How To Maintain Long-Distance Friendships
My friends are like good hair days:
I have few, and they’re far between.
Nine years ago, my college roommate packed up everything she owned and moved across the country, becoming my first long-distance friend. Since then, my pals have scattered to every nook and cranny of the country, and then some (myself included).
It’s a good week if I get an hour to chat with one of them, coordinating our rotations with each other’s separate networks of long-distance friends. And as so many of us can attest after the past couple of years, there’s not much else like maintaining long-distance friends in this world, both in challenges and rewards.
We’ve all experienced some of life’s deepest struggles and tragedies recently—and we haven’t always been able to be physically there for one another. In a time period when I’m not always even safely able to see friends in my own city, everyone feels far away. I could fill an ocean with the tears I wish we could have cried on shared shoulders, but instead I settle for long phone calls where we hash out grief using our signature bad jokes and insufferable puns.
There’s the standard advice of scheduling a weekly phone date, reading books and streaming shows together, and, of course, planning for the shining day when we can once again embrace each other. When, once again, shenanigans can ensue. But I always wonder, are there other ways to make our connections even stronger, to help us all feel that we’re not so alone?
Instead of only telling you to write letters and send surprise Starbucks gift cards (actually, you should), here’s how I’ve been keeping my friends close to my heart, especially when I can’t visit them during their most difficult days.
CREATE A SHARED LANGUAGE.
I have a code word with a friend that says, “I’m okay even though I sound like I’m not,” which is helpful if we’re talking after a tiring day. (It has something to do with enchiladas and is a decades-old joke at this point.)
And when we need to tell one another we’re not okay? We use clear and honest language. Tell the truth when you’re tired, when you’re angry, when you’re sad (especially when you’re sad), and when you’re the happiest you’ve ever been. Conversations with our BFFs are a two-way street; don’t be afraid to tell them when you need a solution to a problem or just a loving listener—and get in the habit of asking them, too.
It’s also okay to set up questions that are comfortable for you both, so if someone senses something is wrong, they can safely and effectively ask for more information. If it’s agreeable and feels comfortable for you both, a simple “I noticed you’ve been quiet lately, are you okay?” can do wonders.
CONNECT IN THE FACE OF CHALLENGES.
Humor lights my way in times of grief, and I’ve found that it does for many of my friends, too. We love sending poorly lit, embarrassing pictures of ourselves when we both need a laugh (or Instagram outtakes, hah!). Since I can’t always be there to cry with my friends, I can at least be on the other line to share a laugh with them as we process what we’re really feeling. A little laughter, in my experience, helps to lighten the load.
If this isn’t your speed, that’s okay. You do not have to laugh right now, you do not have to laugh ever (I hope you do, though). These years have been extremely heavy and we’re starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel of joy we once had. Attend a virtual activity or class together, protest alongside one another, or volunteer at the same organization—find some way to connect outside of the trauma and remember why you love them so much in the first place.
CELEBRATE THE LITTLE THINGS AS MUCH AS THE BIG ONES.
I’m forgetful when it comes to friendships, so I’ll admit: As soon as I’m done with a call, I set reminders on my phone to text my friends on first days of work, presentations, tests, anniversaries, etc. Set early reminders about birthdays if you’re sending a gift or card (I have never once sent anything on time). That being said, our emotional bandwidth is stretched beyond the point of elasticity these days; if you can’t message them on the day of, you can always follow up later.
I’ve shared photos of my nail polish as I navigate the tricky world of the self-manicure, and my friends and I celebrate my progress together. It really is the tiniest of details that can help support a good friendship and keep our relationships feeling intimate across the distance. (I also send pictures of broken jars of salsa and piles of unfolded laundry, for balance.)
Beyond that, I also like to make an effort to remember their friends’ names—I always feel loved and heard when my friends remember names, and it warms my heart when I know my faraway buddies have a local support network of their own.
NURTURE SPACE FOR THEM IN YOUR DAILY LIFE—AND IN YOUR HEART.
Think about them, worry about them, celebrate them often, even if they don’t know you’re doing it. Name them in your stories and in daily conversation. My coworkers know the names of my friends and stories about our adventures, and I know some of theirs. Carry your friendship with you wherever you go, no matter how far away they are physically from you. Because chances are, your friend is doing the same with you.
Does this help your friend? Not always. Does it keep a warm space for them in your heart? Absolutely.
AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, TELL THEM YOU LOVE THEM.
With each passing year, I become more generous in telling people I love them. There is nothing like telling a friend that you love them for the first time, except for maybe every time after that. (Telling my brothers and getting an “I love you” back…priceless.)
If you’re scared to open up that conversation, know that 10/10 times, I’ve found that the person breathes a sigh of appreciation and returns the love. It cracks open a beautiful new chapter of friendship.
You can expand into all the cheesy stuff after that—tell your friend that she’s the sister you’ve never had, tell her that without her love, you might not be where you’re at today. I sometimes remind my friends how much I didn’t know I needed them until they arrived in my life and should probably do it more often.
If you deeply appreciate someone’s very existence, tell them—it’s the most important thing you can ever say. Especially here, especially now.
How do you hold your friends close, even when they’re far away?
Share in the comments below!
Emily Torres is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. Born and raised in Indiana, she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her in her colorful Los Angeles apartment journaling, caring for her rabbits, or gaming. Read more of her creative writing over on Notes To Self!