When it comes to my long-distance girlfriends, I know what it takes to keep those relationships tight despite the years and the miles apart: a willingness to pick up the phone. If we’re not having heart-to-hearts once in a while — say, every couple of months — then I’m not feeling like the connection is all that. A good, long chat between two girlfriends is like sex is to a couple, and if a relationship doesn’t get fed, it’s going to starve to death.
But the truth is, these days I feel like my closest ladies are starving me and I’m starving them. I’m not sure whether to blame our busy lives or the fact that technology has zapped all the intimacy out of communication and also keeps us too busy for the real thing. I’m talking to you, Facebook.
As a 30-something who, like a lot of people these days, has lived in multiple cities since leaving home for college (for me: Boston, San Diego, Chicago and now New York), maintaining long-distance friendships has been an essential, though tricky to navigate, part of my adult life, and I’ve noticed a definite shift in recent years in how hard it is for two people to get on the horn. I mean, how many of us now have to make appointments these days to talk on the phone?
Case in point: my friend dear Laura, who was my best bud in graduate school in Chicago and who still lives there, has become nearly a stranger to me in the three years since I re-located to New York. How is her life, her job, her boyfriend, her mood in general? I couldn’t tell you, but I do know, via a Facebook status update, that she stained her roof deck over the weekend.
After so many months of fruitless phone tag games and empty voice mails, it’s started to feel futile for Laura and me to ever truly catch up, that is until I end up traveling to Chicago or she comes to New York and we can dish in person. To compound the problem, Laura told me (via email, naturally) not too long ago that she has come to “hate talking on the phone,” which is something I’ve been hearing more and more of lately from friends.
On the one hand, I do get the hating-the-phone thing.
Calling your loved ones kind of feels the same way; you always feel lighter, more fulfilled, after you hang up even though picking up felt like a chore. I suppose this growing phone fatigue has to do with the fact that we are all too “plugged in” at work and in our daily grind and need to disengage from people as much as possible in our free time, to catch our breath. I suggest we take our breaths together, though. Because, really, I don’t see how meaningful friendships can survive on texts, IMs, and emails alone. Can they?
With the exception of with my best friend, I’d pretty much given up on those burn-your-listening-ear-they’re-so-long phone chats with my long-distance pals this year. But then recently something happened to make me realize I need to persevere. I do need to keep talking to the treasured collection of close girlfriends I’ve amassed over the years of moving around.
After a couple weeks of being down about a very personal struggle I’m dealing with, one I’d rather not get into here, and not having the kind of talk I needed about it with my husband or my therapist, the only thing to turn me around was a phone call from my girlfriend Sally, who lives in the Midwest.
Sally called me out of the blue, at lunchtime when I was at work. Even though I was really busy, I accepted the call. For 40 minutes, I paced up and down the block behind my office building as we had a tears-inducing talk about my problem. She understood because she had dealt with this same issue in her life. She encouraged me, gave me her perspective, helped me to see things in a whole new light, and made me realize how I can turn it around.
That was a conversation that my soul needed, and it was the kind of life-affirming heart-to-heart that never could have been typed.