This post kicks off a GRIT series—from today through the end of October, we'll be highlighting stories of the kind of love that makes the world go round—friendship. Below you'll find thoughts from GRIT editorial board member, Celeste Scott, and senior Political Science major, Shelby Baumgartner, on the difficulties and rewards of long distance friendships.
I became friends with Shelby the way you fall asleep—slowly, then all at once.
I wish I could take credit for that analogy, but Mr. Green takes the cake on that one. Still, the story of my friendship with Shelby felt like something out of a teen romance novel like The Fault in Our Stars—minus the tragedy, of course, but just as magical.
My friendship with Shelby started the way most modern-day relationships begin: on the Internet. For most of our college careers we’d followed each other on Instagram and Twitter, always liking and retweeting from afar. Occasionally, we’d wave at each other, bashfully across the room in the crowded Starbucks on Imperial and La Mirada. I distinctly remember running into her in the bathroom at the café, and telling her how much I liked her septum ring.
It wasn’t until the beginning of our junior year, that one of us mustered up the courage to ask for a coffee date. It was a sunny Friday afternoon, when we sat on Metzger Lawn (a practice that would soon become a tradition of ours), sipping on watery iced coffee’s, sharing ourselves with each other for the very first time. We talked about music and politics and the Biola dating culture—lots of eye-rolling there. Talking to Shelby that first day, in many ways, felt like looking at myself in the mirror. She understood and shared in so many of my own experiences. As we talked and laughed and rolled our eyes, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Why weren’t we friends before?”
After our first hang out on Metzger Lawn, the rest was pretty much history. Shelby became one of my closest friends over the course of the school year. We
explored coffee shops in LA and went on late night ice cream runs. We
texted constantly and found ourselves wandering outside of Common
Grounds, in search of each
other on a daily basis. Shelby became a necessary person in my life.
She was someone to confide in and laugh with and cry to. She
was there for me when the boy I liked didn’t like me back. She was one
of the first people I called when I got my dream internship. I was amazed at how, even in my third year at Biola, I’d still found room to let another person invade my life in such a way. I
wasn’t expecting to find a friend like Shelby. I wasn’t looking for a
friend like Shelby. But as I look back on my junior year at Biola, I
realized I needed a friend like Shelby.
our junior year came to a close, a sadness began to grow inside me.
Shelby was leaving for the summer, and would be studying in Washington
D.C. the next semester. I remember sitting in her apartment in Tropicana
that last night, trying to find any excuse not to leave. When we hugged
for the last time outside her apartment I felt what seemed like the
weight of the world on my shoulders. We both forced smiles as I walked
away and got in my car. I’d be absolutely lying if I said I didn’t cry
all the way home.
I went back to my apartment and cried while packing the rest of the evening (Hi it’s me! Shelby!). This girl understood and encouraged me on so many levels, but now our time was being cut so short. It wasn’t fair, it felt wrong. She was my soulmate and now instead of living five minutes from each other we would be on opposite sides of the country.
I’m pretty used to the difficulties of long-distance friendship. Going to school far from home and leaving my college friends each summer taught me well. I’ve figured out how to manage distance within friendships again and again. Not every friendship withstands the distance, that’s just the reality of having roots in multiple places. I had no intention of letting that happen with Celeste, though.
We’ve been blessed by our tech world fore-mothers with cellphones and internet access always, which makes staying in constant contact SO easy. We text about everything—work, boys, the funny meme we just saw, the news—whatever we are thinking about, we have probably sent each other about ten paragraph long texts about it. But the thing is, texting doesn’t ever feel like enough. It keeps me up-to-date on big things, even random no-so-big things, but it could never compare to running into Celeste sitting outside Commons after chapel. Texting about our frustrations with injustice in the news is not the same as lamenting about it over matcha. Long distance friendship is so hard, because you are so physically far from the comforts and relative easiness of living in the same space as your friend. Those simple times where you run into each other on campus, or when you make quick plans to run errands together don’t happen when you live across the country.
A long distance friendship is not maintained in the same way a normal friendship is. It takes time and effort you don’t always have to put into other friendships. Communication will forever and always be key. Texting is an advancement I will never take for granted, but the first time Celeste and I talked on the phone this summer, I immediately felt a sense of comfort wash over me hearing her voice. Now that I’m in D.C. we make it a point to talk on the phone almost every week (hi we need to schedule a call soon). I may not be sitting across from her on the patio at our favorite coffee shop, but when we are on the phone I can at least feel a sense of the closeness and familiarity Celeste gives me that I often ache for in this unknown place.
It’s also important to realize that not being in a place where your friend is will sometimes suck because you will see them living their life without you. The first time it happens it’s like watching an ex move on except, surprise, they’re not your ex and you’re still in a relationship. You’ll feel left out or jealous or sad. I’ve found the best way to handle it is to remind yourself that you want this person you love with so much of your heart to flourish. You don’t want them to feel lost without you, you want them to feel loved by you and by those around them. When you can’t be there for them in a physical space, you want them to be surrounded with people who can be.
Long distance friendship sucks a lot of the time. There’s no way around it. Especially when you feel like you are finally finding your people. If you are going to build and sustain friendships that will withstand the physical space between you, you will have
to be understanding and gracious. Schedules are going to be hard to
coordinate. Time change will feel like a stupid concept invented to make
your life more difficult. It’s not simple by any means. But with those
soulmate friends who make you feel like you are living out your childhood dreams, making each other a priority is so worth it.
Check back next week for a guest post from Biola alum Grant Morgan on cross gender friendships!