If you’re a farmer, your most important asset is your soil. Before the advent of fertilizer, specialty cover crops, and crop rotation science, you had one best way to keep your soil fertile and productive. You it lie fallow – unused – instead of planting it for a season.
This must have seemed like madness to the first few farmers who tried it. But those who did found that the rest replenished the nutrients and microbiome of the soil. The very next crop grown in the rested soil did especially well.
I think a similar principle applies to friendships.
Many friendships can handle high-intensity, high-frequency farming. You can plant crop after crop and harvest a good yield. Your coworker friends, your sports league or gym friends, your church friends are these friendships. They’re built for regular social interaction. You get drinks with them, go dancing with them, work alongside them, or study alongside them.
There are those very few friendships that need a different kind of cultivation.
Several of the most life-giving friendships I have consist of conversations or in-person meetups that happen once every four months or so. While we may not spend as much time together as we’d like, when we do talk, our conversations last for hours. They bring intense meaning and value to our lives. And they’re of a nature that it’s evident what the next conversation will be about four months later. In these friendships, we both routinely find that – unplanned – we’re both going in the same direction in life, if only occasionally by different routes.
Would it be the same way if we saw each other daily or weekly? I don’t doubt that we would get along. But I do doubt that we would reap the kind of harvest we get from those few times we get together in the year when we do meet in person or over the phone.
These best of relationships are like high-maintenance crops. They require the most nutrients and take the most out of the soil of friendship. Those best of friend relationships are based on strongly on shared curiosity about the world. If I’m not spending time away from these good friends, I’m not giving them room to cultivate curiosity. I’m not learning and developing and experiencing new things I can bring back as gifts in our conversations.
In other words, I have to let my friendships – like a farm’s best fields – lie fallow from time to time. When I come back to them in the next season, they’re usually ready to yield a bumper crop.
If you’re struggling to maintain a long-distance friendship of any kind, I strongly recommend that you try this approach. Do the opposite of what you think is the right way to manage a friendship, and intentionally spend time apart exploring your world.