Friendships often start by accident, but they are maintained on purpose.
It is winter in Chicago, when the pigeons and humans congregate under the inadequate glow of the train platform heaters, when friends and strangers alike are identified only by the bridge of a nose and the bottom edge of an eyebrow, when the beginning and end of any evening requires a winding or unwinding of scarves and sweaters.
It is winter in Chicago, when relationships are tested. How much you want that catch-up cocktail must be weighed against the wind chill. Brunch plans are bumped in favor of seven straight hours on the cozy couch. Happy hour means heading home as fast as humanly possible.
It is winter in Chicago, when friends who are already flaky fall off the face of the planet, the normally reliable cancel at the last minute, and even the steadiest of stalwarts occasionally beg off because, well, the thought of heading home in the bitter cold is just too much to bear.
Winter in Chicago tests your fortitude, yes, but it also tests your friendships.
At my recent housewarming, a work friend from my last job made an unexpected but very welcome appearance. In response to my surprise and delight she said, while unwrapping herself from layers of wool, “You know, with people I want to keep being friends with, or be better friends with, I’ve realized recently that sometimes it just starts with showing up. So here I am.”
Showing up. How simple a concept, how beautiful an idea.
We’re all busy. Or “busy.” That’s what we tell ourselves when we fail to accomplish something we think we could have accomplished without all those other things we were so busy accomplishing. It’s what we tell people when we pass them hastily en route from one engagement to the next. “How are you?” we shout across the street or over grocery carts heading in opposite directions. “Fine! Busy! You?” “Busy too! Catch up with you later!”
Except we probably won’t, and that’s OK. Are we too busy in an objective sense? No, of course not. What we mean, but would never say, is that we’re too busy for you.
Not all friendships are created equal. Stratification begins sometime around 8th grade, when seven “BFF”-necklace-sporting buddies realize that, in fact, some connections run deeper than others. The reverberations of college, work, relocation, maybe marriage and babies only shake the friendship tree harder, leaving some relationships solid, others hanging by a thread, others decomposing at a distance.
I find myself, on the other side of 25, realizing that my friendship mountain (to use the recent Wait But Why analogy) looks the way it is probably going to look for the long haul, unless I do something drastic to screw it up. And one of the easiest ways to screw it up is to consistently fail to show up.
I’m reading Eric Liu’s incredible meditation on identity, A Chinaman’s Chance, and this moment continues to resonate with me:
What makes a culture?
What makes a pattern?
What makes a habit?
Maintaining friendships, much less forging new ones, is a question of choices. The choice to make the call, send the note, mark the calendar, reserve the time, follow-up, ask the questions, remember the answers. Over and over and over again. It is work, this friendship thing. For the ones down the mountain, I have to remind myself that it’s OK that sometimes I don’t want to log the hours. But for my top-of-the-mountain-people? Showing up when I don’t feel like it is when I put my friendship money where my mouth is.
So for the ride-or-dies, the 10x friends, show up even when you’re “busy,” because friendships often start by accident, but they are maintained on purpose. Show up even when you’re tired, because you know that your support—if only for a single drink, or an episode, or the first-half, or until you can’t keep your eyes open—is meaningful.
Show up even when it’s winter in Chicago.
Role Reboot regular contributor Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.