Updated: 1/13/2020 | January 13th, 2020
After months on the road, you’re finally home, excited to resume your old friendships. You plan dinners, get-togethers, and nights out. And, as people fail to respond or show up, you begin realize an awful truth — while you were out exploring the world, your friends crept out the back door of your life.
And, unlike you, they aren’t coming back.
After a six month sojourn, I came back to New York City eager to reconnect with my friends. I missed their faces, stories, and presence in my life.
But, as most New Yorkers will tell you, friendships are often hard to maintain under the crushing pace of life here. Everyone here moves a million miles a minute, there’s always an event to attend, and making time for each other is a constant battle of highly conflicting schedules. It’s the city of the hustle.
“What are you doing two weeks from now?” is a common question in the city that never sleeps.
I expected it but, after many weeks of missed connections and noticed absences from events, I realized that while I was away, many had taken my absence as an excuse to finally exit stage left without hopefully being noticed.
At first, this realization devastated me. People I cared about left my life for seemingly no reason. “What did I do wrong? How can I change to get them back?” I wondered.
Then sadness gave way to anger. “Screw those jerks! They weren’t good friends anyway,” I said in an attempt to mask the hurt.
But, as I calmed down and thought about it more, I realized I was looking at this situation in the wrong light. Going away didn’t cause me to lose friends; it had shown me who my true friends were.
Most people maintain a wide social network and, when you are in touch with that network, it’s easy to think relationships are deeper than they are. Traveling showed me which connections were actually deep and which ones were only deep in my mind.
It’s true that friends move in and out of your life regardless of whether you travel or not. It’s life — people change and grow apart. You move to different cities, interests change, people change, and the ties that bound you grow weak with time. Suddenly, years have passed, it feels awkward to reconnect, and you both keep moving on.
But this gradual uncoupling makes the separation a little easier to bear.
Imagine throwing a party, having a great time, going to grab a drink, and turning around to see everyone is suddenly gone.
It’s sudden, shocking, and very depressing.
Part of me thinks “Well, this is just New York.” But then I remember the tales of other travelers who’ve experienced the same thing and realize it’s not just me and it’s not just this city.
Being away frays the weak bonds you attempt to maintain while strengthening the ones that will withstand the distance of time and space.
My lifestyle doesn’t make maintaining friendships easy, but it doesn’t make it impossible either. I have friends around the world I only see every few years but we make the effort to stay in touch. When we are together, our bond is still strong.
One of the things I love about travel is that travel friendships remain strong over time. You only had that time and place and there’s an understanding it was all temporary. When you reunite, you go back to the way things were.
I know my friends wonder if I’m actually back or passing through and thus often leave it to me to text them. However, after establishing that I am really back and I do want to hang out, you begin to wonder how strong the bond is when you’re doing all the work. When your texts go unanswered and plans constantly get canceled, you see the writing on the wall.
Maybe they want a friend who isn’t a nomad. Maybe we grew apart and I just didn’t realize it.
Maybe one day the people who’ve left will wonder how I am and what I’m doing. Maybe a part of them will be sad that they don’t know.
But what I do know is that while they were ghosting, those that stayed and I became closer.
And, for that, I am truly grateful.
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