Summer mornings on the shore of Lake Michigan.
An expanse of sand. Beach towels stretched out side by side.
Plastic buckets, shovels, and sieves.
The lifeguard: white boat, brown oars, orange jacket. She faces the beach.
We face the water and the rising sun, our back to the city behind us.
We watch the children: one of mine is in the water with her friend: splashing while she ventures out deeper and deeper; one is sitting in the sand at the water’s edge, digging a trench; my little one is on my hip, sticky arms wrapped around my neck, head drowsing on my shoulder.
Depending on the day (and the hour) there are four, five or even six or seven moms and our brood of children — as many as 20 kids under ten.
Mostly, this is our stretch of beach. On these summer mornings, we rarely see anyone outside our group here.
The kids can roam, dig, and dance. They can build and splash.
And we can talk.
With interruptions, of course. Always.
We’re used to it, though. We can turn away from a conversation to pull a snack from our beach bag, mediate a tussle between siblings, and return to the conversation easily.
These perfect beach mornings, they fuel our friendships. They never seem long enough.
As we gather toys and towels, we walk slowly back to the city. We part with a promise to gather again soon.
I lived in Chicago nearly nine years. I’ve lived in my new home for only about a year.
I am making friends here, slowly.
The difference: most of my years in Chicago, I stayed home with my girls. We had time for beach days and park meet-ups, day-long trips to museums and spontaneous backyard bashes. We even turned trips to Sam’s Club for groceries into celebrations: meeting friends for pizza slices then shopping together.
Now, I spend the time when my girls are at school working.
Building face to face friendships, once my nearly full-time occupation, is (honestly) far down on my list now.
The friendships I invest most of my time in these days are virtual ones: the connections I’ve created and cultivated mostly online.
Is this a natural shift, inevitable?
Or could (should) I structure my time to include much more face to face time with friends?
Is it possible to maintain a vital community of online friends AND to spend regular time with friends face to face?
What is the online equivalent to a perfect morning at the beach?
Tell me something! What friendships are you investing your time in? How do you balance online friendships and in-person ones?