the unbearable lightness of beaching

by s.

Five friends suffer a particularly harsh August and decide to set off on one last shot at a beach vacation over Memorial Day weekend. With a careful soundtrack of breezy indie folk (Fleet Foxes) and old school hip hop (A Tribe Called Quest), this is a movie I admit that I’d probably watch. Having lived it, I can say that it was more worth starring in than most of my days.

We’ve all said before – and recently, I might add – that it is really hard to make adult friends. At a certain point you have to go out on a limb and do something embarrassing. With acquaintances, the risks are lower: it is not the end of the world if someone doesn’t come out for drinks or turns out to be the girl who laughs, loudly, when no one has made a joke. We laugh about how difficult it is to find people to hang out with, but we rarely touch on the part of it that is really, truly important and thus really, truly the hardest thing to do.

Who you spend your days with is a pretty big deal. As a society, we focus on romantic love to fill that quota, and people easily forget that the origins of friendship are meant to be rooted in something deeper than having an activity partner. I, too, forget this: surrounded by those potential activity partners, I’ve made myself famous for being the one who never falls in love and only shows up when she feels like it. I go it alone and I do it with glee, mostly because I can.

There are limits to aloneness. Our recent hurricane threat was one of those. Another is the single most difficult thing to do by oneself and also the single most difficult thing to do with other people: travel.

Travel is just hard, and you never think its going to be. Unless you are the most easy-going person in the world – and if you describe yourself as such, I guarantee you are not – I implore you never to travel with acquaintances. You will become someone who describes travel as a hassle and never realize that the problem is in the people.

It is almost shocking, then, when it works. I found myself this weekend in all of my favorite sorts of places: on porches and on beaches and on boats and in the anticipatory spaces that precede most disappointments. I did it all with four friends by my side, mostly comfortable knowing that at some point we turned a corner wide enough to make things work. These friendships are real living things now and they’ll require some tending to. They are the kind of event that you have to show up for.

Were there any kind of space in an overcrowded market of self-help books, I would think that we need someone to write us some guidelines on how to make this happen. They say that adults don’t have best friends, and this may be simply because we have forgotten how to get them. It is complicated enough to weed out the ones who laugh too loud. I don’t know what I could tell you about how to find the ones you can travel with. Give up, I might say, and learn how to move comfortably in your own skin and take yourself on those trips.

I have the increasing sense that this is a cop out. We need friends to fall in love with, so that we can drink beers on beaches and in boats and so that there’s someone standing beside you when the moments of disappointment hit. We need them to assure us that we are not the women who laugh too loud, even when we are. These will be the people who share collective memories of Vitamin D to help keep you warm when winter hits. Maybe there is no map to get them to you; maybe you just have to trust that they will one day be there. Maybe you won’t even know until you have already agreed to travel with them, and you have to set yourself up for failure before you can find yourself in a place where you can properly notice that you have already won.

It’s the last day of summer, at least mentally speaking, and we’ll drive home today trying to figure out how to keep the tan, blissed-out feeling that accompanied us all weekend even as we threw our bodies around like so many potato sacks filled with beer cans. I don’t know if we can do it; probably we can’t. But we can set ourselves up to fail when winter hits and see if we can figure out how to maneuver this into a winning situation. Fall is one of the aforementioned anticipatory spaces; winter is a disappointment. All you can do is hope that someone is there to hold your hand when it hits.

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