“Hi, I’m Kara,” says the short brunette lady standing in front of my husband and me.
“Hi Kara. I’m Jessica, and this is my husband Kaleb,” I respond with a smile.
“Is this your first time at our church?” she asks.
We give what’s becoming our standard answer: “We’re new to the Boston area and will only be here a month or so for Kaleb’s job. We travel the country so he can help open new Chick-fil-A locations for Chick-fil-A’s corporate office, and we like to find a church to attend in each new place to help us meet people.”
Further into the conversation, she mentions that she is newer to the area too and wants to explore the city more. I immediately jump in and say, “Well, we should explore together then! I usually explore alone when Kaleb’s working long hours during an opening, so I’d love to have someone to check out the city with.”
To her credit, she offers to exchange numbers with the overly-eager stranger she just met. On our way out the door, my husband and I laugh at how our constant traveling has completely changed our approach to making friends.
Moving to a new city or state every 3–9 weeks means you don’t have time to form relationships slowly — or even at a “natural” pace. You either take initiative and get to know people right away, or you don’t get to know anyone at all. If you fall anywhere in between, you’ll find yourself having to move again after your very first get-together.
As a classic introvert, these kinds of surface-level friendships and repetitive explanations of why we’re there and what we’re doing drain me. But as a human who needs connection with other humans, these same friendships are also my lifeline.
“There’s always room in the heart for one more friend.”
Before becoming a full-time traveler, the thought of intentionally building a friendship with someone I’d leave in a matter of weeks seemed counter-intuitive, pointless even. And doing that over and over sounded exhausting.
Would that even be a true friendship? What if we rarely talked again after we parted ways? What if we never even saw each other again? Wouldn’t that be a waste of time, energy, and vulnerability for both of us?
See, I love really getting to know people. I love learning their facial expressions, having meaningful conversations, and knowing how they drink their coffee and what books they like to read.
As we began our journey of becoming real-life nomads for two years, I thought that maybe my close relationship with Kaleb and my phone calls with my family and old friends would be enough. I wasn’t sure building a new community every time we moved would be worth it. I wasn’t sure I wanted to learn a dozen new names every month and share our life story with these strangers and hear theirs, just to say goodbye a few weeks later.
But just try going two years without having people nearby you can ask to go to coffee, see a movie with, or exchange jokes with about the city you live in. Try to go two years with every single relationship in your life being maintained over a screen (with the notable exception of your spouse).
I quickly learned that going through life this way is hard, humanly impossible even. Because we humans are not meant to be rootless. We were not created to be drifters, unattached and alone. And a marriage — no matter how wonderful — is not meant to replace all other relationships.
I realized we needed people we could get together with in person, not just over Facetime. We each needed other individual friendships, even if they were just for a short time. We found that when we connected with people in this way, we enjoyed our time in that new place more. And we had much fonder memories of that place when we left.
“The best time to make friends is before you need them.” — Ethel Barrymore
Through the past year of our nomadic life, I have learned that building community is always worth it. We have never regretted getting to know other people, hearing their stories, sharing their dinner table, and answering all their questions about Chick-fil-A. We feel sadness when we have to leave those new friends — but never regret.
We’ve also learned that you never know when those new friends will need you during your short time with them — or when you’ll need them. On one assignment in Toledo, Ohio, Kaleb came down with the flu, and I came down with mild aches and nausea. Going out to get Gatorade and Tylenol was the last thing I wanted to do. Thankfully, I’d made friends with another traveling wife, who graciously agreed to get the items for us.
On an assignment in upstate New York, the wife of the new Chick-fil-A operator kindly asked me to coffee when we first arrived. Later, I was able to babysit their son so they could have a couple date nights during one of their busiest months of the year so far.
Small moments like these — moments where you can make other people’s burdens lighter and know they’d do the same for you — make the effort of building a friendship, even a casual one, worthwhile.
“It’s the friends we meet along the way that help us appreciate the journey.”
Having best friends and old friends and family friends is a wonderful thing. But there’s also a time and a place for new friends. There’s even a place for relationships that are there to carry us through a particular time of life. Not all friends have to become our lifelong besties to make a difference in our lives — nor us in theirs.
We like to keep up with everyone we’ve met on the road through social media and texting. But it’s not the same as spending time together in person and actually doing life together. We understand that, and we’re ok with it. Because even if the friendship drifts afterwards, it will be one we’ll always appreciate.
We still need our deep, meaningful, lifetime relationships. The seasonal friendships give us temporary roots in each new location; the old friendships keep us grounded and rooted in our true selves no matter where we go.
In this whirlwind lifestyle of constant change and so many new faces, even the smallest roots— the hotel’s staff recognizing us by name, for example —gives a sense of belonging. The familiar rapport with the other Chick-fil-A travelers keeps us from feeling too isolated. Familiar faces at church each week who already know what we do, who we are, and where we’re from keep us grounded.
We humans crave connection. We want to be known. And if that means developing a friendship to carry us through a season of isolation, the effort is well worth it.
While it can be draining to form new community over and over again (especially for a stereotypical introvert like me), I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing it. Because I’ve seen the difference it makes. I’ve learned that it’s ok to build friendships that may only last a season, and that those friendships often become a lifeline when you need one the most.