What happened when I reconnected with my friend after 20 years

Several months ago I received an email from a friend I haven’t seen for over 20 years. The delight I felt on reading her excited hello was incredible. We’d been best friends in primary school, went to ballet lessons together, played mud pies in the back yard and shared endless giggles over stupid things. Then her family moved 400 kilometres away to Adelaide.

We still kept in touch, although not frequently due to distance and the horrendous cost of STD phone calls back then. I did catch up when I went to university and attended her gorgeous backyard wedding, but for some reason after that the connection broke. Not for any real reason, just life I suppose. She moved to Darwin, I moved to Victoria, and our worlds were filled with other distractions and adventures.

Harry and Sally are long distance friends for a while in When Harry Met Sally.

But the funny thing is, with a single email, it was as if all those missing years had been swept away and we were back firm friends again. It also set me thinking about friendship, about how special friendships endure despite time and distance.

It’s a subject I’ve talked about with other friends before.  My partner is in the military, which means we move around. A lot. Interstate, and one lucky time overseas. My friends are scattered over the country and world, and there are times when I don’t see them for years. Sometimes we’re out of contact for extended periods, which sounds the antithesis of friendship. Yet it’s not. Not for these special people. The moment we’re back in touch we simply pick up where we left off.

This kind of confidence in a relationship is a lovely thing to have. I feel blessed by it. And grateful. Oh, so grateful. My life would be terribly lonely without this safety net. Close friendships take time to develop and if you’re only posted to a place for 12 months, it’s hard to not only to open connections but to keep them. Some people can be reluctant to invest heavily in someone who won’t be around for long, which is why those precious far-off friends are even more important.

Yet there is so much I miss out on. The days out shopping with an old friend - the one who’s not afraid to say that the purple skinny jeans I’m eyeing off will make me look like an elephant - that many other women get to indulge in rarely happens for me. A gathering of the girls for lunch, the same. The spontaneous phone call saying let’s catch a film or check out that new art exhibition is impossible when your friends are a thousand kilometres or more away.


Then there’s the heart-touching things, like rushing to help in an emergency or emotional crisis, or the simple giving of a hug when its needed. Long chats over a cuppa about families, work, or all those million other things that need dissection, are restricted to phone calls or Skype. That physical connection, so important in female relationships, isn’t there.

Author, Cathryn Hein. Image via Twitter.

Friendships can and do break up because of the tyranny of distance, although that’s not always to blame either. We’re people and we screw up sometimes. God knows, I do. I have my share of regrets, believe me. The loss of one close friend in particular still hurts deeply but it’s a loss I can’t change and have to accept. The others are hanging in there though. Although I wonder if that’s also because they, too, tend to be movers and understand that life sometimes gets in the way of the good nurturing of a relationship. We’re all too aware that, while the situation isn’t ideal, we understand and accept it. Besides, what matters is how we connect when we are together.

I wish things were different but, having said that, I’m not sure I’d change things either. I love my friends and our relationships work. Not perfectly, but we’ve settled into our own form of comfortableness. Plus we all recognise that while my partner remains in the military, this is one of the downsides.

Like everything in life, it’s up to us to make the most of what we have.

Cathryn Hein is author of The Falls, published by Michael Joseph, RRP $32.99.

Click through the gallery below to see some of the best fictional female friendships. 

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Since Sarah died……grieving the loss of my best friend.

The 7 signs a long-term relationship will last the distance.

Friendship euthanasia. I had to do it.