just met, sounds totally out of character and like a terrible idea! I can’t explain it. It just wasn’t. It was perfect. I somehow knew what I was doing, and it all worked out exactly the way it was supposed to. I felt like T was guiding me somehow because I don’t have any other explanation. On my own I am a bit useless at figuring these things out and yet I did with minimal effort. I typically have such bad luck with things I don’t plan to the nth degree.

And I enjoyed my conversation with the artist so much. He understood everything I told him and he asked me lots of questions about T. There was even something about the way his expression and his eyes looked when he was concentrating that reminded me of him. It was comforting. By 4pm I was on my way and drove another 436 miles to end my night in Iowa. After unbandaging the tattoo I washed it every few hours in gas station bathrooms with antibacterial soap I had with me. I never ended up having any complications and it healed beautifully. And speaking of Iowa…

The last thousand miles-plus of this trip were marked by a couple of unfortunate events: one, a couple of my tires going bad and causing a bit of a bumpy ride until I bought a new set upon returning home; and two, our failed purchase of a Westie puppy in Iowa that we had waited a couple of years on a waiting list for but that ultimately did not work out.

The day of my tattoo (left) and a few weeks later, healed (right) ~ I was very happy with how it came out. Yes, diplomats can have tattoos!

The former issue was caused by a flat tire replacement the night before my trip to California in August 2021 that a Mexican mechanic in Juárez put on backwards (I didn’t even know that was a thing). I had proceeded to drive thousands of miles with it inside-out before I discovered the problem when my Volkswagen failed the Virginia state safety inspection in January upon our move back stateside.

I thought that was the end of it, but apparently it had done more damage than I’d realized and the hits just kept on coming: I now needed four new tires due to them all wearing funny. They were about at the end of their mileage anyway, but at the end of an expensive road trip with gas at historic highs, it just made me shake my head. It isn’t a good feeling to be on a road trip with the specter of car trouble looming, but overall with a 12.5 year old car I was so lucky because literally nothing else went wrong the whole time.

And regarding the puppy situation… we had wanted and planned for a Westie for a long time and for various reasons it had never quite been the right time; 2022 turned out to be no exception.

In 2020 we had been working with a breeder in New Mexico who we came to understand behaved unethically towards us. So we started all over again and waited on a list with a new breeder in Iowa. Two days after I learned of T’s death, our name came up again and we decided to go for it even though the timing wasn’t the best for us personally. We did the personal interview online, made the nonrefundable deposit, and purchased everything our new puppy would need. All of this was a significant expense of multiple thousands of dollars. I stopped by the breeder’s home in Iowa on my way home to Virginia and collected in-person the puppy we had picked out online and already named. We had looked forward to this moment for so long and had already fallen in love with this little dog.

But unfortunately, from the very beginning, literally before I had even left the breeder’s driveway, everything started to go wrong. The puppy vomited and shat all over her crate and then jumped around in it and ate it, spreading whatever was left of it all over the grate door and her bedding. This continued all day long repeatedly. The puppy also barked aggressively at me for hours (and hours) on end without ceasing.

Because I was alone and rocketing down the interstate, there wasn’t much I could do. She barked herself hoarse until she vomited more and would not calm down. I tried everything I could think of to calm her, but nothing worked and she would not sleep. I took her out and played with her at a couple of intervals, but she growled and snapped at me. Same thing at the motel when I stopped 12 hours later, and because she was not fully vaccinated against parvo, I couldn’t really put her down anywhere.

Whose idea was this to save money by not having her shipped? I lamented to myself. Suddenly the idea of two more days driving alone thousands of miles like this – followed by months of crate training and not being able to let her play outside wherever she wanted due to parvo concerns – seemed like sheer insanity.

That first night with her I called V from Indiana and we discussed various options of what we could do to get her home, and whether keeping her was even feasible. V heard the barking and in fact it never stopped during the entirety of our lengthy discussion, which made him very sympathetic towards me and almost a little nuts.

After a long talk, we made the very difficult decision that in light of several things going on in our lives right now, and our concerns that something might actually be wrong with this puppy, that I would be taking her back to the breeder in Iowa the next day. Bringing her to Virginia only to potentially have her not pass the vet check we had scheduled for later that week and then having to figure out what to do from there seemed like a non-starter.

I barely slept that night and shed many tears as the puppy barked and growled at me and destroyed her bedding, every towel in my motel room, and every toy I had purchased her. I half expected the police to bang on my motel room door and cringed imagining the other guests and what they must have been thinking.

The next morning, I drove hundreds of miles back west and out of my way to personally return this nonstop barking dog to the flabbergasted breeder, who informed me that puppies vomit, shit, and bark. She suggested we might ship the dog to Virginia instead. I tried to explain the situation to her, which culminated in her suggesting the puppy might be unable to bond with me because I was “sad” and animals can pick up on our feelings.

In that moment, I was even more done than I had been two minutes beforehand. I gave myself 100% permission to take care of myself, forgive myself for not being able to look after a new pet, and exempt myself from having to explain anything else to the breeder. I surrendered our deposit and drove away from the cornfields of Iowa knowing deep in my heart I had done the right thing, however sad and disappointing it was. I cannot explain it, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt I could never have bonded with that dog, nor she with me. Maybe someone else could have easily figured out whatever the answer was to that problem, but I could not, and I know that. I didn’t care about the money, time, gas, or face I’d lost. If the problem was my own lack of happiness, skills as a dog parent, or patience, so be it. I simply don’t have the emotional bandwidth to take on something that fills me with dread right now while my emotions are so fragile and raw. I have to take care of myself and make decisions based on what I know to be true. I made an error in judgment about what I could take on, I apologized for it, and I’m moving on.

Visiting the grave of my paternal grandfather for the first time – he died 76 years ago, three months before my dad was born. I had never been there before, and I was so busy talking to him that I neglected to leave by the 7pm cemetery closing time which evidently, was quite a serious thing. I was only 15 minutes late and it was Father’s Day, but upon trying to depart I found the gate padlocked shut. I had to call the local police department to let me out, which was… pretty stellar. I told my grandfather, I’m usually a lot more on top of things. But times have been hard the last year. Have a laugh – on me!

But these things aside, the trip was wonderful and will be something I remember as a triumph in many regards. It helped me restore my sense of connection to friends and family. After dropping off the puppy, I blew back through Indiana and made it to Illinois for a second time, stopping for the last night and getting one of the deepest nights of sleep of the trip east.

The last morning I awoke super early, annoyed that I was supposed to have been back in DC that day had it not been for the puppy-related delay, and utterly determined to put up another 800 miles to make it home even though it would take me nearly until midnight. I got on the freeway like I meant it and passed Indiana, Ohio, the corner of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and finally – Virginia. When I parked in our driveway that night, the final trip mileage total was 7,952 miles (12,798 kilometers).

I leave you with an Atlantic article I found around the time I learned of T’s death about modern friendship. It resonated so strongly with me and my sadness about our social media connection that I still felt let me down (which I talked about in my previous post), that even though the article was already several years old, I am both linking it and sharing it in its entirety. All bolded emphasis is my own.

How Friendships Change in Adulthood

By Julie Beck

“We need to catch up soon!”

OCTOBER 22, 2015

In the hierarchy of relationships, friendships are at the bottom. Romantic partners, parents, children—all these come first.

This is true in life, and in science, where relationship research tends to focus on couples and families. When Emily Langan, an associate communication professor at Wheaton College, goes to conferences for the International Association of Relationship Researchers, she says, “friendship is the smallest cluster there. Sometimes it’s a panel, if that.”

Friendships are unique relationships because unlike family relationships, we choose to enter into them. And unlike other voluntary bonds, such as marriages and romantic relationships, they lack a formal structure. You wouldn’t go months without speaking with or seeing your significant other (hopefully), but you might go that long without contacting a friend.

Still, survey upon survey upon survey shows how important people’s friends are to their happiness. And though friendships tend to change as people age, there is some consistency in what people want from them.

“I’ve listened to someone as young as 14 and someone as old as 100 talk about their close friends, and [there are] three expectations of a close friend that I hear people describing and valuing across the entire life course,” says William Rawlins, the Stocker Professor of Interpersonal Communication at Ohio University. “Somebody to talk to, someone to depend on, and someone to enjoy. These expectations remain the same, but the circumstances under which they’re accomplished change.”

The voluntary nature of friendship makes it subject to life’s whims in a way that more formal relationships aren’t. In adulthood, as people grow up and go away, friendships are the relationships most likely to take a hit. You’re stuck with your family, and you’ll prioritize your spouse. But where once you could run over to Jonny’s house at a moment’s notice and see if he could come out to play, now you have to ask Jonny if he has a couple hours to get a drink in two weeks.

The beautiful, special thing about friendship, that friends are friends because they want to be, that they choose each other, is “a double agent,” Langan says, “because I can choose to get in, and I can choose to get out.”

Throughout life, from grade school to the retirement home, friendship continues to confer health benefits, both mental and physical. But as life accelerates, people’s priorities and responsibilities shift, and friendships are affected, for better or, often, sadly, for worse.

* * *

The saga of adult friendship starts off well enough. “I think young adulthood is the golden age for forming friendships,” Rawlins says. “Especially for people who have the privilege and the blessing of being able to go to college.”

During young adulthood, friendships become more complex and meaningful. In childhood, friends are mostly other kids who are fun to play with; in adolescence, there’s a lot more self-disclosure and support between friends, but adolescents are still discovering their identity, and learning what it means to be intimate. Their friendships help them do that.

But “in adolescence, people have a really tractable self,” Rawlins says. “They’ll change.” How many band T-shirts from Hot Topic end up sadly crumpled at the bottom of dresser drawers because the owners’ friends said the band was lame? The world may never know. By young adulthood, people are usually a little more secure in themselves, more likely to seek out friends who share their values on the important things, and let the little things be.

To go along with their newly sophisticated approach to friendship, young adults also have time to devote to their friends. According to the Encyclopedia of Human Relationships, many young adults spend 10 to 25 hours a week with friends, and the 2014 American Time Use Survey found that people ages 20 to 24 spent the most time per day socializing on average of any age group.

College is an environment that facilitates this, with keggers and close quarters, but even young adults who don’t go to college are less likely to have some of the responsibilities that can take away from time with friends, such as marriage, or caring for children or older parents.

Friendship networks are naturally denser, too, in youth, when most of the people you meet go to your school or live in your town. As people move for school, work, and family, networks spread out. Moving out of town for college gives some people their first taste of this distancing. In a longitudinal study that followed pairs of best friends over 19 years, a team led by Andrew Ledbetter, an associate communications-studies professor at Texas Christian University, found that participants had moved an average of 5.8 times during that period.

“I think that’s just kind of a part of life in the very mobile and high-level transportation- and communication-technology society that we have,” Ledbetter says. “We don’t think about how that’s damaging the social fabric of our lives.”

We aren’t obligated to our friends the way we are to our romantic partners, our jobs, and our families. We’ll be sad to go, but go we will. This is one of the inherent tensions of friendships, which Rawlins calls “the freedom to be independent and the freedom to be dependent.”

“Where are you situated?” Rawlins asks me, in the course of explaining this tension. “Washington, D.C.,” I tell him.

“Where’d you go to college?”


“Okay, so you’re in Chicago, and you have close friends there. You say ‘Ah, I’ve got this great opportunity in Washington …’ and [your friend] goes, ‘Julie, you gotta take that!’ [She’s] essentially saying, ‘You’re free to go. Go there, do that, but if you need me, I’ll be here for you.’”

I wish he wouldn’t use me as an example. It makes me sad.

* * *

As people enter middle age, they tend to have more demands on their time, many of them more pressing than friendship. After all, it’s easier to put off catching up with a friend than it is to skip your kid’s play or an important business trip. The ideal of people’s expectations for friendship is always in tension with the reality of their lives, Rawlins says.

The real bittersweet aspect is young adulthood begins with all this time for friendship, and friendship just having this exuberant, profound importance for figuring out who you are and what’s next,” Rawlins says. “And you find at the end of young adulthood, now you don’t have time for the very people who helped you make all these decisions.”

The time is poured, largely, into jobs and families. Not everyone gets married or has kids, of course, but even those who stay single are likely to see their friendships affected by others’ couplings. “The largest drop-off in friends in the life course occurs when people get married,” Rawlins says. “And that’s kind of ironic, because at the [wedding], people invite both of their sets of friends, so it’s kind of this last wonderful and dramatic gathering of both people’s friends, but then it drops off.”

In a set of interviews he did in 1994 with middle-aged Americans about their friendships, Rawlins wrote that “an almost tangible irony permeated these [adults’] discussions of close or ‘real’ friendship.” They defined friendship as “being there” for one another, but reported that they rarely had time to spend with their most valued friends, whether because of circumstances, or the age-old problem of good intentions and bad follow-through: “Friends who lived within striking distance of each other found that … scheduling opportunities to spend or share some time together was essential,” Rawlins writes. “Several mentioned, however, that these occasions often were talked about more than they were accomplished.

As they move through life, people make and keep friends in different ways. Some are independent, make friends wherever they go, and may have more friendly acquaintances than deep friendships. Others are discerning, meaning they have a few best friends they stay close with over the years, but the deep investment means that the loss of one of those friends would be devastating. The most flexible are the acquisitive—people who stay in touch with old friends, but continue to make new ones as they move through the world.

Rawlins says that any new friends people might make in middle age are likely to be grafted onto other kinds of relationships—as with co-workers, or parents of their children’s friends—because it’s easier for time-strapped adults to make friends when they already have an excuse to spend time together. As a result, the “making friends” skill can atrophy. “[In a study we did,] we asked people to tell us the story of the last person they became friends with, how they transitioned from acquaintance to friend,” Langan says. “It was interesting that people kind of struggled.”

* * *

But if you plot busyness across the life course, it makes a parabola. The tasks that take up our time taper in old age. Once people retire and their kids have grown up, there seems to be more time for the shared-living kind of friendship again. People tend to reconnect with old friends whom they’ve lost touch with. And it seems more urgent to spend time with them—according to socio-emotional selectivity theory, toward the end of life, people begin prioritizing experiences that will make them happiest in the moment, including spending time with close friends and family.

And some people do manage to stay friends for life, or at least for a sizable chunk of life. But what predicts who will last through the maelstrom of middle age and be there for the silver age of friendship?

Whether people hold onto their old friends or grow apart seems to come down to dedication and communication. In Ledbetter’s longitudinal study of best friends, the number of months that friends reported being close in 1983 predicted whether they were still close in 2002, suggesting that the more you’ve invested in a friendship already, the more likely you are to keep it going. Other research has found that people need to feel like they are getting as much out of the friendship as they are putting in, and that that equity can predict a friendship’s continued success.

Hanging out with a set of lifelong best friends can be annoying, because the years of inside jokes and references often make their communication unintelligible to outsiders. But this sort of shared language is part of what makes friendships last. In the longitudinal study, the researchers were also able to predict friends’ future closeness by how well they performed on a word-guessing game in 1983. (The game was similar to Taboo, in that one partner gave clues about a word without actually saying it, while the other guessed.)

“Such communication skill and mutual understanding may help friends successfully transition through life changes that threaten friendship stability,” the study reads. Friends don’t necessarily need to communicate often, or intricately, just similarly.

Of course, people can communicate with friends in more ways than ever, and media multiplexity theory suggests that the more platforms through which friends communicate—texting and emailing, sending each other funny Snapchats and links on Facebook, and seeing each other in person—the stronger their friendship is. “If we only have the Facebook tie, that’s probably a friendship that’s in greater jeopardy of not surviving into the future,” Ledbetter says.

Though you would think we would all know better by now than to draw a hard line between online relationships and “real” relationships, Langan says her students still use “real” to mean “in-person.”

There are four main levels of maintaining a relationship, and digital communication works better for some than for others. The first is just keeping a relationship alive at all, just to keep it in existence. Saying “Happy birthday” on Facebook, liking a friend’s tweet—these are the life-support machines of friendship. They keep it breathing, but mechanically.

Next is keeping a relationship at a stable level of closeness. “I think you can do that online too,” Langan says. “Because the platforms are broad enough in terms of being able to write a message, being able to send some support comments if necessary.” It’s sometimes possible to repair a relationship online too (another maintenance level), depending on how badly it was broken—getting back in touch with someone, or sending a heartfelt apology email.

“But then when you get to the next level, which is: Can I make it a satisfying relationship? That’s I think where the line starts to break down,” Langan says. “Because what happens often is people think of satisfying relationships as being more than an online presence.”

Social media makes it possible to maintain more friendships, but more shallowly. And it can also keep relationships on life support that would (and maybe should) otherwise have died out.

“The fact that Tommy, who I knew when I was 5, is still on my Facebook feed is bizarre to me,” Langan says. “I don’t have any connection to Tommy’s current life, and going back 25 years ago, I wouldn’t. Tommy would be a memory to me. Like, I seriously have not seen Tommy in 35 years. Why would I care that Tommy’s son just got accepted to Notre Dame? Yay for him! He’s relatively a stranger to me. But in the current era of mediated relationships, those relationships never have to time out.”

By middle age, people have likely accumulated many friends from different jobs, different cities, and different activities, who don’t know one another at all. These friendships fall into three categories: active, dormant, and commemorative. Friendships are active if you are in touch regularly; you could call on them for emotional support and it wouldn’t be weird; if you pretty much know what’s going on with their lives at this moment. A dormant friendship has history; maybe you haven’t spoken in a while, but you still think of that person as a friend. You’d be happy to hear from them, and if you were in their city, you’d definitely meet up.

A commemorative friend is not someone you expect to hear from, or see, maybe ever again. But they were important to you at an earlier time in your life, and you think of them fondly for that reason, and still consider them a friend.

Facebook makes things weird by keeping these friends continually in your peripheral vision. It violates what I’ll call the camp-friend rule of commemorative friendships: No matter how close you were with your best friend from summer camp, it is always awkward to try to stay in touch when school starts again. Because your camp self is not your school self, and it dilutes the magic of the memory a little to try to attempt a pale imitation of what you had.

The same goes for friends you see only online. If you never see your friends in person, you’re not really sharing experiences so much as just keeping each other updated on your separate lives. It becomes a relationship based on storytelling rather than shared living—not bad, just not the same.

* * *

“This is one thing I really want to tell you,” Rawlins says. “Friendships are always susceptible to circumstances. If you think of all the things we have to do—we have to work, we have to take care of our kids, or our parents—friends choose to do things for each other, so we can put them off. They fall through the cracks.”

After young adulthood, he says, the reasons that friends stop being friends are usually circumstantial—due to things outside of the relationship itself. One of the findings from Langan’s “friendship rules” study was that “adults feel the need to be more polite in their friendships,” she says. “We don’t feel like, in adulthood, we can demand very much of our friends. It’s unfair; they’ve got other stuff going on. So we stop expecting as much, which to me is kind of a sad thing, that we walk away from that.For the sake of being polite.

But the things that make friendship fragile also make it flexible. Rawlins’s interviewees tended to think of their friendships as continuous, even if they went through long periods in which they were out of touch. This is a fairly sunny view—you wouldn’t assume you were still on good terms with your parents if you hadn’t heard from them in months. But the default assumption with friends is that you’re still friends.

“That is how friendships continue, because people are living up to each other’s expectations. And if we have relaxed expectations for each other, or we’ve even suspended expectations, there’s a sense in which we realize that,” Rawlins says. “A summer when you’re 10, three months is one-thirtieth of your life. When you’re 30, what is it? It feels like the blink of an eye.”

Perhaps friends are more willing to forgive long lapses in communication because they’re feeling life’s velocity acutely too. It’s sad, sure, that we stop relying on our friends as much when we grow up, but it allows for a different kind of relationship, based on a mutual understanding of each other’s human limitations. It’s not ideal, but it’s real, as Rawlins might say. Friendship is a relationship with no strings attached except the ones you choose to tie, one that’s just about being there, as best as you can.

* * *

Julie Beck is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Family section, and is the creator of “The Friendship Files.”

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This is what life is like when you don't do things the easy way.

Audrey is (a)Broad

A Humorous and Factual Repository.

Audrey is (a)Broad

A Humorous and Factual Repository.

Emma & Nathan's Travels

Our worldwide travels beginning in the year 2017

Latitude with Attitude

Exploring the World Diplomatically

try imagining a place

some stories from a life in the foreign service

Teach Travel Budget

Personal Finance for English Teachers Abroad

The Next Dinner Party

So raise your glass

Bag Full of Rocks

My rocks are the memories from different adventures. I thought I would just leave this bag here.

Carpe Diem Creative

A soulful explorer living an inspired life


Time for adventure

Trailing Spouse Tales

My Life As An Expat Abroad


My thoughts.

Wright Outta Nowhere

Tales from a Serial Expat

from the back of beyond

Detroit --> Angola --> Chile --> Cambodia--> India

anchored . . . for the moment

the doings of the familia Calderón

I Think I'm Going to Like it Here

A little drama every day. ~Dramababyabroad


Wanderings & Wonderings

The Multicultural Marketer

Inclusion Isn't Optional


two humans, one cat, and our lives together in West Africa

travelin' the globe

my travels, my way. currently exploring eswatini and the rest of southern africa as a peace corps volunteer

Collecting Postcards

Foreign Service Officer and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer

a rambling collective

Short Fiction by Nicola Humphreys

Enchanted Forests

This Blog is about discovering the magic of forests in every aspect of life from a small plant in a metropolis to the forests themselves


Chimping around the world!

The Unlikely Diplomat

We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls. – Anais Nin

Countdown To Freedom

A blog about health, the keto diet, weight loss, family, relationships, travel & love!

Let's Go Somewhere

A life well-lived around the world.

Cu Placere

Joyce Hooley

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