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Ruth Clark
June 09, 2018 1:18 pm

June 8th was National Best Friend Day, but on HG, we are celebrating friendship all month long.

The summer of 2001 was one for the books. I was 14 and my best friend lived down the street from me, which is like winning the friend lottery when you’re a kid. We saw each other all the time, especially during those summer months in 2001.

We called it “The Summer of the Sleepovers” and kept an actual list of how many sleepovers our parents would let us have. We’d stay up late, eating ice cream on her front porch and watching fireflies. We’d sleep in late, reveling in the sticky July mornings with no school responsibilities. And then we’d do it all over again.

Kid friendships are so darn easy. Adult friendships, though? So much more complex.

Adult friendships have so many more variables, so many more emotions, so much more at stake. I really learned this when I experienced the pain of a friend breakup. You know, a “friend breakup” — when friends simply grow apart, or split up after a fight. I suppose it’s only logical to expect that this could happen in any adult relationship, but back then I was still rather naive.

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Late one night in the summer of 2015, I was with a few friends at our favorite local bar. We’d stopped for tequila and tater tots after a long day at the beach. The bar was crowded; everyone in the city seemed happy for the weekend. We got the last three seats at the bar when I saw an old friend walk in — she was the first friend I’d made in that new town, but we’d had a falling out two months earlier. I suffered terribly from it.

I knew the inevitably of running into each other in our small city was pretty high, but I didn’t expect how strange it would feel to see her outside of our friendship, existing in a new life without me.

We had the kind of friendship that consisted of things like wandering flea markets together, watching Sex and the City marathons, seeing live folk music at the retro theater in our neighborhood, and cozying up to drink endless mugs of tea during snowstorms. I missed her presence fiercely.

My heart stopped when I saw her walk into the bar. She made her way to the opposite side and sat down at a seat facing mine, waiting for someone, maybe. I thought about all the times we’d been there together, sitting at that very same bar — and now here we were on a seemingly different plane of existence, our friendship a distant memory of our past.

She looked up, we made eye contact, and it was as if a pang of lightning went through my heart. We both knew what we’d had was gone, still reeling from the anger and the hurt and heartbreak. It was the first time I truly understood our friendship was no more.

I left the bar quickly with tears stinging my eyes, never looking back. Once I made it to the car, my friends not far behind, I cried hard for what was.

We emailed a couple of times after that night, the exchanges ending in upset and misunderstanding. Eventually our contact dwindled until it consisted of nothing more than trying to act normal when we’d suddenly spot each other across the street. Later, after I moved away, the emails stopped and we lost touch altogether.

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Two years later, I was riding on a city bus in Sydney, Australia, continents away from my past life and old home. I’d had a dream about my long-ago friend the night before, and I decided to look her up as I scrolled through Instagram waiting for my stop. We’d unfollowed each other on social media ages ago, and I had no idea what she was up to.

I found her and sent her a message. Just a hello, a note to let her know I was thinking of her, expecting nothing in return. She responded immediately, telling me that she had just been thinking about me, right then.

Over the next couple of weeks we exchanged emails back and forth, sharing memories, our hearts opening with more honesty than we’d ever managed before.

She apologized and explained her side of the story with sincerity and kindness. I apologized and finally understood the complexity of our falling out.

I found myself crying again, this time out of relief and humanity and the sheer beauty of it all. I couldn’t believe it — we were able to make space in our hearts for the relationship to shift and grow, albeit in a different form.

Kids see things in black and white — good or bad, nice or mean, happy or sad. As adults, things aren’t quite so clear.

They’re much more gray and in-between — there’s room for ambiguity, fluidity, give-and-take. Grownup friendships often aren’t as straightforward as a summer filled with as many sleepovers as possible. There’s emotion and expectation and responsibility involved, and while this often means that they can be much more complicated, it also means that they potentially have even more depth and significance.

***

Our friendship is different now. We’re not having heart-to-heart talks over takeout sushi in her kitchen anymore, and we’re not carpooling home from work on freezing January nights. But we’ve upgraded to a different kind of bond — one filled with replies to Instagram stories and shared travel tales and a deeper understanding of ourselves as imperfect human beings.

One that feels even more meaningful to me.

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