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How To Maintain Long-Distance Friendships

Make long distance friendships work with this author's suggestions.

We live in a global society. Companies are national. Universities draw from all over the country. The unique thing about Americans is that we are unafraid of moving. We hop from job to city to program to spouse and often leave a trail of relationships and meaningful experiences in the wake.

One of the biggest questions for the modern world is… how do we stay in touch? 

Plan for depth, not breadth

Good relationships that have been planted in rich soil may not need as much watering as you think. Maybe it’s a phone call every three months, or a visit once a year. Maybe it’s a long video chat on someone’s birthday. Maybe it’s a standing Thanksgiving weekend bar crawl. If you and your friends are busy with jobs and marriages and babies, you just don’t have as much excess time, so you make do with what you have.

A group of friends from high school and I are in a group chat. Sometimes it fires up for a whole day. Sometimes we go weeks without texting. Our relationship is not judged by the amount of communication we have. Sometimes that communication is just a meme. But it means we’re thinking about one another, even if we don’t see each other.

For many Lents after college, my friend Becky committed to writing forty letters to friends, one a day. I have no idea how she found the time to do this. But for years, she asked for my address and a letter showed up. We didn’t have long conversations or share every detail of our lives, but her act of reaching out, of making a small touch in my life, meant a lot to our continued friendship. I know I can call her up if I’m ever in her city and be greeted warmly.

Prioritize the relationships that matter

My high school friends and I have a standing date for the week of New Years. We rent an Airbnb somewhere in Colorado, and we cook, sing, and exchange books. For four days, we catch up on the entire year, recall old jokes, make new jokes, and welcome new partners. My college friends and I have what we call BFS, “Best Friends Summit,” which hosted its eighth production this summer. Not everyone can make it with babies being born, jobs overseas, and friends from Los Angeles to Berlin. But every summer a group of us gather over a weekend to sit in a brewery, pass around toddlers, share highs and lows, laugh inappropriately loud, and cry tears of sorrow and joy. 

These trips are expensive. They require travel and time off. They are the best part of my year, every year. There is no amount of money that can rival the richness of these relationships, and when I book those flights, I know that I’m investing in people. Don’t be afraid to be the instigator, the person who sends out the first email or text to gather people together. Sometimes all a group needs is one person to suggest the girls trip, the surprise baby shower, or the backpacking trip two years out. 

Allow friendships to come in and out

The night before my mom’s funeral, we held a community rosary for her. Somehow, my best friend from fifth grade found out about it, and she showed up. We had not spoken in two decades. She threw her arms around me, and that was that.

You are not required to keep up with everyone. Friends come and go. Sometimes people are in your life for a season, and you share great memories, but you both move on. This can often happen at a job or service program — you grow close to the people you are with “in the trenches.” Once that daily contact is removed, you’re no longer talking. And that’s okay. The ability to build connections wherever you are is an asset, but it is nearly impossible to remain close to every friend from every stage of life. People will come and go, and maybe circle back. Some of the best friendships are often the ones that don’t require constant tending.

Recognize the benefit of making space for distant friends

It’s so easy to get caught up in school drop off, work, running errands, and family. The relationships in front of you are the ones that will naturally be prioritized. But we should all recognize the benefit of a phone call or a visit. 

My friend Eddie calls me on Saturday nights in Berlin, when he’s watering his cactus plants in California. He calls about once a month, and he’s always watering the cactus. My knee jerk reaction every time I see the call is negative, because I’m usually in the middle of a Netflix show or about to head out to meet friends, and I have the natural millennial aversion to talking on the phone. But every time he calls, it fills my cup. He laughs at my jokes. He gives me updates about the school where I used to teach. He lost his dad last year, so we usually wind our way around to talking about grief and life after losing a parent. We talk about everything and nothing, and it is always wonderful. I have no idea when I’ll see him next, but I know I can count on those phone calls from him. And sometimes, that’s all you need.

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