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Making the most of a long-distance friendship

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Image: Svitlana Sokolova/Shutterstock

It’s not just couples who struggle with long-distance relationships; Best friends know the pain, as well. Sometimes, you meet your best friend at college, which is wonderful, but what happens when you both go home for breaks? Or worse, graduate? Or maybe you get transferred to a new city, and have to leave your best friend behind (or vice versa). Distance is never fun, but the closer you are to a person, the harder it is. Thankfully, today’s technology makes the distance a little easier. Gone are the days of waiting weeks to get a letter, or sharing the phone line with your entire apartment building. Social media, texting and Skype are all great advances. After an extended period, though, even those ways of communication can get old. How can you keep your friendship alive? Here are some ideas to breathe fresh life into a straining relationship.

Create Your Own Special Form of Communication

There are a couple ways of doing this. For one, you can create a Google doc and share it with just your friend, and then write each other at any time. It’s like a diary of your friendship. Use it to leave encouraging messages, rants about your coworkers, or just document what happened that day so you can still feel connected to the friend’s life. Then when you have a particularly hard day, you can go back to the document and reread passages to lift your spirits. You can also do this in blog form: make a blog documenting your long-distance friendship. Other people who share the same struggle can then follow you and you can all encourage each other in making the relationships work. Plus, the new community will help you feel less alone.

Set Up a Specific Friend Date Night

Let’s be honest, if time together doesn’t get scheduled, it won’t happen. You’ll wind up missing each other’s phone calls or forgetting to text back because you have too many other things going on. Instead, designate a specific time weekly or monthly that is completely devoted to your friend. You can call, Skype, or be online for the same episode of The Bachelor during that time frame. Don’t schedule meetings, dates, or appointments of any kind during friend-date night. Honor it as you would any other commitment. This gives you something to look forward to, structure your relationship a little bit, and make sure that your friendship doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of life.

Find Something You Can Do Together, but Apart

For example, find a show that you’ll both enjoy on Netflix, or read the same book. Then the next time you talk, you have something that you can gossip about or share theories on. Distance can’t stop you from doing something you both enjoy, and it ensures that you’ll always have something to talk about (no more awkward silences when you’re done catching up on the day and you don’t know what else to say).

Take Mini Trips to Visit

It’s not always viable to fly/drive all the way to see your friend, or for them to come see you, so another option is to meet in the middle. There’s the fun of a mini road trip, the joy of a reunion, and then the excitement of exploring somewhere new. It can become a new tradition; either to visit somewhere new each time, or to return to the same spot at a certain time each month/bi-month/year. Traditions and adventures are great ways to still feel connected to your long-distance friend.

Send Real Mail

Okay, yes, you no longer have to wait for mail to arrive, but isn’t it kind of fun? As adults, the majority of our mail is bills and advertisements. What fun is that? Send each other a letter once in awhile, a real letter. It shows more intentionality than a quick text and more effort because you have to go to the post office or at least pick up stamps. Even better than a letter is a surprise package. Just something to let your friend know that you’ve been missing them and you still want to be involved in their life. If random letters and packages aren’t your thing, make sure you at least acknowledge key moments of the year (Christmas, birthdays, etc.).

Make the Situation as Easy as Possible

Whether you were the one who left or your friend, it’s not going to be fun for either of you. There’s no point in beating a dead horse. If your friend is the one who moved, do not harass them for leaving or throw a pity party for yourself. Is that how you are a supportive friend? Put a smile on your face and recognize that distance doesn’t mean the end. If your friend misses a scheduled call or takes too long to respond to a text, don’t jump down their throat. Believe us, your friend misses you just as much. There will be an adjustment period until you both get settled with the new routine. Alternatively, if you’re the one who left, don’t get annoyed with your friend if they call/text you a bunch at first. Don’t accuse them of being clingy. Understand that they’re just adjusting and trying to cope. Respond in love. Both the leaver and the stayer should be patient and supportive of the other, or risk damaging an otherwise healthy friendship.

Keep Mementos

On the rough days, it’s nice to have mementos of your friend around. It can be a fun photograph of the two of you, a necklace the friend gave you, a coffee mug, whatever. The significance of the object is only known to the two of you. When you’re missing your best friend, you can use/wear the item and be comforted. Remember “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”? Find your equivalent of the pair of jeans. And hey, if you want, you can mail the item back and forth between you two, just like in the movie.