The connections we make in the course of a life — maybe that’s what heaven is.Fred Rogers
If one of your 2023 goals includes improved health and peace of mind, then prioritize friendships as part of your wellness plan. The New York Times 7-Day Happiness Challenge made that clear in its Day 1 article on January 1: “More than wealth, I.Q. or social class, it’s the robustness of our bonds that most determines whether we feel fulfilled.”
We have shared in earlier posts the undeniable link between deep connections and well-being. While the evidence is clear, it’s hard to ignore the fact that life’s changing circumstances can throw obstacles in the way of nurturing, enjoying, or even maintaining certain friendships. The expansive nature of youthful friendships–consisting of time hanging out late into the night or leisurely Sunday brunches–can start to fade when someone starts a family or has to move across the country for work. These friendships may still be meaningful, but without the cadence of regular shared experiences, it can be unclear what role this friend might play in our life longer term.
Cue my friend Janet, a college friend I knew throughout my student years at Tufts. Our bond deepened our senior year when we both made the spontaneous (perhaps also crazy, rash and reckless) decision to join the Women’s Rugby team. Between learning the rules of this sport most Americans know little about and goofing around at the infamous post-game ‘drink ups’ singing songs as dirty as our jerseys, Janet and I became close.
Post-college, Janet and I followed different paths. She went to med school and I eventually landed in Chicago to pursue my MBA. However, in our late 20s, Janet’s career brought her to Chicago for a medical fellowship, and we got to hang out once again. Even when Janet married and became a mom several years ahead of me, we still managed to spend time together. We just traded in the post-work drinks for dinner with her family at their apartment.
Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.Eleanor Roosevelt
I was pleased our friendship had survived these life transitions, but I always knew Janet had a strong desire to return to her hometown of Pittsburgh to be close to her parents and older brothers, also physicians. It had been a distant plan when Janet first moved to a nice townhome community near downtown Chicago with her husband and young daughter, but soon after, they found jobs in Pittsburgh and took off to begin their next chapter.
Janet and I stayed in periodic touch for years, with texts, phone calls, holiday cards, as well as her occasional visit back to Chicago, which always felt too short. Once I became a parent, I realized how fast the days, weeks and years can fly by, and how challenging it can be to see friends in other cities. It made me appreciate just how special Janet’s intentional actions to stay in touch were. Friends may physically move out of our lives, and sometimes Facebook comments can be the best way to stay connected during our busy periods. Life moves fast, and as our kids grow, parents of their friend groups, neighbors and perhaps colleagues, begin to comprise the majority of our regular social connections.
Although life transitions had separated me and Janet geographically, another major transition eventually brought us closer together again. In early March 2020, Janet visited colleges in Chicago with her daughter, then a junior in high school, and I reveled in the chance to reconnect with both of them. Once the pandemic soon shut down all aspects of in-person socializing, Janet didn’t feel so far away, and we took to Zoom, as well as texts and calls. In a pandemic-timed article in Psychology Today, author Joe Labianca wrote about the value of “reactivating dormant ties.” When casual friendships at work or in the community went away, many of us were nourished by connecting with friends who knew us well before the pandemic, even if we hadn’t regularly connected with those friends for years or even decades.
When my boys and I decided to road trip in August 2020 to visit my sister and her family at a rental house on a lake somewhere between Chicago and DC, I reached out to Janet for input since her family has a lake house she’s talked about for years. Turns out, my sister rented a house at Deep Creek Lake, the very same place where Janet’s lake house is located.
Coordinating visits at this new location with Janet, her husband and two teens became a new tradition for my family. Prior to March of 2020, Janet and I maybe saw one another once in the preceding decade. Since then, we’ve hung out many times on my family’s four visits to Deep Creek. In late December, we modified our lake visit to include time in Pittsburgh, with a night spent at Janet’s family home, finally seeing the community I’ve been hearing about since our college years.
Rekindling this friendship became a silver lining to the pandemic. During a time when looser ties were challenging to maintain, reactivating a longtime friendship helped me feel less isolated and allowed me to share another part of my identity with my sons. Prior to the pandemic, I could be hesitant to reach out to a friend I had not been in regular tough with. But my experience with Janet reminded me that there is no statute of limitations when reconnecting with an old friend. If it’s a connection built on a strong foundation, you may be surprised how easy it can be to pick up where you left off. So we at LOF invite you to start 2023 off right. Pick an old friend and send a text, email or make a call. You’ll both get an instant boost to your well-being!