Some friends and I have been talking recently about friendship: the crazy dynamics of female relationships, what it takes to build a good friendship, what can damage or destroy one, how important they are, what causes the ebb and flow in these friendships, what happens when different personalities meet together in a relationship, how to navigate different friendship styles, and more. I want to delve into these things on Thursdays for awhile.

little girls jumping rope together

One of the things these conversations has done is reminded me of my childhood friendships and how they compare with my friendships today.

Some of my friends are people I’ve known since I was a little girl. I’m still in touch (to varying degrees) with people with whom I went to kindergarten, first, and second grades and with people who home-schooled the years I did. This is in spite of a cross-country move when I was fifteen. One friend I’ve tried to find after losing touch when she moved to Japan during our college years. We had been pen pals for years before her move, and I miss her greatly. I still hope to find her one day.

The friends I made in college are indeed life-long friends. One of my best college friends, Heather, and I can pick up right where we left off even when it’s been months since we last spoke. She and I both have a bundle of children and crazy lives, but whenever we end up within 45 minutes of each other, we do our best to get together over coffee or dinner. Julie is another dear college friend, with whom I have already made plans to be neighbors, race each other in wheelchairs, and raise all sorts of ruckus in assisted living when we’re old.

Then there are all my dear Internet friends. Yes, I have Internet friends. I’ve made many dear friends through my online work, and every year I manage to meet more and more of them in person. Last summer I traveled to a foreign country for a week with eight of them. I’ve roomed with them at conferences, meeting them in person for the first time when we all carried our suitcases into the same hotel room. We pray for one another, talk through both writing and life crises together, and encourage each other when we find ourselves spiraling into another cycle of self-doubt about our craft. We talk on the phone or Skype for hours, we text, and we could converse on Facebook all day every day if we didn’t have children depending on us for survival.

All of these friends, from so many facets of my life, have been true friends. They have stuck with me through some unimaginably difficult times. They didn’t back off when our daughter Elli was born, visiting in the hospital and bringing food to the house.  They included our family in theirs for birthday parties and get togethers, even though accommodating a child in a wheelchair isn’t easy. They have called and written emails and sent letters and some even traveled long distances to mourn with us when Elli died.

And that’s where the challenge comes in. So many of my close friends live far away, including some on the other side of the world. I am thankful to have a couple of good friends nearby, but lately I’ve realized that I need to invest in my relationships at home, too. It is important to maintain my relationships with old friends (“make new friends but keep the old…”). But the people I see weekly are the ones I can most readily help and encourage and hug and celebrate with and grieve with. These friends live on life’s front-lines.

I’ve begun to wonder if I’m a very good in-person friend. Do they know how much I value them? Am I’m doing enough to carry my part of the relationship? This is something I need to work at, especially given my somewhat hermit-like tendencies.

What about you? Do you have friends from way back? Internet friends? How about people in your immediate area? How do you build relationships in person?