I met my best friend in third grade. We lived close enough to ride bicycles to each other’s houses. We went to the same school, had all the same classes. We attended the same dance studio. We hung out with the same people. Our lives were completely and totally in sync (as were our CD collections, which included a lot of *NSYNC).
However, once high school hit, things started to change. She moved to a nearby neighborhood in a different school district, and suddenly, our perfectly aligned lives were a thing of the past. Then she moved into a different level of dance. Our friend groups changed. Our taste in clothing and music and boys changed. Our interests as we looked toward the future changed. Soon she was heading off to London to study fashion design and I was moving out-of-state to study journalism.
Our lives have been on two very different trajectories for nearly a decade now. She lives back in our hometown and has opened her own shop where she sells her sustainable clothing line, and runs the business with her two sisters and other best friend (don’t worry, we’re cool about it). I’m still living in the city where I went to college, working as a freelance writer, eight years married with three young kids.
Yet our friendship still feels every bit as strong as it did back in the days of constant sleepovers and matching school schedules. In fact, given the time and expanse of life we have covered together, it feels even stronger. So how do we maintain our friendship, even when our lives are constantly in different places?
Here are three ways we’ve managed to prioritize our friendship, especially during times of transition:
1. Spare the judgement
One of the keys to a long friendship is allowing each other room to grow in different directions. We’ve both made choices the other one would never make, but that doesn’t mean that it was the wrong choice. Getting married at 20? Definitely not something she would have wanted. Moving in with siblings? So not for me. But unless one of us is doing something truly harmful, we keep an open mind. Giving our support, instead of our judgement, makes it a whole lot easier to stay close.
2. Hone your listening skills
You may not understand exactly what it feels like to be in your friend’s shoes, but you can certainly try to empathize. I’ve never gone through the process of creating a business from the ground up, by I can imagine what that pressure and stress might feel like. And when you really don’t get it? It’s time to be there to listen. There are so many situations I will never fully grasp in my friend’s life and vice versa, but I feel safe in knowing I will always have someone to vent to, even if they don’t have any sage advice for me.
3. Make your time together count
My best friend and I don’t do small talk past the time it takes us to order drinks. We make a point to get down to the real business of life when we’re together, making the most of our bonding whenever we get the chance to hang out. If a job hunt isn’t going well, if we’re stressed about deadlines, if we’re having relationship troubles, we lay it all out on the table immediately. And during the periods when life keeps us apart? We don’t stress it. We know that we’ll pick up right where we left off, because we aren’t afraid to be vulnerable and dive into the deep stuff.