This past weekend, I went on an annual “retreat” with my a cappella group from college: The Newport Pearls. We may have graduated 4-8 years ago, but that can’t stop us from continuing traditions that started back when we didn’t have husbands, children, or sensitive livers.

All 15 women who comprised the Pearls my junior year somehow clicked. Most of us never would have been naturally drawn to one another, but singing magically unified all of our unique personalities. Over the last eight years, we’ve morphed from a group of misfits who were trapped together in a rehearsal room for 4-6 hours a week, into an unbreakable, loyal sisterhood. I can snuggle and talk about anything with every single one of them, no matter how many months pass between reunions. Being part of such a large group where every person loves every other person is incredibly rare and wonderful.

Here’s a picture of us:

pitch perfect

Wait, sorry, that’s a picture of the Bellas. Sometimes I get us confused with them. #pitchperfect

Here are the Pearls at my wedding:

pearls at leyko wedding

And here we are this past weekend:

pearls retreat 2016

I’m proud to say that I coined the name “vertical spooning” for this particular pose back in 2009. Now, we don’t know how to pose any other way.

This post is going to be short and sweet, but I just wanted to encourage everyone– as I’ve done before and will do again– to foster lasting friendships.

I am the Pearls retreat planner, which means I begin the planning process each November for our yearly trip to Nags Head. Getting the ball rolling three months ahead of time usually gives us a better chance of finding a weekend in February or March that works for all 15 schedules. That meant that this year, I began planning the retreat amidst planning my own wedding.

In case you forgot…I love planning, so this wasn’t so bad. Still, I almost cancelled the whole thing (which takes place at my parents’ beach house, so I kind of have to be there) once I found out that Aaron’s return from deployment would take place less than a week before our chosen date. After two months without seeing him, I felt like crying at the thought of being out of town for his first weekend home.

Last year, though, a Pearl bravely left her two-month-old baby at home with her husband in order to be at retreat. Another year, a Pearl still came a few days after she got engaged. And almost every single Pearl has missed birthdays, concerts, Netflix & Chilling, and other events that they could have chosen over retreat. Their commitment in years past motivated me to make the sacrifice, as well.

Turns out, last weekend with the Pearls was even better for my marriage than staying at home to cuddle with my husband. As much as Aaron and I obviously want and need to spend time together, I was able to share some of my fears about being a newlywed with my fellow married Pearls, and their advice completely changed the way I look at certain struggles.

I easily feel like I’m failing as a wife if things like financial planning, housekeeping, and other adulty responsibilities don’t fall smoothly into place, but my friends assured me that my fears and frustrations are completely normal during the first year of marriage. Not only did they take away a lot of the anxiety I feel about being a perfect wife, but they also gave tons of practical advice about how to successfully join together two lives.

It’s easy to fall into a relationship hole when you’re in love– particularly in the wake of separation, but let me assure you: The best, most successful marriages are those that are spurred on by friendships in each spouse’s life. I did leave the Pearls retreat earlier than I have in years past, but I’m so, so glad I went for the majority of the weekend.

If you’re single, start building those lasting friendships. And if you’re married or in a relationship, keep them going. Sometimes traveling out of our way to see people seems too inconvenient, but your quality of life will be a reflection of those efforts. So make it happen!

My heart is so full after spending time with my Pearlfriends this weekend. Love you ladies! Eight years of retreats in the books, a lifetime to go.

pearls group