You start your twenties in the midst of two goodbyes. The friends you left behind in high school that you vowed to keep touch with are starting to fade away as trips home get shorter and fewer and further between. In a year or two you’ll be saying goodbye to the group surrounding you in college as you move on; toward first jobs, old family bedrooms, beginning lives, and new friends.
Maybe you’ll be lucky and carry them with you, as roommates in that tiny apartment you can barely afford together, or to meet up for cheap lunches as you desperately search for jobs. If you went to school close to home you might all be nearby, doing your best to start your lives, comparing notes, and figuring it out together.
As you slide into your mid-twenties, you’ll have found that core group who survived the goodbyes, or maybe were the hellos who made the rest more bearable. The ones who you meet for a (slightly less cheap) brunch, go to movies with, play at being grownups, and throw dinner parties for. As you settle in to your lives, you begin to seriously couple-up, and maybe new faces come and go, but some slide in seamlessly, and become so intricately a part of the group that you can’t fathom that they weren’t there from the beginning. You share new jobs, hated bosses, and being laid off. You lament over student debt that is going nowhere but up, the terror of buying a new car, and oh dear god how do I file my taxes? You grow into adulthood, careers, higher education, and relationships with one another.
Soon there come weddings. So many weddings that you don’t know how you can pay for the dresses, hotel rooms, gifts, and travel expenses. The first one throws your whole life off-kilter as you try to learn how to be a friend to two instead of one, how to help without taking over, and how to reign in your fear that everything is changing; that those days whispering in your dorm room in the middle of the night are well and truly over. Eventually you start to get the hang of it and learn that their new beginning isn’t always a goodbye but more of an “until the next time.”
Somehow without even meaning to, your lives become so busy—too busy. You share a text here or there and realize six months have gone by without being face-to-face. How did that happen, didn’t we just say we should get together? But weekly plans becomes monthly, and monthly slides into seasonally, and scheduling hangouts takes months to organize. Calendars get shared and dates negotiated like salaries just to spend a few hours together. Inevitably something comes up and someone can’t make it, but where once no man would be left behind, the gatherings have become “whoever can make it” out of practicality. In those few hours you laugh and eat, remember that you love each other, and think maybe it won’t change. We can keep coming back to this, standing around the kitchen with barking dogs, old memories, and new jokes. We can grow up without growing apart, for just a little while longer.
But as the night runs as late as your twenties, the dishes are cleared, the coffee is drunk and you begin to part ways. As they meander out full of good food, and new beginnings, you can feel doors closing all around you. Over dinner you all shared new futures across the country, oceans, state lines, and far from your intimate dining table. You see the future so clearly as you wave them off. Gatherings will be spaced further and further apart, will have more empty chairs, more “wish we could be there,” and “maybe over Christmas” RSVP’s. You’ll begin to hear about big news, new babies, and promotions over Facebook instead of dinner.
Slowly as you slip from your twenties, there are no more clear delineations of goodbyes. People and priorities spread apart—moving away, following different paths, and new dreams. It’s neither leaving each other behind nor choosing something better, but the natural exodus of friendship in your twenties. It’s a time of change and goodbyes, of new beginnings somewhere else, and making it on your own. A period of coming and going, of clinging to what you know while simultaneously flinging yourself into the unknown.
For every empty chair around that formerly full dining table, there will be a chair filled somewhere new, with new friends and family, giggling babies, and terrified kids turned parents. And as each of you fill your own tables, you’ll look around and remember those nights gone by, with old faces back home that supported you along the tumultuous path that led you to where you are now.