My life is out of synch without my best friend

Lynn Enright: A romance will wilt almost immediately if neglected, but a friendship will be dormant but alive, ready to flower again once you find the time

During the pandemic, most friendships have taken some kind of battering. The spaces in which friendships flourish – restaurants, workplaces, pubs – were shut.

The last time my best friend and I lived in different countries, we communicated mainly via email. We would send each other emails all the time, sometimes as many as 10 a day. They were sometimes long and sometimes short – and always (we thought) hilarious. “We should print these out and edit them,” we would say to each other. “They would make a brilliant book.”

They would not have made a brilliant book, those emails, but the fact that we thought they would shows you just how interesting we found each other. These days, once again living in different countries after almost a decade of living in the same London neighbourhood, we mainly rely on WhatsApp voice notes.

Bennifer are back together – voice note. It’s raining again and a terrible gloom has descended – voice note. We have years of shared history and so these little snippets are currently enough to sustain the friendship. If we were to rely on these two-minute-long voice notes as our only form of communication for the rest of our days, we would probably have to stop calling each other best friends – but for now, the voice notes are getting us through.

(Before I go on, I would like to point out that I do realise that it’s a little unseemly to use the phrase “best friend” at this stage of my life; a person who talks about her “best friend” probably also talks about her sticker collection. It’s an unfortunate term, I know, but it’s catchier than “my closest friend in childhood who is still my closest friend in adulthood”. So I think we’re stuck with it.)


Two individuals

Right now, my life is out of synch with my best friend’s life. She’s working in a busy office in a busy city while I work from home in Dublin, a city that hasn’t quite woken up from the coma into which it was forced during the pandemic. She sends me messages about celebrity sightings in London members’ clubs; I send her blurry black-and-white images of the baby growing in my uterus. Right now, I am the one who can reply to the voice notes that little bit quicker, I am the one with more spare time. When the baby arrives, it will probably feel like the other way round.

Friendships are usually established when two individuals’ lives are in synch – when you are both at university, for example, or when you both become mothers for the first time. My best friend and I are no different.

When we became friends, we were in primary school, a time during which life is lived according to a very strict timetable. We would see each other every morning and sit beside each other in class. At lunch, we would hang out together in the playground and, after school, we spent our afternoons at the library and the pound shop. At some stage, we added an extra evening phone call, only hanging up when one of us would admit that our face was actually sore from talking. That was our routine for approximately 10 years.

In adulthood, though, it was impossible to consistently maintain that level of synchronicity: we went to different universities, we moved to different cities, we established other important friendships. To maintain a friendship, even a “best friendship”, in a functioning and happy life means encountering periods when the friendship is not the most important relationship in either of your lives – but that doesn’t mean that it is dead.

Friendships flourish

Besides sex, that’s the biggest difference between a friendship and a romance. A romance will wilt almost immediately if neglected, but a friendship will be dormant but alive, ready to flower again once you find the time to finally water it.

Our friendship is perhaps unusual in its longevity: when our lives were still in synch and we were working in the same industry in the same city, we could surprise people who asked “how do you two know each other?” by launching into some spiel about primary school; perhaps they had expected us to say something like “we just met in the loos” or “we attend the same pottery class”. The friendship’s hardiness, however, will be familiar to everyone with a friend.

Most friendships have taken some kind of battering during this pandemic. The spaces in which friendships flourish – restaurants, workplaces, pubs – were shut. Friendships were forced online while being simultaneously knocked around by the forces of changing priorities and differing attitudes to the virus and to risk.

Moving to Ireland during 2020 means that I haven't seen my best friend in six months, the longest time I've ever gone without seeing her. My life is full in plenty of other ways – but that doesn't mean that I don't miss her, and all the other friends I left behind, terribly.

I try not to panic, though, because if a 30-year-long friendship has taught me anything it’s that friendships fall into synch again. So, for now, we send the voice notes and the birthday flowers; we make do with the more perfunctory elements of friendship, knowing that in a month or in a year or in a decade, we will be walking alongside each other again, perfectly in step.

We will be going for a last-minute dinner and having just one more drink and talking until our jaws hurt, late into the night, and it will be like it has always been.