I have a small circle of friends.  Truth is, I prefer to spend much of my time alone. I never thought anything of it until I looked around at how many friends other people had and thought maybe I should be different.

Mostly what I ever did was worry that I should have more friends, never do much about it, and have it always nag at me a bit.

The last few months have provided the opportunity of time for many to reach out to people they may have lost touch with and to re-establish relationships that life may have pushed aside over the years.

Everyone I want to connect with is currently in my circle.  In fact, I reduced my already small circle even further last summer, ending a 40 year friendship. 

I’ve come to realize it’s not about how many people you can call friends.  It’s about whether the people you call friends add something to your life so spending time with them is something you look forward to. 

When I think of friends I look forward to spending time with, two friends come to mind.  They are two of my closest friends and they live nearby.  We all grew up in the same town and have known each other forever.  But I connected with each of them at different times and then reconnected with each of them at different times.

Although we all know each other and occasionally all get together with a group, most of the time I see each friend separately and I kind of have my own ‘thing’ with each of them. 

Tammy is my go to for going out and having a wine or two and a burger (veggie for me).  We are mostly eat/drink/movie buddies.  Sonja is more of my fitness/workout buddy.  We started working out together doing a Jane Fonda workout cassette in our dorm study room in college.  We did group fitness together for years, competed in the Danskin Triathalon many years ago and now we hike once a week. 

Tammy and I go back to grade school when we were country neighbors and rode the school bus into town.  As we got into junior high and high school we hung out in different crowds but we were always friendly.  After high school we didn’t really keep in touch – though we both lived in Seattle for a time.  It wasn’t until our 20th high school reunion that we hit it off again.  She and I were a couple of the still single gals.  As it turned out, I became no longer single as a result of attending that very reunion.  And that’s why I found myself back in our home town 2 years later.  Tammy moved back 3 years after that to be closer to family.  We’ve been fast friends since. 

One thing I admire about Tammy is that she is always looking out for the underdog.  She is extremely helpful to her friends and family.  But look out if she feels someone has been unfairly treated.  Whoa, have I seen her go after somebody who done somebody wrong … but in such a way that the wrongdoer wants to make things right!  It’s a true superpower.  That’s the cool part. 

And Tammy always has the information I need to know.  I am not much on watching news or really wanting to know too much about what is going on in the world at large (unless it’s good), and Tammy always keeps me apprised of what I need to know.  I’ve actually come to rely on her.  Most of the time she’s very good at only delivering as much information as I want to know.  When we get together she catches me up on everything I have missed.  She’s saved me from missing out on things a number of times.

We actually traveled to France together back in 2009.  And we were still speaking when we got back!  Traveling with someone can really test a friendship.  If you can still stand someone after that kind of togetherness, they are probably a friend for life. 

Sonja and I also knew each other in school but we did not become close friends until we ended up on the same dorm floor in college – quite unexpectedly.  I was a sophomore and she was a freshman.  We each did our own thing in college and after but always remained friends and saw each other periodically.

She ended up marrying a local fellow and moved back to our home town while I was still off in the big city loving the young professional life.

When I finally moved back – about 19 years ago – we did a lot of things together – much of it involved exercising because we’ve both always been into it.

Probably about 5 or 6 years after I moved back it became apparent that my marriage was not working and there was a lot of tension in our home that only continued to get worse.  I think the pressure really affected my decision making because over the next few years I made some choices that did not serve me well at all.  I ended up in a job with a lot of travel that was just too much for me on top of everything else.  The marriage and the job would end – in the same year – but I didn’t even begin to recover for several more years.

During this time I began distancing myself from people and activities.  One of the people I began distancing from was Sonja.  She tried to keep the friendship up for a while but eventually she gave up.  And then more years passed.  So imagine my surprise last year in July when I got a text from Sonja asking if I wanted to go hiking with her.  I said sure. 

We have a local hike that is very popular.  Two miles up and always a puff no matter how many times I do it.  It has an amazing view of our valley from the top.  Years ago Sonja and I hiked it together.  I hadn’t done it in well over a year.    I was a little nervous about how things might go between us but found our getting back together was quite like riding a bike.  Though years had passed it didn’t really feel that way at all.  And so it was.

We have it in our schedules that we do our hike every Monday morning.  It’s a good way to kick off our week.  We used to ride together but of course now we each drive separately.  I think of our time (it’s a 3+ hour adventure) as my weekly mastermind.  We talk of new ideas and discuss issues we might be dealing with.  We both very much want to work on being better versions of ourselves. 

I’ve always admired Sonja’s zest for life and her enthusiasm.  She has a curiosity about things and a willingness to learn.  She has inspired me to push myself a little more and to try things I might not do otherwise. 

* * *

When I think about how glad I am to have Tammy and Sonja in my life now, I cannot help but think of another friend of 40 years that is no longer a part of my life as of last summer.

It was something I had felt I needed to do for a while but the thought of ending a friendship that was longer than many marriages (mine included) was daunting.  There was so much history.  

I was worried about how Kelly (not her real name) would respond.  I knew from the experiences of others that she could be vindictive when someone told her no. 

I’d never really ended a friendship before.  If someone came into my life for a time but we didn’t really connect, we would just kind of drift our separate ways.  There was nothing that actually needed to be done.

With Kelly, it was different.  We had been friends a long time – though I hadn’t felt much connection with her for several years. 

And I think maybe if Kelly hadn’t continued to pursue the friendship so actively, I might never have worked up the courage to let her go.

Kelly and I met in college.  It was the first real taste of freedom for both of us.  And we went a little crazy with it. 

We were both into pushing boundaries.  We both had big personalities.  And we kind of liked the idea we were a little intimidating.  We were young!  We were powerful!  We were free!  Kelly was a little more wild than I and I was very drawn to her daring ways.

We lived together all through college and for a couple of years after when we moved to the same city.  Those were some good years and some fun times.  I really have no regrets.

Our careers pulled us in different directions after a while but we were always in touch and got together when we could.  Kelly was maid of honor in my wedding.

I can’t exactly pinpoint when things began to be so different.  But I think it has to do with circumstances in our separate lives that we both responded to as victims.   For me, it had to do with my marriage and job ending.  And for Kelly, it involved a lengthy legal battle. 

I have to admit I had always kind of dreaded her phone calls.  I don’t like to talk on the phone.  Everyone knows this.  And yet Kelly, knowing this, could go on for 3 hours!  I just stopped picking up.

Kelly resented my avoidance and would call me out on it.  She was right.  I was not being a good friend.  I needed to make a decision.

One day last summer Kelly reached out to me after being upset with me for almost a year.  I knew this was my opportunity to face what was true for me.  I wanted to be honest and come clean.

So I told Kelly I no longer wanted to be friends.  I gave the reason that I was making some changes in my life (which was true) and I needed to make choices about the people I was going to surround myself with going forward.

She didn’t take it well and tried several times to further the discussion by saying and doing things that were designed to get a reaction.  It was hard.  I was determined to take the highest road I could.  She couldn’t possibly understand that this was not about hurting her.  It was about trying to save myself. 

I have been thinking about Kelly lately.  I wonder how she’s doing.  I think about the crazy things we did. I hope she’s doing well.  I’ve thought about ending our friendship.  And while unfortunate, I still absolutely believe it was the right decision.

* * *

These last few months have given me a chance to really consider and appreciate the connections I have and more clearly understand why they are important in my life.  It feels okay to have fewer friends because I really treasure the ones I have.  And I’m learning to value my relationship with myself.

For me, this historic time has been a gift.  I feel very fortunate right now because it seems like the whole world has slowed down and is giving me a chance to catch up.  I think we often get so caught up in the pace of our world that we don’t take the time to feel appreciation for what is good in our lives.  I am grateful for the clarity I have received and the wisdom I have gained as a result.