Long Distance Friendships: 5 Louise-Approved Tips for Making Them Work
My life is one big long distance relationship.
I figure this is simply a result of adulthood. Granted, it's a truth that I bemoan and groan and fight, kicking and screaming against, but a truth nonetheless.
People grow up, people get jobs, people move to Japan. It happens and in my brief adult-life-so-far I've found that generally one of two things happen when close friends move away: good intentions are set but touch is lost or you carry on -- and in some magic, cosmic way, your friendship gets forged in candy-colored steel. (My steel is candy-colored because my friendships are one of the few things I get all sappy and hearts/butterflies over, but your steel may be any style of your choosing. May I suggest skulls?)
I move around a lot. Since I was a kid, moving around to new neighborhoods, states, there was even a new country in the mix, was something I just got used to. Very early on, I developed a motto that still serves me really well: "Don't hold on to a friendship that doesn't want you, but cling like a pit bull to one that does." Awwwwww, I'll wait while all of y'all sew that into pillows. (Note: I've since learned that pit bulls do NOT have "locking jaws"; just don't want to perpetuate any mean doggie stereotypes.)
But really, while there is always a mourning period of losing the intimacy of the everyday with a friend or partner (my husband moving to Japan for a year to study nerd things), I've found that with a little effort, dedication and forgiveness, long-distance friendships can be the antidote to when nobody knows your name, and you need the comfort of someone "just getting it."
A few months into living in O'ahu, I went out with some of my husband's new classmates. I tried to be on my best behavior -- witty, weird, wise-ass -- I thought I was charming the crowd. Turns out "charming" was not the way most people thought of me that night. Try "loud" and "overly aggressive" and "Did Louise just steal that woman's lighter?" (For the record I DID NOT.)
If it hadn't been for the knowledge that I have a small army of people 3000+ miles away who love me not only in spite of my social disgraces but BECAUSE of them, I would have let that incident fester and boil and keep me away from social situations for my duration in O'ahu. The magic of a late night phone call with someone who wishes that they had been there with you during "the lighter incident," if only to laugh at the absurdity of it all, does wonders to restore one's confidence.
So in the spirit of National Long Distance Friendship Day (I made that up, but don't you have a friend you need to call?), here is a list of the tips, tricks and forgivable blunders that have allowed me to delight in a collection of real friends across the country and internationally.
1. Make regular phone dates.
I am officially the worst at calling people. Everyone who knows me knows this, and it's not OK.
Making weekly phone dates make you prioritize your long distance friend for a certain amount of time, carve out a part of your schedule to just "hang out" with them. Just like old times.
More than that, sometimes spontaneously picking up your phone and reporting the big and little things to your friends restores a sense of normalcy to a far apart friendship. Yes, it's not the same as everyday contact, but by it does keep you in each other's lives.
Sometimes it does take some effort, like when my husband was living in Japan. Aside from Skype (more on that later), buying a calling card was one of the best things I did. When exciting things happened to me, I could call him, granted with a few more digits to dial, and yelp and holler over the phone almost like he was just across town.
I have a phone date with my friend Bethany later today, and I programmed an alarm in my phone to remind myself to call. Bethany is the very best at forgiving me for not making our dates, and for this reason alone, I started using my phone alarm so that I wouldn't abuse that kindness.
Which brings me to…
Birthdays will be wished late, people will feel left out, tons of texts or e-mails will be misinterpreted, "Why didn't you tell me?!" stuff will happen.
Forgive, forgive, forgive. Apologize. Forgive.
Having long distance friendships is hard, and life happens, so sometimes things fall by the wayside, but holding grudges only creates more distance. In my experience, as hurt as you are by your friend forgetting your birthday, they feel twice as horrible and panicked when they REALIZE they missed your birthday.
I'm telling you, the cell phone calendar with reminders is the greatest invention of the modern age.
3. Don't hesitate to do the nice stuff.
My friend Liz, one of my oldest and most skilled long distance friends, once said to me, "When I see something that might make my friend happy, if I can afford it, I will get it for them, because you shouldn't hesitate when you could do something nice for your friends." MY GOD, I have nice people in my life.
But it's true. Nothing makes me shed tears of joy quicker or laugh real laughs faster than getting a little gift in the mail, or a "This made me think of you" picture of a dog in a dress sent to my phone. And inversely, there is something really uplifting about sending a little surprise to someone you care about.
Sometimes I really have to force myself off my lazy ass to get to the post office to mail shit, but in the end I'm always glad I did. You will be too.
What did people do before Skype?
My friend Joy, her boyfriend and her cat, Deryk, just moved to a new apartment, and while I'm SO BUMMED that I can't be there to break it in with her, an upcoming Skype session will allow me to get a tour and be not QUITE so out of the loop. Thanks, Skype!
When my husband was living in Japan, Skype single-handedly preserved, if not strengthened our relationship. Unlike phones, you have to make a little more effort to actually be in a certain place, at a certain time, and look at a person.
Not to mention, you can Skype someone into a show, party, bat mitzvah -- anything! And for a moment, it's like they're not so far away.
5. Save up for a visit.
Money sucks. I say that almost everyday. But really, coming from one of the cheapest people ever born, save up for that rendezvous with your BFF, it's worth it.
And you know what's even more fun than planning a trip to see a friend? Surprising them on a special occasion.
I screamed, cried, and peed a little when, on my first birthday in Hawai'i, my friend Joy surprised me by flying all the way from LA just to see me (and hang in Hawai'i, let's be honest).
There's something so renewing about spending even a few days with a dear friend. You'll fly or drive away from each other with your roots a little deeper intertwined and feeling, I promise, a little less lonely in the world.
If you can make the big trip to see your friend, it's like the phone date, Skype session, and "I miss you!" gift all rolled up into one.
So that's what I do.
It may seem simplistic, but in my experience, just seeing, spelled out, how easy it can be to evolve a friendship from near distance to long distance can assuage the FREAK OUT that can occur when faced with leaving your friend-family.
So I want to know: What do you do?
How do you stay in touch with your long distance friends? How far away is your farthest friend? Do you also collect friends across the world?