In my experience — and it is possible that your experience is not the same — we exist in a culture that prioritizes romantic relationships over other relationships. Entire industries exist around celebrating romantic love, as well as regular and important anniversaries.
The cultural imperative that we must always put romance on a pedestal feels dismissive of other relationships that play formative and essential roles in our lives. But I'd actually argue that friendships, bone deep and long running, are more influential than romantic relationships.
That's not intended to devalue romantic relationships; they're awesome. But they also aren't the end-all and be-all of human connection with one another and it frustrates me to no end when they're positioned as a Holy Grail of some kind (without face-melting special effects, even).
Because close friendship (and the deliberate effort that goes into sustaining a long-distance friendship) changes who you are as a person. Your friends are not just a support network - they actually influence your decisions and lifestyle choices. They can encourage you and empower you. That's not just Hallmark words; there's science that backs it up.
But let's be honest: even if you're the kind of person who grew up with a life-long best friend, you might not live anywhere near them now. And if you've found your best friend circle as an adult, you're just as likely to be spanning the country if not the world when you start pinning down addresses for holiday cards.
We hear a lot about the pros and cons of long-distance romantic relationships, but that same distance can suck the life right out of any friendship as well. And, unfortunately, some creative phone sex isn't usually as effective a balm.
So what do we do? How do we maintain a long-distance friendship since friendships are just as important as the other relationships we put energy into in our lives? I'm so glad you asked.
Take Advantage of Technology
As you may have noticed, we live in an increasingly digital age. It's never been easier to keep in touch with people, sometimes to our own detriment as I think we actually wind up taking ease of communication for granted. But when you and your friend have hundreds of miles between you, technology is a great way to replicate the hanging out experience.
I don't just mean text messaging, though that's a good way to keep in near-constant contact the way you might have passed notes with your BFF in middle school.
(Passing notes in the hall because you couldn't stand not to share something as soon as possible? Check.)
Use a Google Hangout or Skype video call to decide on the perfect outfit for an upcoming interview or date or to decompress after a crappy day at work. Eat takeout. Discuss every Idris Elba picture ever posted to the Internet. Get high. Some friends of mine established a near-nightly Google Hangout a while back and it's kept me up too late just hanging out too many times to count.
Whatever works for you and your friend.
Send each other SnapChats. Obnoxiously subtweet each other. And don't discount boring stuff like email. One of my friends in another time zone is often up in the middle of the night with her baby. I get a million cute baby pictures plus her thoughts on whatever is going on when I wake up and can email her back.
Maintain Your Common Interests And Talk About Them
There's a reason you're friends with this person in the first place and chances are that you've got stuff in common at the root of that, things you both like to do. And even though you aren't living in each other's literal pockets anymore, you can still share those same common interests.
Find a local hiking club and then tell your friend about all the trails that you'll show them the next time they manage a rare and valued visit. Link them to the beading tutorial that you have just triumphed over.
Lesley and I send each other hundreds of eShakti dress links and enable each other when it comes to shopping and outfit building. She has the kind of familiarity with my wardrobe that would be worrisome if I wasn't just as familiar with hers. We also make metaphorical faces at each other about fat hate in the news and work on fat acceptance projects together.
Sometimes people change and their interests do, too. If your friend isn't into the things that you used to bond over, it's totally possible there are new things you can geek out about. Talk about the stuff you're doing and the life you're living.
Be Chill About Communication Lapses - But Communicate About Them
Ghosting is the hot topic du jour (I always thought it was just regular old flaking out) and it's easy to panic when you don't hear back from someone for a while. It's not like you have any real way to tell, from the side of the fence that isn't receiving any communications.
It's important to remember that life does happen. Sometimes even though you love your bestie passionately, the feelings are there but the time to watch The Bastard Executioner trailer just isn't, no matter how amazing Katey Sagal is.
The easy advice here is to tell you to drop your long-distance friends a note when you're going offline for a little while. And, I mean, sure, people do that for Facebook breaks or whatever. Send a "got a lot of meetings this week and won't be around because I have to go to bed early so I can get up at 5am every morning" message to the friend you usually chat with at midnight if you can.
But if you can't, because you've found yourself in the shit all of a sudden, what are the options?
This is where I find it super vital to hold on to the idea that friendships are built on trust. And I trust my friends not to blow me off for no reason. This takes a certain security in your relationship, but that is, I think, true of any relationship being conducted over any distance whatsoever.
This is not me advocating for you to let yourself be taken advantage of. A friend who is only available when they need support or something from you is not a good friend. But if someone is out of touch for a little while (and "a little while" is going to be something y'all work out), it's not the end of the world or the end of your friendship unless you make it be.
Plan Visits When Possible
There's a whole group of friends from the West Coast and Chicago that I only see once a year at Wiscon. At this point, even if I had no interest in the con itself, I'd go so that I could hang out with all of them.
My couch is always available for visiting friends, and I try to make sure that if I'm planning a trip, friends at the destination and I will have a chance to connect. Sometimes we even plan vacations together. My friends Julia and Shannon and I spent a weekend at a Body Positive Yoga retreat in Virginia recently and while I totally would have enjoyed it by myself, it was extra special to have the chance to do yoga with them and road trip to the retreat center and room together.
Travel is expensive, so I know this isn't an option everyone can exercise. Then I think about the way my family took vacations with my parents' friends from across the street so that we could split motel costs in Panama City and gas on the drive down. I think about how great the memories of shared vacations are, and I have to point out that it's a powerful thing to share with your friends.
If you've got a friend who can't travel, consider traveling to them. Especially in times of crisis. Though, of course, plan with them the best time for a visit unless you are 100% convinced showing up on their doorstep is the right idea. That's real dependent on your friends though.
Get Sappy And Open With Your Feelings
I love my friends. And I know it makes me a giant sappy nerd, but I don't hesitate to let them know that. After all, if we're not together in person to make it obvious, we've got to figure out other expressions of care.
Sometimes that means sending a card when someone is having a crap day - or a bottle of wine or something. I mean, you can get just about anything delivered these days. Sometimes it means calling at just the right moment. But on a pretty consistent basis, it means making sure your friends know they are valuable to you, that you are glad to know them and be friends with them.
Yeah, yeah, it's all gross feelings, all the time. But that's what distance ultimately makes essential: the need to communicate emotional stuff without relying on the shorthand that can be established in person.
It's work to hold on to any sort of long-distance relationship. It's hard to be far away from the person or people you love, whether you're romantically involved with that person (or people) or not. But it really can work out, especially when it comes to close, personal friendships, if you're both willing to put in some effort.
And while the cons primarily involve not being sure who you're going to go out with this Friday night, the pros include being able to maintain a connection with someone who has probably influenced your life - and your identity in a lot of cases - in a big way. The challenge of it all can pay off in a big way; I've got long-distance friendships that have passed the decade mark.
We've survived marriages and divorces and kids and breakups and unemployment and grad school and everything else that has flung us to different locations. We aren't going to let a little mileage between us bring us down, and I hope you and your friends don't either.