As our Vueling jet descended, I saw clusters of orange rooftops, hilly neighborhoods, and a sparkling blue sea. After we landed, I turned my phone on and posted the obligatory location-based update on Facebook.
Just landed in Lisbon!
I wasn’t even off the plane when my BlackBerry light started blinking. I read that Jamie, one of my best friends from high school, had arrived in Lisbon a few hours earlier. I hadn’t seen her in ten years.
Days later, on a hot August afternoon, I strolled down one of the city’s slippery cobblestone streets near Elevador de Santa Justa to meet her. I noticed Jamie on the sidewalk and couldn’t believe she was standing there—slim and tan, with long black hair and a confident, womanly gaze. My Filipino sister! My partner in crime! Oh my, she’s all growns up.
We stopped for ice cream, then shared a carafe of white sangria at an outdoor restaurant not far from Largo de São Domingos in Rossio. In the evening, before she returned to her MBA duties, we sipped cocktails at her hotel bar. We spent several hours swiftly catching up on the past decade.
It’s exhilarating, really—to embrace an old friend on the street of a grand European city. To cross paths in a random place, unplanned, with someone from a part of your life outside of your daily routine.
I love these right place, right time moments the universe throws in my lap.
* * *
Ten years ago, when I lived in the South of France, geographic coordinate synchronization was like a game: armed with Eurail passes, my friends and I did what we could to meet in different cities when possible. I met Loyola Marymount buddies Jake and Jimmy in Paris to down bottles of wine on the Champs-Élysées, and later in Interlaken to bomb down the Swiss Alps on wobbly wooden sleds.
And when I worked in Southeast Asia in 2004, another college pal, Nick—whom I recently stayed with in London—visited Thailand while on a trip to China. We met in Bangkok, exploring Chatuchak Market, eating fine sushi at Siam Square, and lounging at Bed Supperclub and Q Bar. (I recall flaming shots of absinthe. Fun.)
If I translate my past onto a graph, these experiences are represented by the crests of a wave—despite how fleeting, random, and isolated they are, and even though these friends aren’t part of my everyday life.
These kinds of moments, like the encounter with Jamie, mean the world to me.
* * *
I mentioned in part II that I’ve begun to compartmentalize my friendships. It’s not simply virtual versus real; my online friendships are further divided into Facebook or Twitter (or other) camps, and my friendships in general are filed into categories like “work A,” or “work B,” or “mid-to-late-90s raver crew,” or “San Francisco circa 2002-05,” or “LMU,” or “MFA peeps,” or “Concordia classmates,” or “high school,” or “middle school,” or… You get the idea. I’ve always grouped my friends like this, but now that we can organize them via public lists online, the compartmentalization is obvious.
But what about my nomadic friendships—the ones that are put on hold in the physical world for most of the year, and re-materialize when I visit someone or when she/he visits me? These relationships blur the lines. They’re real, they’re maintained and nurtured virtually, but they also have an extra dimension I’m trying to identify. Examples include three friendships from my time in Cannes—Robin, in Los Angeles; Maggie, in Bend; and Elise, in Washington DC. (I’m not saying I don’t consider them friends in the traditional sense, but our friendships have matured differently, and at a distinct pace, than my location-locked friendships in the Bay, since a) I rarely see them in person, b) when we do meet, we’re often in a place neither of us reside, and c) when we’re together, we get right to it: we cover the spectrum, we get deep, and we laugh our asses off—our time is limited, so we make it count.)
Professional connections online are thrown into this pot of nomadic relationships, too. In the past year, I met Megan and Phillip—the editorial core at Trazzler—in Madrid and San Francisco, respectively. I was finally able to match living, breathing bodies to the faceless names I worked with via email, GChat, and Skype conference calls. These were work connections, first and foremost, but I considered them to be something more—they fell into this elusive nomadic category, which I suppose is fitting seeing we worked for a travel website.
As I get older, most of my best friends and I grow further apart geographically, and these key relationships, too, have turned increasingly nomadic. I fly to visit my closest pals when possible, and if there’s one thing I do diligently, it’s visiting those I love, year after year, whether in Brooklyn, Phoenix, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Boston, Vancouver, Las Vegas, London… Sometimes we meet in different cities; my darling friend Angel, for instance, has met me in Montreal, Austin, and the Caribbean, and I’ve met others in Cancun, Hawaii, and Chicago.
It’s unfortunate to be separated from my friends, and to not be part of their daily lives, but that’s how things are. And although I’m in the midst of putting my foot in the concrete here in San Francisco (wish me luck on the homebuying process), I feel these relationships elsewhere—which somehow survive across state and country borders—will continue to be meaningful and important in the future.
* * *
My trip to Europe several weeks ago prompted me to think about the nature and dynamic of nomadic relationships. My definition of friendship is evolving due to two factors: my virtual life and my love for traveling. They are complementary, fueling and sustaining one another, and make it easier to maintain these friendships that exist outside of my day-to-day life: ones that are created or thrive in faraway, romantic, and whimsical places; that are resurrected in each adventure on the road; that exist and evolve within a level of the cosmos distinct from the one where my “sedentary” relationships lie.
In the past, I’ve felt that nomadic friendships enhance my life, but weren’t meant to replace my traditional ones. Today, I crave—even need—these connections. I’m not certain what this means, or how these particular relationships will evolve. They are special, but also bittersweet in that the time I spend with these people is sporadic.
I wish it didn’t have to be this way.
* * *
I started thinking about this post upon my return from London, particularly because of my time with @Pharaonick. But I had to muse my way through parts I and II to write it, so thanks for following along as I unpacked and sifted through my (mental) suitcase.
Other Parts in this Virtual Life Series:
- Notes on Virtual Life, Part VI: Facebook Status Updates (And What I Could Have Said)
- Notes on Virtual Life, Part V: Proximity & Physical Space
- Notes on Virtual Life, Part IV: On Unplugging & Merging Virtual and Real
- Notes on Virtual Life, Part II: Facebook, Twitter, and the Seeds of Compartmentalization
- Notes on Virtual Life, Part I: The Evolution of Friendship