A few months ago D, one of my closest friends from Washington, told me that he was moving to Boston: he’d gotten a new job, one that he was incredibly excited about and perfectly matched the professional criteria he’d spent years looking for.
Part of me was thrilled for him: D had been desperate to leave his then-position for a long time. But another part of me felt disappointed–genuinely sad to hear that he would be leaving DC.
Aside from being incredibly selfish, this reaction does not make much rational sense. I don’t live in Washington. In fact, I live several thousand miles and two time zones away, in New Mexico. Whether he’s in DC or Boston shouldn’t affect me at all; If D had told me he was moving to Sarasota or Bhutan it would not have meant that much more in terms of how often I’ll see him.
But. But the reason it made me a bit melancholy is that, even though I spent most of my time in Washington whining about it–the transience, the smallness, the salmon-colored whale pants–ever since I left the city I’ve loved going back.
I appreciate now things that were lost on me when I lived there: the walkability, the music scene, the free and fantastic museums.
Most of all–and forgive me the sentimentality I am about to indulge–I appreciate the family of friends that I, eventually, made there.
There is nothing like one’s college crew. Or one’s closest friends from high school. Or, even, the handful of supportive, beloved peers some of us are lucky to find in a graduate program.
But there’s also nothing like the first family of friends that one really makes: not because you lived in the same freshman dorm or smoked pot together during the same lunch period outside in Battery Park (thank you, Stanley Teitel), but because you actually found each other, in a city, as adults.
The thing is, as Malcolm Gladwell writes about in this brilliant essay, that the greatest factor in determining friendship is proximity: no matter the circumstance, we are drawn to people not with similar values or interests or goals–though those things can and do help–but people who are nearby. “People in Omaha are not, as a rule” he writes, “friends with people who live in Sharon, Massachusetts.”
But what happens when you spend a few years in Omaha and then move to Sharon? Or grow up in New York, move to Minnesota and then to DC and then to New Mexico? And what happens when most of your twenty and thirty-something friends move as frequently as you do?
Before D broke the news, my DC family had already started to spread. First, two years ago, I moved. Six months later there was a break-up–which resulted in another friend changing coasts.
The core grew smaller. But still: it was enough to make a visit worthwhile. And even with D gone, it still very much is: I know handfuls of people still in DC–former colleagues, former loves–who I am thrilled to keep connected with during regular trips back east.
But there’s something uniquely special about having that group, that group that I worked so hard to find, in one place. And uniquely sad about having it disentegrate.
Which is why, as soon as D told me he’d be in Washington one weekend before Christmas, I resolved to fly in early and join him. There’s nothing to keep up a friendship, after all, than being close by.