As I dipped a scoop of chocolate ice cream onto a sugar cone, it hit me: the Normans really are moving.
A Sunday afternoon ice cream party for our friends appeared to be a typical Southern backyard get-together. Children played. Adults talked. Everybody ate. But what I hadn’t really thought about as we prepared for the festivities was that the Normans were moving away.
Insert “change” cliché here.
There are so many I won’t even attempt to supply one, but any of them will work to express the cultural phenomenon of transition that has come to characterize life in the New South.
Carla and I are feeling the disorientation of relationships transitioning as several friends are moving away from the Atlanta area this summer. We’ve had summers like this before, and in our nine-plus years in the Atlanta suburbs, we have said goodbye to dozens of good friends.
This time through the cycle, though, I can’t help but notice how these transitions reflect the culture of the New South. As this economy spurts and stalls, folks have to move to advance in their careers or, in some cases, just keep their jobs. Plus, some folks land jobs after prolonged periods of unemployment and have to move.
The effect of all this moving is that relationships tend to be more temporary, more seasonal.
Long gone are the days when you started with a company after you finished your education and retired from that organization 40 years later. We all know intuitively that changing jobs, even changing careers, is part of the fabric of our lives these days, but it takes a toll on our relationships.
Yes, we can now stay connected with friends through Facebook, but what is lost is the interaction. The cookouts, the play dates, the church suppers, the celebrations of new births and graduations as well as support during medical or personal crises. Our kids don’t get to grow up together, and they see and feel firsthand the emotional pangs of letting go.
I remember making a huge transition from Dallas-Fort Worth to central Florida as a 12-year-old. It was traumatic, but it was a change I embraced at the time. I think it helped me have a sense of independence and possibility, so that when it came time to go off to college, I was better prepared emotionally to begin to separate from my parents and live on my own.
Maybe all of our transitions help our children cope with change, but I fear that it’s teaching them to be cautious in their relationships. They are learning subconsciously to not form deep attachments because they’ll only be hurt or disappointed.
It’s too much of a generalization to say that all relationships in the New South are only at a surface level, but I do think it’s much more likely now than 30 or 40 years ago.
I celebrate the transitions my friends have been able to make over the past few years and will make in the months to come. The Normans have been trying to move to Greece for at least two years, and the relocation represents the fulfillment of a dream and a calling. I’m genuinely happy for them.
But I can’t help but feel a little diminished each time we lose the close connection with a family that we once spent time with. Yes, we can visit, and they can come back here to visit, but over time, those visits become impractical and the busyness of life takes over.
Rather than give into shallowness, here are my three strategies for enjoying friendships in the New South:
First, enjoy your friends while you can. Invest in other people deeply. Eat together often. Get together. Play. Laugh. Don’t count the cost or worry about the future. Be present for each other and enjoy each other while you can. You don’t know how long it will last, so don’t take the relationship for granted.
Second, do what you have to do. Don’t let your friendships hold you in limbo if an opportunity arises that you need to pursue. Sometimes, a better thing requires a move. Go for it. You can continue to invest in your friends – although in a different way – from a distance, and you will discover new friends.
Third, talk to your kids about transitions. Don’t leave them to process these grief experiences alone. They can learn from other people’s transitions as well as their own and begin to prepare for their inevitable life transitions.
So as we all say “goodbye” with greater frequency, take time to savor your friendships. Celebrate the successes and new opportunities your friends experience. And keep putting yourself out there, investing in people and relationships.
New or old, the South just isn’t the same without a sense of community.
Have you had to make a transition recently? How did you handle it? What did you do to help your kids weather the move? Share your thoughts in a comment below.