Friends in All the Far Places: 8 Tips for Surviving a Long-Distance Friendship
One of my high school teachers once said that few people stay close with their high school friends. As a senior sitting in the classroom that day, I was daunted by this as graduation quickly approached. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to friends with whom I had shared the last four years. I couldn’t imagine life without them. Fortunately, a number of my close friends and I were headed to the same college, but there were those friends and acquaintances who I didn’t know when—or if—I’d see them again. This was scary — and still is, if I’m honest.
“Emotional closeness declines by around 15% each year in the absence of face-to-face contact, so that in 5 years someone can go from being an intimate acquaintance to the most distant outer layer of your 150 friends.” --Robin Dunbar, British anthropologist and psychologist
Fast forward two years and a few months. A text beckoned me for an impromptu get-together. Shortly after, I found myself sitting on my friend’s porch, chatting the night away with some of those high school friends. Sure, I hadn’t seen some of them for months and wasn’t aware of all the goings-on in their lives, but it didn’t take long for us to slip into that safe and familiar space of our friendship. And man, it felt good.
“True friendship isn’t about being inseparable — it’s being separated and nothing changes.”
As the start of the school year looms in the not-too-distant future, I imagine that many high school graduates have the same fears that I did. Fear not, young ones. The miles that separate you from the dearest of friends don’t have to mean the end of an era. As cliche as it is, you can be miles apart but close at heart.
And yet, as I prepare for a semester abroad in a few short weeks, I’m in that post-graduation position again — wondering and worrying about how the distance will affect my friendships. I know it’s been done before, but this time will be a little bit different. I’ll be on the other side of the ocean in a country that’s 12 hours ahead of this place I call home and has limited access to social media. The longest I’ve ever been away from home and friends is a month, so four months sure seems like a long time. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited for this opportunity and the adventuring that’s bound to happen — the worry wart in me has decided to kick in for the time being...)
With all that said, I’ve done some research and found a few tips for successful long-distance friendships. I think I’ll give them a whirl while I’m gone — if your friends are anything like mine, you’ll definitely want to, too.
1. Keep up with daily life
Don’t neglect the small stuff. If you tell your friends everything now, don’t let the distance change that. Let them know when a dapper gentleman smiles at you, something weird happens in class, or you find a great deal on something really cool. One site suggests setting up a Google document to share such things with your friends, enabling you to keep in touch with your friends in real time and to create a lasting record of your time apart.
2. Utilize Facebook
It’s called social media for a reason. Post memes or quick notes to your friends’ walls, or send them encouraging messages with things that reminded you of them. Avoid obnoxious amounts of public posting or frequently blowing up your friends’ notifications.
“No matter if it is a wall post, a comment, or a photo, young people’s engagement with Facebook is driven, primarily, by a desire to stay connected to and involved in the lives of friends who live close by, far away, or have just entered into their lives.” --2010 study conducted by Craig Watkins and Erin Lee of the University of Texas at Austin
3. Take advantage of Snapchat and the selfie
This is an easy way to make your friends laugh while they’re miles away. Send your friends funny faces and sayings that you know will tickle their funny bone. If you’re on a grand adventure, snap some iconic selfies with landmarks that allow your friends to experience a little piece of the journey with you.
4. Skype and video chat periodically
Set time apart to be virtually face-to-face and relax with each other. Ride out any minutes of staring at each other for a while, play catch-up, and then really talk with each other. Talk about the most mundane things, exciting news, and everything in between. This is likely your best shot at mimicking late night chats or random drop-ins.
5. Write letters or postcards
Set aside the technological gadgets for a few minutes and use the archaic medium of handwritten letters to convey your thoughts. The personal touch is special and is a wonderful keepsake for your friend. Plus, we all know how exciting it is to get real mail!
“Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company.” --Lord Byron
6. Send small packages
Brighten your friends’ day with an occasional package. Fill the box with photos, encouraging notes, their favorite candy, something you saw that immediately made you think of them. Birthdays are great occasions for packages, but an out-of-the-blue care package never hurt anyone.
7. Begin a Traveling Journal
Circulate a journal and object of your choosing between your friends. (Think Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.) The memento—bracelet, shirt, stuffed animal, etc.—will help you feel connected and the journal can be a place to document exciting happenings while you were in possession of the object. Again, real and exciting mail!
8. Meet up with each other
This might not always be an option, but make the most of every opportunity. If you’ll be within driving distance for a day or two, make the drive. Even if you can only spend a few hours with them, it’ll be worth it. If you’re too far away for that to be plausible, consider meeting halfway for a weekend and mini-adventure. Still not an option? Count down the days until you do see each other — the build up will make the reunion that much sweeter.
Change is inevitable in your respective locations. While you’re away from each other, you’ll likely develop different traits, habits, or perspectives. Acknowledge and accept these changes, supporting your friends as they bloom and flourish into a better version of themselves.
A second caution:
Don’t be so wrapped up in maintaining your current friendships that you miss the opportunities to make new ones. You can very, very rarely have too many friends.
huffingtonpost.com: 19 Simple Ways To Maintain A Long-Distance Relationship With Your Best Friend
mwfseekingbff.com: The Hard Facts: Friendships Fade With Distance
newsweek.com: Just How Many Facebook Friends Do You Need?
thefriendshipblog.com: The law of averages: Do all friendships last for the long haul?