Distance is a familiar word to me. Surprisingly, it can go together with friendship. That’s why believe in borderless friendships: I have never been afraid of kilometers separating people. And I think those who love me sincerely wouldn’t want me to stop my personal journey just to be closer to me.
Embracing a long distance friendship can set you free
Before we start, take a minute to look up at the sky. You can see clouds, the sun, and whatever the atmosphere and the wind bring in. All the relationships you could have are as infinite as that sky.
The best of luck is meeting someone on the same cloud as you. The two of your are close to each other, but travelling in the same direction, on a journey across the sky. It’s beautiful.
But sometimes, later on, that cloud can split and take two different directions.
It can be just for a while.
Or it can be for good.
It’s only natural.
Anatomy of a borderless friendship: 14 years together and half apart
My soon-to-be best friend Mari and I met in late 2007, just before starting our five-year route at high school. Although we shared common friends, we used to talk with the trendiest technology of that time: IM chats. There, we spent time exchanging advice about what to do for the rest of our life, dreaming of fitting in a new school with new classmates.
We were completely different. But we were also similar.
At that time, I was the type of girl who assumed that she could have handled everything by herself: a stubborn and occasionally over-ambitious character.
Instead, she was softer and easygoing: a heart of gold, able to break my armor into thousand pieces without ever hurting me.
As soon as we got to know each other better, our souls connected. We fought, cheered, and laughed, let both our personalities enjoy each other's company. Needless to say, we ended up at the same school to study languages. Two small-town girls decided to travel every day to the closest ‘small-but slightly bigger’ town to escape ordinary life.
The school was plenty of fun, but what came after school was even better: two adolescents were growing up, fighting against parental rules, and the whole system as it was, built and delivered to us to passively endure it.
Our rebel, rebel phase was on.
Those years were the best in terms of closeness, (mis)understandings, and thinking perspective. At that moment, our friendship was in its purest state. Not just because we were so close to each other. Or just because we were sitting at the same table.
It was also because we weren’t for a second considering what would happen next.
Oh, you make me live, whatever this world can give to me. You’re my (borderless) best friend
The world gave us time to spend adolescence together.
We grasped it all until, by the end of the fifth year of high school, the thought of distance came across our minds. A feeling of discomfort about the safe space we had created until that moment pervaded the summer before going to university.
It was the first time we were afraid to lose each other. Everything was changing, and eventually, we would have changed as well.
Suddenly, we felt like two separate clouds contemplating the same sky.
We left for different destinations and different fields of study.
We knew that our hands would not be touching anymore.
So either mind or heart had to push harder and beyond any distance now.
We were not looking for validation or possession. Deep down in our hearts, we knew our friendship was free. We just had to let the trust we had for one another go further. The distance would not stop how much we cared and empathised with each other.
We had come this far, because we had let ourselves be genuinely ourselves. Free from judgments, able to express our visions. Open to care and to dare. Move on with our lives was the least we could expect from each other.
We both wanted to live together again, sooner or later.
But the truth is: that distance only kept increasing.
We realised eventually we had no reasons to worry about it. We found ourselves eager and curious to find out each other's next steps, ready to adapt in the best possible way to new circumstances.
A Borderless Friendship grows: 375/787 km of adaptation
Three years of adjustments, discoveries, and phone calls, when available, made us enjoy our respective realities. We allowed ourselves to digest all the changing perspectives. Still, never forgetting to find a moment to share what was going on in our separate lives as long-distance friends.
We became the only narrator of our individual stories. When she visited me in Rome, I welcomed her and made her feel at home, and she did the same to me in Bari. The sea hugged us in our talks, whether small or crucial.
We had the time to house our valuable itinerant friendship in an apartment in Milan, just before I had to leave for China.
Building on 8858 km of trust
We said goodbye after a long weekend together. It was happening again: a new farewell for our borderless friendship, this time facing a different time zone. Another plane for me, another border to cross while watching people I cared for on the edge.
Would our friendship make it after this?
We did not know.
We separated with our typical big hug, wishing the best for us, smiling at each other, meaning it. At that moment, we knew we were going to miss each other on two different ends of the blue, blue sky. We could only hope to catch a rainbow over our heads.
Three months passed, and technology helped us keeping in touch. It was always the right time for a video call to joke and share stories of crazy nights either in Puglia or in Shanghai. We felt at home, far from home, in a nowhere space, that was all ours.
We developed a sense of bonding, le fil rouge, that kept us connected when needed.
Mi manchi, I miss you, was the keyword.
We spent so much time together here and there that often we experienced the same feelings and lifecycle: when she was feeling down with university problems, it was probably happening to me as well. Communication was vital. We ended up analyzing and solving dozens of problems together.
We had left each other. But our hearts were still holding on where our hands couldn’t anymore.
The Borderless Friendship right now: a huge 307 km of distance after a short 130,1864km apart
Our personal map kept zigzagging, this way and that. We were closer than ever for two years, when I came back, then I went abroad again.
Now, with these Covid restrictions, we have to confess: we feel so distant again.
If someone is missing for days, the other calls and check-in. If we disagree on something, we do our best to listen and debate with an open heart. It’s what we always did.
This fourteen-year-old borderless friendship still amazes me in the way we never cease to take care of each other. What matters to maintain that long-distance friendship is our ability to praise one another when we’re really needing it. To comfort and let the other in, even in situations where we were not able to live firsthand. A sudden phone call of hers could be the breakthrough on a cloudy day. My friends turn out to be hers and vice versa. We are still growing together in this, with shareable moments of pain and joy.
I don't know what the future holds for us. I sincerely think that no matter the place we go next, we will be happier than ever for ourselves. We have become the women we are today by enriching our lives. By adding, not subtracting to our friendship.
There might be no simple formula for recreating that. But I know that if you give each other freedom to go wherever you want, you’ll also be setting your friendship free.
And that is the meaning of a true borderless friendship.