From the kitchen, I can hear my new roommates in the living room, a reality show playing in the background. “What sort of community would you want to raise a child in?” one asks another abruptly. Their conversation unspools with all the angst and thoughtfulness I remember from being twenty-two and living in constant conversation with my best friends.
Our six-bedroom row house in Washington D.C. sees a constantly rotating cast of twenty-somethings. Last month, three friends in their final semester of undergrad moved in, getting their bearings before heading off into the world this summer. They are all of them bright and kind and thoughtful. They talk about culture in the dining room and sustainability on our back deck. I hear their belly laughs late into the night.
Their effortless intimacy hits me with a shock. The pandemic, like an early frost, cut short an entire category of fledgling friendships. Without the excuse of an event or happy hour, I fell out of touch with the people I had started to get to know. My roommates were either gone or as politely distant as hotel guests. Interactions with my family and friends were neatly compartmentalized into hour-long Zoom calls or masked walks outdoors.
The laughter in the next room reminds me how much I miss the physicality of friendship—sharing space, working on projects, singing, eating, platonically affectionate touch. The closest I came to this was my own senior year, with my own college friends. I could get up to make a snack and find myself at the table an hour later talking about faith or politics or passing crushes. It was a closeness that only romantic relationships have approximated since.
For many of us, adulthood has meant watching our friends spread out across the country, or across the globe. As much as we hope to find friends where we land, I wonder how many of us simply direct our energy into things we can better control. Sometimes shows like Friends or How I Met Your Mother or New Girl, with their crews of friends as close as family, feel like a modern fantasy, as unrealistic as the airport run at the end of a romantic comedy.
The characters in these shows have wildly different jobs and hobbies and personalities. The main thread uniting them seems to be simply that they share an apartment. Proximity begets friendship, and the rest of the world sort of falls away.
There is no substitute for my lifelong friends spread out around the world, but there’s also no substitute for physical closeness. With warm days and vaccines on the horizon, I’ll count down the days until I can travel to friends, see their homes, hold their children, grab a coffee, take a walk. I’m also waiting for the day I can invite friends to my own home, have them come in and sit down on the couch, meandering between conversation and companionable silence.
Katerina Parsons (’15) lives in Washington D.C., where she works in advocacy at Mennonite Central Committee’s Washington office and studies international development at American University’s School of International Service. She spends a lot of time thinking about US policy towards Central America and North Korea, writing, singing, and searching for the city’s best pupusas (suggestions welcome).