A mom friend and I were hanging at the park with our kids a while ago, when she casually mentioned that she and her husband were looking to relocate. LA had changed too much for her over the years and she was done. She wanted more space, and fresh air.
Just like that? I thought, but didn’t say.
I tried to sound regular. “You’re moving?”
“We’d love to get out of here,” she answered. “We’ve already started looking up north.”
I was shocked. Not shocked at her announcement, I’d already said goodbye to three dear friends and my sister in the past five years alone, losing them to lower housing prices and walkable neighborhoods elsewhere. It’s going around.
What shocked me was my reaction.
I was pissed.
I was pissed that I’d grown even just a little attached to her, this kind-hearted animal -loving urban farm girl. I didn’t want another long-distance friendship kept on life-support through social media.
One of the worst things about my face is it’s transparency. She saw me shut down. Later I got a text: Sorry if I upset you earlier. We are looking to move eventually, but it probably won’t happen for a while. I hope we can still be friends!
My fingers typed what I thought was the right answer: Of course we can. I’m an asshole! 🙂
In Los Angeles, you get used to people leaving and if, like many of us, you moved here from somewhere else with a full set of fancy abandonment baggage, it can be a pretty rough. Over the years I’ve learned that if it seems like someone is just passing through, it’s probably best to let them.
At this point, it’s about staying power.
Back in Nashville, my Grandmother had the same steadfast group of women friends for years. We called them “the Marys” because they mostly shared that name. If you were to run into one of them around town and drew a blank, you could throw out the name Mary and know that you had at least an 80% chance of nailing it.
For years the Marys gathered weekly for their “sewing group.” It was an afternoon of chicken salad, cocktails, and conversation, where occasionally something got hemmed.
They took turns visiting when each other was sick. The few Marys who could still drive at night would fairy the others to dinner parties, and the wedding receptions of grandchildren. It was a bond forged over decades, a lifeline, as they chartered the waters of their own old ladyhood.
I don’t know about you, but that’s looking pretty good to me these days.
Recently I read the book Life Reimagined, in which the author, Barbara Bradley Hagerty, counts supportive friendships as one of the most vital ingredients in a long and healthy life. The evidence suggests that more than genetics, diet or even excersise, friendships keep us going strong.
It’s medicinal, people.
While the data supporting the link between friendships and our health was new to me, the idea of friendship as a lifeline was not. I’ve written before about how, as a kid, I fed my attachment hunger through close and durable ties with my friends. I may have had a wire monkey at home, but in the homes of friends, I was patched up and found a sense of belonging.
I was hooked.
Which is why when my friend Wendy tells me over drinks at a bar we know so intimately that we just call it “the corner”, that living in LA is just too expensive and that her family may, like so many others, need to pull up stakes, I freeze.
“I mean, look what you can get in Iowa for 300K” She says, handing me her phone. I scroll through her Zillow feed, unsure of the correct response. Happy? Excited? Envious? I am none of those.
I am hurt.
Look, I know it isn’t about me. I know it’s about this friend of mine, who may have to leave her hometown, her world, and move into the unknown, not because she wants to, but because she has to.
But at that moment I am unable see my way to being a grownup.
I pass my finger over the screen, scrolling past circular driveways and sprawling farmhouses with mature trees in every yard. The numbers are so low compared to LA home prices that I think there must be a mistake. But there is no mistake.
Or is there?
Taking a good size gulp of Pinot, I wonder if maybe the mistake is trying to have lasting friendships in a town of transients.
We finish our drinks and split the check. I tell her I’ll try to be supportive, but I’m not sure I have it in me. I don’t want her to leave. She understands and says what everyone says when these conversations have run their course. “It probably won’t happen for a while.”
It has occurred to me that LA would be a pretty hard place to be a Mary. Some days it’s a hard place to be a Maggie, so I can only imagine.
At least when we can no longer drive at night, we can get an Uber in like five minutes, so suck it, small manageable towns with low property taxes.
(Now, normally, this would be where I’d put in a big plug for LA:its beaches, its mountains, its tacos, and weirdos, and seventy degree default temp, and I’ll-never-leave-no-way-this-is-MY-TOWN!)
But that would be a lie, at least the never leaving part.
It may be that one day my husband will have to cash out and move to cheaper less crowded pastures. That’s the reality for a lot of us in tinsel town, and other towns too, all across the country.
So where does that leave friendship? If we are all apt to up and move any old time, is there anyone we can count on, and can anyone count on us? Am I wrong to even want that?
This reminds me of the sand mandalas created by Buddhist monks. You know, where hours and hours go into the creation of intricate sand paintings, which are then purposely destroyed as a reminder of the impermanence of everything.
Non-attachment. It’s their favorite.
Maybe in about ten thousand more lifetimes when I am way more actualized it will be my favorite too, but I’m just not there yet.
Of course none of us knows who will stick around and who won’t. It could be housing prices, a bad diagnosis, or divorce, but the truth is that shit happens, especially as you get older. Maybe the dream of my own band of proud Marys is an effort to soothe the anxiety that comes with that midlife realization.
I don’t know how it will feel to say goodbye to the next friend who leaves. I only know that I can’t let myself go on a preemptive strike. As hard as it is, I will fight to stay open to these relationships, even without the guarantee. I will build my friendships not like a sand mandala, but like a Vegas hotel– built to last, at least for now.
We can’t know otherwise, none of us.
In closing, let me quote the often unappreciated genius of this song, made famous by the one and only Ronnie Milsap. I’m actually not kidding.
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world
Wouldn’t have missed lovin’ you girl
You’ve made my whole life worth while, with your smile.
I wouldn’t trade one memory
Cause you mean too much to me
Even though I lost you girl
I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
Feel free to sing with abandon at your next Karaoke night, after a shot of Jager. Now go forth with an open (or open-ish) heart, my friends!