I recently heard a young couple recount their story of struggling to find a community of young families and professionals in the various cities they’d lived in. They started in Colorado, just before they were married where they had a close-knit group of friends, then moved to Seattle where they found it much more difficult to find a social niche. From there, they ended up in Rochester, where, through the church they joined, they were connected to a young couple/families group, and out of that group came their “friend family,” two or three other couples that began to “do life” together, celebrating birthdays, holidays, new babies, promotions, etc.
Of course, because life isn’t always exactly what we want it to be, these were also the people who they mourned death, discussed struggles, faced illness, comforted heartbreak, and battled challenges with. This became of particular importance for this couple when their new baby fell seriously ill. You don’t, this couple pointed out, generally make friends in a crisis. Instead, you rely on the people who you’ve built friendships and relationships with before the storm hits, and trust that they will be the people to weather the season with you. They ended their talk by rhetorically asking the audience if we knew who we would call at 2AM, and if we had people who would feel safe and compelled to call us at 2AM if a moment of crisis arose.
Since hearing this couple speak, I’ve been thinking about my 2AM friends, or perhaps more specifically, the various ways that particular measure of connectedness or depth of relationship has woven its way in and out of my friendships over the past decade or so, without my even really recognizing it.
For instance, my first 2AM friend, was probably my college BFF Sarah. We would not call each other at 2AM because we would still be up. Our freshman year of college we literally stayed up EVERY night past 2AM talking. Just talking. Why? Because ages 18-19, and moving away from home for the first time is very confusing. Because figuring out what you want to be when you grow up is very confusing. Because I was coming out of a relationship in which my high school boyfriend of almost two years broke up with me by telling me he was gay and had started seeing a guy in one of his college classes…and that was VERY confusing!
Consequently, in hindsight, that boyfriend was not a 2AM friend. I mean, that might have been partially because I didn’t have a cell phone through much of high school, so calling anyone at 2AM would have involved going downstairs past my parents’ room to get the cordless phone. And then I would have had to come back to my room, which I shared with my sister, and quietly make a call that didn’t wake her. Also, looking back reveals that “relationship” was actually quite strange even by high school relationship standards. If my older self could go back and counsel my younger self, I would gently point out any number of enduring quirks that were actually less romantic and more indicative of his eventual understanding of his sexuality. For example, while it is respectful not to put pressure on the physical aspects of the relationship, it’s something else entirely to date a nineteen year old guy who takes eight months to decide he might like to try to kiss you.
Similarly, in other relationships, I’ve found that my hesitancy to call at any hour of the evening, let alone 2AM, has been an indicator of the eventual demise of the relationship. I once dated a guy, we will call him Douche Canoe as that’s what my sister and brother-in-law called him 😆, who would never talk on the phone. He would email, or Facebook message me, he might occasionally text. But one night, driving home late from work, I thought to call him and see how his day was and whether he wanted to make plans for the weekend. It was, maybe, 7PM. He was SHOCKED I had called. It was “late;” I could have emailed him in the morning. This relationship lasted slightly more than two weeks past that point. He called to ask if he could come over to talk, and I knew it was over, and not just from the tone of his voice or that we “had to talk,” but because he’d bothered to pick up the phone and call rather than wait for me to respond in writing.
When that relationship ended and left me, inexplicably, crying on my dining room floor, do you know who I did call? (at an hour only slightly earlier than 2AM)…Sarah, who lived 800 miles away at that point, and yet still took my phone call!
I cherish Sarah’s friendship to this day, and while I may always keep close a small group of friends that find themselves scattered across the miles, I’ve also needed to make new 2AM friends that are closer to home. Why? Because sometimes a phone call simply isn’t enough. Sometimes you need someone to physically be there.
Such was the case the summer I lived in an apartment that had a colony of bats in the attic. It should be noted that I lived in an attic apartment, so when the “bat man” came to evaluate the property and concluded that there was likely a colony of 30-40 bats in the attic, and I pointed out that I lived in the attic, he just kind of nodded slowly and sympathetically. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t exactly hanging from my ceilings, but I used to hear them scurrying through the walls of my living room (a noise, at the time, I thought was mice…like that was somehow better!). It was slightly before midnight the first time one burst out of nowhere into my bedroom, and, like a complete crazy person, I ran screaming from my room, slamming the door behind me and grabbing my car keys from the hook by the door. I was out in my car and halfway down the block before I realized I had left my cell phone on my bedside table.
You might be thinking about the friend you would call at 2AM, but is that also a friend whose door you could pound on at midnight to get them out of bed? Because that’s what I did! After briefly considering sleeping in my car in their driveway, I went to the backdoor…barefoot…in my pajamas…and rang the doorbell until the lights came on and they came to find me standing, sobbing, on the stoop. They confessed the next morning that their immediate concern upon finding me there was that they thought I’d been attacked. But even upon learning the real reason for my intrusion, they made up the guest bed without question, and went with me back into the apartment the next day to go bat hunting.
Consequently, these friends also slept in the waiting room of the hospital at 2AM the next summer when I had an emergency appendectomy in the middle of the night. Today, I no longer live in the same apartment, or even the same city, but I don’t doubt that they’d answer the phone if I called at 2AM. They might wonder why I just didn’t wake up my husband instead (your spouse, consequently, should definitely be a 2AM friend!), but I’m relatively confident they’d answer.
When I first moved to Rochester, I was brought into my now husband’s friend group. Many of them are probably his versions of a 2AM friend, and I felt like they became mine by default. We remain friends with many of these people still today, and I don’t doubt that any of them would show up in a moment of need. I also, however, desired to meet my own friends, and form friendships that started on the basis of something other than the association of another person. That’s not to say that those associative friendships aren’t valid and strong, but I think it’s important to start relationships based on who we are as people too…not just who we date or marry.
It takes a while to develop these friendships. It takes investing time and energy into other people, investing in conversations and common interests, and showing up for people. It takes “doing life” together. And through the celebrations, the standing up in weddings, the weekend road trips, the meals around a shared table, the countless bottles of wine, the bonfires on a warm summer night, the concerts, the theater tickets, the champagne toasts, the new houses, the birthdays, the diplomas…I’ve come to know and trust that they’ll also be there through the low points, the death of a family member, the frustrations at work, the stress, the disappointments, the exhaustion, the uncertainty.
I know them well enough to know that they’re likely reading this now thinking something along the lines of “I mean…I’d answer the phone…but that’s really early in the morning. Would we have to talk about it at 2AM?” I also know that when I mentioned that I was thinking about this post, and joked that I wasn’t sure that one could actually be my 2AM friends because they set their phone to ‘do not disturb’ when they go to bed, I was immediately told how to call so that it would override ‘do not disturb.’
They are my friend family, and we should all aspire to have one! If you’ve got a real family that you can call at 2AM too…that’s a bonus! Though I’m close to my family, and did call them, say, from the hospital when I was going into surgery to have my appendix removed, it was going to be a day before they made it to see me. It took a friend family to come through in the moment and be there so I wasn’t alone.
Not every friendship has to be a 2AM friend. You’ll have friends you shop with, friends you meet up for coffee, friends from the gym, friends from work, all of whom are critical relationships that will fill a void and make you a better, more grounded person. But we should also aspire to get connected deeply. To do life with people. Aspire not only to have friends you could call at 2AM, but also to be the friend that could be called at 2AM.
Danielle Laporte perhaps said it best like this:
We decided that being able to call someone at 2 a.m. was our new metric of love.
So, who can you call? For most of us, the list of “who” will be a very short one.
: Who’s the first person you’d call if you landed the job, won the award, found out you were preggers, got the news that you qualified?
: Who would you bring if you got six front row seats to see your concert?
: Who’s your “In Case of Emergency” contact?
: Who could write your obituary?
: Who knows how you take your coffee or could order for you at a restaurant?
: Who’ll drive you there—and back?
: Who’s seen you do the Ugly Cry?
: Where can you show up without calling?
Who can you call at 2 a.m.?
That is a treasured, indispensable, no matter what, sacred circle.
Make sure that they know, “You’re this for me.”
And then celebrate that together—before 2 a.m.