A Friend Far Away: Eleven Ways To Maintain And Improve A Long-Distance Friendship
In our increasingly mobile world, it is not uncommon to live far away from at least one or two friends. This is especially true if either you or your friend was forced to relocate to another state—or to another part of a large state such as Alaska or Texas—for work, school, and beyond. Moreover, many of these suggestions can be applied to friendships with those you live in closer proximity to. Although created with the idea of long distance in mind, most are general principles which can be applied to all friendships. Also, these suggestions can and should be applied to familial relationships impacted by physical distance.
It’s understandably difficult when you first live hundreds or even thousands of miles away from one of your friends. This may mean you have gone from seeing this person once a week to possibly not seeing them for months or even years. Consequently, it is important to realistically lower your expectations regarding how much you will see this person compared to how much you used to see this person. This may seem counterintuitive. After all, wouldn’t lowering expectations make you increasingly apathetic about the friendship? There is a slight danger of this; however, realistically accessing how often you may be able to see this person is vital to maintaining the friendship.
Being apart from this person should inspire you to focus on quality versus quantity time. In other words, since you can no longer meet up for lunch every other Tuesday, you’ll need to be more mindful to maximize the time you have together. Also, you may have to reassess how often you communicate with this person under the changed circumstances. Even if you don’t talk on the phone as much as you did when you lived in the same town, this doesn’t mean the relationship is diminished. Whether you communicate by phone, email, in person, and so forth, if you concentrate on positive, mindful interaction, the decrease in quantity time can be overcome.
It’s essential to pay attention to the communication you receive from your long-distance friend. While you certainly shouldn’t read between every single line in an email from him or her, try to notice if this person seems to be struggling or otherwise discouraged. Conversely, try to notice when things are going well for this person. This can mean anything from observing that your friend frequently mentions her favorite coworker or how she loves living close enough to the ocean after many years in the Midwest. By paying closer attention you can best appreciate who this person is becoming as well as encouraging them in the small and significant areas of their life.
The expression “Out of sight, out of mind” is a cautionary one regarding long-distance friendships. While you should obviously not ignore your friends who have not moved away, don’t neglect this friendship because one of you has relocated. Be mindful to budget time, energy, and effort to invest in your long-distance friendship. What this will look like will vary, of course; nonetheless, it may be helpful for you to schedule a time to call this person, or leave yourself a note on your desk to contact them in the next two weeks. If you benefit from routine, you may work best if you call or email this person every Tuesday evening. While you are determining which strategy works best for you, keep in mind such investment can pay off enormously.
We live in an unprecedented age regarding the forms of communication available to us. Whereas many years ago people wrote letters or sent telegrams to communicate, now most of us have the ability to telephone, email, send text messages, use Facebook, and Skype. As I’ve written about previously, I believe in writing personal letters. I also, incidentally, believe in keeping in touch using multiple mediums. In other words, you have no reason to limit your contact with your long-distance friend to solely phone calls, text messages, emails, and Facebook messages. Adding variety to your communication will likely enhance the friendship. In addition, the numerous options of communication mean you can choose the form of communication which works best. For instance, if you are at the library doing research for work, it is typically inadvisable to call your friend. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t send a text message or email.
Letting your friend know that you continue to value their presence in your life despite—or even because of—the distance between you is recommended. There are various ways to do this, and this leads me to my next suggestion: Be mindful to remember this friend’s birthday and other significant dates in this person’s life. This may mean remembering this friend’s wedding anniversary; also, if they are in recovery for alcoholism, the day they became sober. How you keep track of this information will depend on your personal preferences. I have a WORD file with a list of birthdays, and this method works well for me. Other people find Facebook helpful regarding keeping track of birthdays. Also, I’ve found that leaving myself a post-it note a week before a friend’s birthday gives me enough of a visual prompt to remember this special day regardless what is happening in my life on their birthday.
Long-distance friendships can be bolstered by remembering and remarking on past moments with this friend. For instance, you friend may be encouraged when you share stories about when the two of you were in college and ate at Perkins every month because you wanted to study together. Yet you never did much studying because there were always too many things to talk about. Remembering can also involve telling a friend complimentary things such as, “You have always been so loyal. I value your presence in my life very much.” I’ve found that thanking a friend for his or her steadfastness is a great benefit to long-distance friendships. After all, most of us want to feel appreciated, and such words can linger with this person long afterwards.
Do you have many friends who live over 300 miles or more away from you?
Try to visit this friend if possible. It’s possible you won’t be able to because of work and other circumstances. Moreover, it’s likely you won’t be able to see this friend as often as you would like. Regardless, making the effort to visit—or to meet up in a location between where you both live—will add extra zest to your friendship. You may also want to consider the possibility of creating an annual tradition of getting together for a weekend. The amount of structure in this plan will depend on your preferences and resources; nonetheless, don’t underestimate the value of seeing this friend face-to-face when possible.
Ask this friend which form of communication he or she prefers. It’s possible they don’t enjoy using Skype, or that they receive too many emails for work and don’t want to receive many emails from you. Try to be flexible in this area instead of insisting that you must email them even if they would prefer you didn’t. Also, gently inform them the type of communication which works best for you. It’s possible one of your will want to write letters and the other will want to call; in other words, you and your long-distance friend don’t have to use the same type of communication. Moreover, you shouldn’t try to determine the most effective way to stay in touch for the indefinite future. Friendships are comparable to living organisms, and therefore will require occasionally readjustment.
Finally, being consciously grateful for established memories with this friend and hopeful for future memories will help you maintain and improve your long-distance friendship. Expressing your gratitude to this person is essential. You may also find that journaling your favorite memories will help you appreciate this person’s influence on your life.
All friendships require a certain amount of effort and work, and long-distance ones often seem to require even more work initially. If you know how to have the right attitude—one with lower expectations and thankfulness—about such matters, however, you can continue to have a rich relationship with friends who live far away. My life would be notably lacking without the presence of my long-distance friends. I sincerely hope you are also able to learn how to cherish and maintain these connections.