Journal 8 | Maintaining Long-Distance Friendships

I, like many, am unintentionally forgetful. It’s a less-than-admirable quality that I first became aware of during my freshman year of college.

Some backstory.

I’m from a relatively small, decently sheltered, and very-much wonderful suburb of San Diego, California, where I grew up alongside some of the greatest people, many of whom are still present in my life over a decade later. High school, more specifically, was where I met a majority of my forever friends, and because of that, it was a time and place I will always cherish. Like most good things, though, it eventually had to come to an end.

Though I hadn’t traveled too far after high school, many of my closest friends and acquaintances did, ending up at universities in a number of different states across the US. At first, this didn’t seem like a negative thing — I’d get the chance to travel to regions of the country that I’d never been to and party with friends away from the watchful eyes of our parents (oh to be young). It all seemed more exciting than unfortunate. After all, our lives were really beginning!

In reality, though, it was difficulty under the guise of opportunity.

In place of the weekly Skype calls we all promised to make and the many visits tentatively scheduled as we said our initial goodbyes was an unexpected quietness. We were all too absorbed in what was right in front of us to carve out the time necessary to make those calls or buy those plane tickets. Things like a new friends, potential love interests, parties and school events, and new cities to be explored took precedence.

And, unfortunately for me, as the year went on I learned that the forgetfulness I had wasn’t something saved exclusively for my oldest friends. That first summer away from college, I realized that it traversed to new ones, too. I lost touch with many friends I had met just that year, simply because we were no longer in the same city. A quick text is all it would have taken. A phone call here or there, and I may still have a close friendship with many that I no longer do.

I knew it was really bad when my closest friend in college moved back home to Chicago a year after we graduated, and during our goodbyes said, “Please don’t forget about me.”

That crushed me. I obviously promised her I could never.

Even so, I wouldn’t be totally truthful saying it has been easy to maintain that long-distance relationship. It’s relatively expensive to fly between states (even now that I’m much closer to her by living in Nashville). And I’ve never been one for small talk through text. Then add grad school (she went for physical therapy, no less) into the mix and it seemed like all odds were against us.

It definitely took some trial and error, but eventually, we got into our long-distance groove and created a system that worked for us both. And that learned approach to long distance set me up for success once I followed in her footsteps and headed east and away from the close-knit group of friends I had come to depend on so resolutely. I knew that I would still need them in my life — likely more than ever — even if it couldn’t be physically.

Maintaining friendships is hard. Period. Add distance to the equation and it gets even harder. Hopefully, these little tips help.

Set aside time to make a call or FaceTime

I am a rare breed in that I prefer phone calls over texting. A phone call is quicker and more efficient. There is no time lost between waiting for a response or typing out some lengthy reply. Second, there’s way less room for misinterpretation. My “voice” through text is so disinterested and monotoned. I can’t help the fact that I hate smiley faces and exclamation points. I rely heavily on the girl with her arms raised in a shrug. Third, hearing the actual voice of someone familiar rather than reading something in their voice is therapeutic — at least, it has been for me. It adds a sense of intimacy to the conversation that you just can’t get through texting.

I’ve found that a quick phone call or FaceTime — once a week, every couple of weeks, or even once a month — is a wonderful way to recharge that important connection you share with your friends.

It’s so easy to shoot a quick text to a friend at the beginning of the week and set aside a day and timeframe that works for the both of you. And take advantage of whatever time change there might be! Since I’m usually back from work for a few hours by the time most my West Coast pals are heading out, we typically will chat for a few minutes on their commute home.

Answer the incoming texts and the unexpected calls/FaceTimes

Though a scheduled call is ideal, not all phone conversations you have will be planned. Such is life. But it’s imperative that you still answer when someone takes the time to reach out. Even if it’s unexpected. Especially when you aren’t in the mood to talk.

Think about it: This person is putting in the effort to type out a message directly to you, or is sifting through their contact list in search of your name to catch up. Time is so precious these days, and they’re using their few free minutes to seek you out. Thank them by answering.

They miss you! They want to hear about your life! Indulge them!

I can say with certainty that you will never feel bad or like time was wasted after chatting for a second with a friend. You will never feel less than you did before by answering their texts. You will only feel more full.

Be active on social media

Post often. Like posts often. Comment often.

Social media is a wonderful way to stay connected to the people in your life, from best friends to distant acquaintances. It’s something that opens the door to conversations you might not have otherwise. And you might end up interacting with people you typically wouldn’t.

Those snapshots, as curated as they might be, also let people know what you’ve been up to.

Example: Though I love them dearly, I don’t speak daily with my parents, my sister, or my extended family. Through social media, however, I am able to keep them informed in a round-about way of all the exciting things I’ve been up to. Then, when we hop on a call and chat, we can talk more in depth about those things.

Taking the time to comment on other peoples’ posts also lets them know that you’re thinking about them and are invested in their lives, too. It’s a two-way street, after all.

Send random texts to let friends know you’re thinking of them

If you ever get a fleeting rush of emotion toward someone who might not be in your day to day, let them know. Whether it’s that you love them or miss them, you should let them know. Use it as an excuse to make their day.

This type of text doesn’t have to open the door to a texting conversation, either. It can be something as quick and to the point as “I was just thinking of you and how much I miss you. I thought I’d send you a quick text to let you know! Hope you’re doing well. Let’s catch up soon!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve both sent and received these types of messages and felt immensely better, even if the day I was having was already going well.

Life is so short. We shouldn’t waste these feelings or allow them to pass. We need to let the people we love know how they make us feel and what they mean to us while we can.

If you can afford it, plan a trip

When it comes down to it, there’s really nothing better than an in-person reunion. Though texting and calling can sustain a friendship for a little, there undoubtedly comes a time when that burden of long-distance communication becomes too much. And it sometimes gets clouded with the question — all of this for what? Is it worth it in the end?

If you think that it’s worth it (which, most of the time, it is), there should be something to balance out that absence.

I’ve had a fair share of guests here in Nashville and have taken trips to California, Vermont, and Chicago, and those visits have unquestionably been the vehicle that has helped to carry many of my relationships over the course of these past few months.

I know I still have strides to make as far as perfecting the way I communicate from a distance, but up to this point, this is what I’ve come up with. And I hope it can help others who are also struggling with the harsh reality of maintaining friendships from afar.


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