Living Far Away From Close Friends and Loved Ones

When I moved to California two and a half years ago, I left behind my parents and a lot of my closest friends. It was the toughest physical move I’ve ever had to make, because I left a robust support network to live in a city where I knew I’d struggle to make new friends. The first year was incredibly rough, I felt vulnerable and desperate to meet people. Yet, since I moved from NYC with my boyfriend at the time, I spent a lot of time with him and didn’t make as strong of an effort as I could have to make new friends. So some of the struggle could have been alleviated had I made more of an effort. But…

Flash-forward to 2.5 years of living in LA, and I feel much more contented and happy in my support network here. Having a weekly writer’s group has really helped with that, as well as meeting new people through the UCLA connections I’ve made from graduate school.

However, my closest friends are still my friends from home. And I miss them. A lot. Sometimes I don’t even realize just how much I miss them until I re-connect with one of them. For instance, I just spent an hour and a half on the phone with one of my closest friends from high school, and it felt like my heart battery was charged up again.

The more I come to face the reality that I may be in LA for quite a long time, the more I want to find ways to keep close to my old friends. And I read a startling fact about close friendships and face-to-face time that made me want to buy a plane ticket home to NYC stat.

In the book The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier and Happier written by Susan Pinker, she writes:

In a study of the effect of Internet use on social relationships in adults aged eighteen to sixty-three, Dutch psychologist Thomas Pollet found that time spent using online social networks resulted in more online contacts but didn’t translate into genuine offline connections or a feeling of closeness. Indeed, not only is online contact experienced as less fun, but without face-to-face contact, social relationships decay and are soon replaced by others… “Emotional closeness declines by around 15 percent a year in the absence of face-to-face contact, so that in five years someone can go from being an intimate acquaintance to the most distant outer layer of your 150 friends,” says Dunbar.

Isn’t it crazy to hear that emotional closeness decreases by 15% every year you don’t see your friends face-to-face? When I heard the data quantified like that, it really shook me up. Would it change the way you travel? Because for me, it makes me want to schedule more girls weekends with my friends out of town, and make sure I have a solid two-week trip home to NYC planned at least once a year. I never want to decline 15% each year in closeness with my best buds.

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Sometimes the Solution Isn’t to be Nicer

I struggle hard to learn from my mistakes and not repeat them. I strive to do my absolute very best.  I hate regret. I hate it.

I try very hard to word things correctly, and to be aware of what I might have done wrong in the past so I can always do things right in the future. I think hard about people’s feelings. I try to be helpful. I try to be fair. I worry about people’s happiness. I hope I’m being nice enough. I hope that I’m not doing something wrong and upsetting someone. I strive to be the best possible friend. I strive to be the best possible family member.

I used to be slow to return texts and emails– I struggle to be faster.

I used to let friendships lapse a bit when I got into relationships– I’m now very aware of this issue and have sworn my allegiance to my friendships.

I used to let significant others do what they wanted, even when it made me extremely unhappy or suffer– I now attempt to communicate what I need early on. This is very hard for me to do. I sometimes feel awkward communicating what I want without being asked but I know I have to.

I used to be more outspoken– now I struggle to be careful with my wording… to the point that I’d almost rather be silent than say the wrong thing by accident.

I used to believe that being nice (and down to earth and rational) could solve almost any problem– I’m now starting to understand that it cannot.

Sometimes when people surprise me by acting in what I perceive to be a sudden cruel way- possibly by saying something mean to me, or flaking on me, or disappearing on me, or by not accepting me, or telling me that they’re upset with me but hadn’t let me know before, I freak out. I obsess over what I could’ve done differently. I look through my old texts or emails, and think about conversations. I wonder if I worded things incorrectly. I worry that maybe if I could have somehow been even nicer and more thoughtful, things would be better.

But then I think about all the amazing friends and family members who accept me even when I’m busy or don’t return texts immediately or say random things that come to my head without editing them. I think about all the people who I accept and forgive all the time…even when they’re slow to respond to me or jot down brisk silly texts, or seem distracted and don’t act the best they can all the time. I realize that the people in my life are imperfect. The same way I am imperfect. And I’m suddenly starting to realize that the RIGHT people, the amazing ones, will forgive the dumb mistakes or the slow emails or the days between seeing each other when we get busy.

Sometimes being nicer and nicer in an effort to make things work with certain people isn’t going to ever make things work anyway. Perhaps the answer is to have more respect for myself and for the people who forgive my transgressions because they know that I’m doing the best I can. Because they love me for who I am, however imperfect.

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How To Say Goodbye

“I have to go.”

Why are those words so hard to say sometimes?

Occasionally I’m on the phone and have to get off for whatever reason. Sometimes I really need to go to sleep because I have work very early in the morning. Other times I have to do work right then- maybe I’m in the middle of packing for a trip or doing my taxes or getting ready to go out.

I’ve never gotten much better at cutting off long conversations gracefully, even though I’m in my 30’s. I still find it super difficult.

If I was talking to someone I didn’t really like, then it’d be easy to get off the phone with them. I’d wait for the quickest pause, and then interrupt with ‘I’m so sorry, I better go to sleep because I have to wake up at 6am tomorrow” or “Sorry, I’m going into a subway tunnel,” or whatever. But why would I be talking on the phone to someone I didn’t really like? Usually, I have the opposite problem- I’m talking with somebody that I really DO like, and I know I have to go, but I don’t really want to. However, I’m getting more and more anxious about the time. Then I can barely concentrate on a conversation I really like, because I’m distracted by when I need to end it, and I don’t really get to enjoy the end of the talk anyway. And then I’m late.

This happens to me in person too. Sometimes I know I have to be somewhere or do something, but I’m just having the best time hanging out with someone. Then it starts getting later and later and anxiety creeps in. I’m worried I’m going to be late somewhere and I get distracted and can’t enjoy myself as much.

I wish I was better at figuring out these situations. Not only am I fighting myself with my obligations versus fun friend time, but I’m also worried about hurting another person’s feelings by cutting them off in the middle of a great conversation.

Jane, my lovely co-blogger, is way better at finagling this than I am, so I ran the issue by her. Even though I’ve experienced her gracefully end conversations with me numerous times because she had to run, she told me that even she feels like she has major problems here and feels anxious about it.

I’m trying to recount how she, and other friends of mine, are able to end conversations so tactfully and without hurting my feelings. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1. Find the quickest pause and then start with something nice.

In order to end the conversation, start with telling the other person how much you’ve loved talking to them so far. For example: “This has been so great, …but I have to get home and pack or I’ll get no sleep. I’m so sorry!”

2. Start the conversation with an end in mind.

If you know you have to end at a certain point, preface with that. For example, “Just so you know, I can’t talk too long because I have to pack for my Tahiti trip tomorrow. I apologize!” (Darn those Tahiti trips.)

3. Make a new plan

You can always end with a raincheck. For example, “This was great. Sorry I have to run…maybe we can catch up again tomorrow? You around?”

That’s all I’ve got. I’m going to try implementing these strategies and see how I feel. What do you guys think? Are you good at ending conversations gracefully? Do you worry about hurting others’ feelings? Or missing out on something great?

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