In the past five years, I have lived in four different states, leaving behind dear friends in each one. After a childhood also full of moves, my long-distance friendships far outnumber the friendships I have in my current city. But if there is anything I’ve learned from this experience, it’s that distance does not have to define friendship.
It doesn’t need to be—and shouldn’t be—a chore to keep up with your friends, no matter where on the globe they settle. And even if you have the kind of friendship where you can pick up where you left off after months (or even years!) of not talking or seeing each other, that doesn’t mean that your friendship wouldn’t still benefit from a little bit of TLC.
Here are some ways to stay in touch with friends and be there for each other through the distance—not just despite the distance.
01. Do something together, apart.
What is it that you and your long-distance friend share in common and used to enjoy doing together? Maybe it’s watching a show together, or talking about the latest books you’ve read, or simply drinking coffee. Well, you can still do all of those things together, technically.
The second season of This Is Us was airing on TV shortly after I gave birth to my daughter, and if you’ve had a baby, I don’t need to tell you what a hard or lonely time this postpartum period can be. Well, simply watching this show every Tuesday night at the same time as my best friend and being able to text her throughout the show (meaningful, intelligent texts such as “I’m crying puddles of tears into my wine right now”) was such a comfort to me and a sacred time that I really looked forward to every week.
I’ve also read the same book at the same time as friends (okay, not literally at the same time, but on the same time frame), and this is such a fun activity to do with a friend who lives far away. Simply being able to talk about a subject that brings you together makes the miles between you seem less formidable.
In this spirit, my best friend and I are getting ready to kick off a new chapter of our friendship entitled “Wine Wednesdays.” We are wine and cheese fanatics, so we are going to start drinking a glass of wine over FaceTime together at the same time every week. I can’t think of a better way to get over the mid-week hump.
02. Treat phone dates like real appointments.
While I spent middle school begging my mom to use the home phone (remember those?) to call my friends at night, I gradually stopped making phone calls in the years that followed. And yet, nothing makes me happier than hearing my friends’ voices through the phone (well, besides hearing them in person, that is).
Now, some of my favorite appointments to write in my planner are “phone dates” with my long-distance friends. I do occasionally pick up my phone and spontaneously call a friend, but, more often than not, I text an old friend to set up a “phone date” at a time that is convenient for both of us.
It can be tempting to cancel a phone date at the last minute if you’re tired or feel too busy, but guard that appointment like you would a real coffee date. In fact, sometimes it’s best to schedule them for when you have things to do that won’t take your full attention, like laundry, dishes, or a walk around the block.
And for those times you can relax on the couch or have bigger news to share: FaceTime or Skype can be even better than a phone call. I’ve seen my friends’ babies shortly after they are born and virtually toured another friend’s new house—as well as simply enjoyed the face-to-face interaction of a regular conversation.
03. Bring back the handwritten letter.
I grew up keeping many pen pals, ranging from my best friend whom I saw maybe once a year to my mother’s college friend’s daughter whom I only met once in my childhood. And guess who is still my number one pen pal? If you guessed the latter, you are correct. In this case, my pen pal became my actual real-life friend. That is the power of writing letters.
There is something so magical about sending and receiving mail, and I’ve learned that you really don’t have to say anything important in order for it to qualify as a good letter. And while there are many occasions that are letter- or card-appropriate—birthday cards, for example, which show the recipient that you didn’t just see it was her birthday that morning on Facebook, or “congrats on the new baby” cards, which can be a bright spot for a tired new mom—“just because” notes are just as special because they let your friend know you’re thinking about her.
On more serious occasions, a heartfelt card can mean a lot. I have recently had reason to pull out sympathy cards for a friend who lost her father and another friend who suffered a miscarriage. I heard from both of them—even the one whom I hadn’t seen in years—that those cards meant the world to them. A card in the mail showed that I cared, not only about their hardships but also about our friendship.
04. Know that there will never be a perfect time for visits—but visit anyway.
Life gets busy once college ends and friends relocate to different corners of the country (or the world) to pursue a job, to get married, to be near family, or to start families of their own. I have friends in every stage of life, and it’s not always easy—or possible—to plan trips to see each other.
And yet, it is so important to try to make small trips or girls’ weekends when it is possible. It’s a lesson I learned from my parents: Even when money was tight and life was crazy, we still met up with my parents’ friends and their families annually or semi-annually in various locations for weekend trips. And sure enough, their friends’ children ended up becoming some of my very best friends, friends whom I now find myself trying to stay in touch with through the distance.
I’ve found that if you wait until the absolutely opportune moment to make a trip to see friends (you know, when you magically have your life and finances in order, have tons of vacation time, and aren’t busy doing things like switching jobs or caring for small children), then it is never going to happen. So pick a good halfway point to meet for lunch, invite a friend to stay with you for a weekend, create a standardized vacation for you and your college girlfriends—whatever it is, make an effort to prioritize it more than you thought you could.
05. Use social media to reach out directly.
Social media has changed dramatically from when Facebook first entered the scene, but that shouldn’t stop us from using it in the way it was originally intended—to be social—and to keep up with old friends. Sometimes we have not talked to friends in so long that calling or texting them is not even an option because we no longer have their phone number!
Thank goodness for social media, that wonderful place where we can find and communicate with long lost friends, or good friends whom we simply don’t get the opportunity to talk to as often as we’d like. Whether it be through funny Snaps, Instagram direct messages, or Facebook messenger, use the tools at your disposal to reach out.
Furthermore, it’s not enough merely to see what your friends are up to via social media. While it’s nice to see photos of and read about each other’s vacations and day-to-day lives, it means so much more to share things with friends other than what you share on your feed. A single directly shared photo or message makes them feel loved, appreciated, and connected to you.
Don’t underestimate the power of simply reaching out, in whatever form you wish. Don’t lose touch with the friends who matter most in your life. Bridge the distance. Make that phone call, write that letter, or plan that long-overdue visit. Laugh about the old times, and delight in the new, together.