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When it comes to long-distance friendships, I’ve become quite the expert. Why? Well, as I was writing this piece, I realized that a whopping 98% of my friendships are of the cross-country variety. I attribute this pattern to my traveling spirit: I spent my formative summers at sleepaway camps, and I moved to a different city for college. Since most things worth having require practice in order to reach perfection, I’m grateful I could start early (at the tender age of 10, to be exact). Over the years, I have learned (and occasionally screwed up) the art of surviving long-distance friendships. To complicate things further (as I tend to do), I’ve managed to accrue more globally scattered companions as I’ve become busier. Don’t let this scare you away from investing in a long-distance friendship, however. They’re definitely worth the extra effort, and you’ll miss your friend too much not to try. If you’re skeptical, I don’t blame you, but the key is to allow your longing to be your teacher. It will give you the space to master time-management, to express loyalty in subtle ways, and to show that you’re there for them, even if it isn’t physically. So without further ado, here are a few tips that have helped me along the way.
Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize
I’m a huge advocate of the idea that compassion knows no limit. This heart? No maximum capacity here. However, the horrifying amount of notifications on my calendar has convinced me that this isn’t realistic, and if there’s anything that’ll chip away at a relationship, it’s making wild promises you can’t keep. You can reconcile this tension by being more selective and strategic with your time. Once you accept that you won’t be able to maintain all of your relationships with the same level of attention and care, think about how much you can invest in your long-distance friendships in total, and then divvy yourself up accordingly.
Since it takes two to tango, you should carve out the most time for those who also prioritize you. It also helps to take note of your friends’ personal needs: Some require more attention, some are busier, some may have a schedule that’s in sync with yours, and some are more comfortable with spontaneous catch-ups while others prefer structure. You’ll learn as you go, and it will likely happen organically.
Schedule Regular FaceTimes
Once you figure out how many compadres you can realistically (and meaningfully) keep in touch with, get into the habit of seeing each other face-to-face (digitally, of course). If you don’t set a routine, the idea of catching up can become so overwhelming you may put it off until it doesn’t happen at all.
This will be easier if you figure out how to incorporate FaceTimes into your lifestyle. Whether you prefer to keep a loose schedule of availability (when yours happens to overlaps with theirs) or you prefer more structure, sticking with an agreed date and time will help. I’ve found convenient moments to do this are while you’re cooking, during your commute, and while running errands.
Don’t forget to consider time zones.
On the other end of the spectrum, try not to get too comfortable in cyberspace by overindulging in FaceTime sessions. Maintaining this friendship should not interfere with your efforts to get to know new people in your area.
Make Social Media Your Friend
Sometimes social media can feel like the barren landscape of a party venue for the reunion of your nightmares. You know, the one where you don’t recognize anyone and the folks you do recognize you wish you didn’t. Well, those of us who miss our besties know this isn’t the case with long-distance friendships. Facebook is a time machine that can bring you closer to your fondest memories together; Snapchat is a low-maintenance real-time glimpse into each others’ lives; Spotify is a gold mine of personalized playlists; and Instagram is a bottomless sea of inspirational quotes, silly memes, and relatable illustrations you get to tag each other in. Maximize the perks of these social platforms by using them between FaceTimes or as a reminder that you’re thinking about your friend when life gets in the way of your routine catch-up sessions.
Add the Personal Touch
When you can’t embrace your friend IRL, embrace creative forms of keeping in touch, like handwritten notes delivered via snail mail. Plus, the nostalgia associated with handwritten letters is perfect for the nostalgic mood you will likely be in as a result of being separated from your BFF. The personal touch of a letter (or a care package, if you’re feeling generous and/or experiencing severe separation anxiety) is thoughtful and active; it’ll keep you busy when you’re missing each other.
Plan a Trip Together
Once enough time has gone by for the FaceTimes, social media activity, handwritten letters, and care packages to no longer do the trick of keeping the friendship flame alive (and more importantly, once you’ve saved up enough money), it’s time for you to plan a trip together. To keep things fair, take turns visiting one another, and if possible, opt for a destination that’s somewhere in between the two of you.
Know That Sometimes Less Is More
Here comes the hard part: Reframe your negative thinking patterns about going the distance. Instead of wallowing about the change in your relationship, see it as an opportunity to evolve. This will get easier with time as you adjust. Plus, distance makes the heart grow fonder. Right? If you’ve done your best to keep in touch and be supportive while apart, you’ll appreciate each other even more when you finally reunite.
Whether you’re a long-distance friendship first-timer or you’ve experienced this scenario many times but want to improve, the most important thing to remember is that expertise is only achieved through trial and error (emphasis on the latter).