Let’s not mince words: making friends as an adult is hard. When the friendship-fostering glory days of college end, careers and families begin seriously cutting into the time and energy we have to invest in making new friends. This fact of life gives extra value to the friendships, old and new, that blossom despite these obstacles. It also makes it so much more heart-wrenching when one of those friends decides to move away.
Fortunately, long distance does not have to sound the death knell for your friendship. Here are six tips that show how you and your friend can stay close no matter how much distance life puts between you.
1. Keep making new memories.
Reminiscing about bygone adventures can be fun. But the truth is, long distance friendships are much more likely to fizzle out when the real substance of the friendship is all in the rearview mirror.
If you’ve noticed how your enthusiasm for rehashing old memories with high school friends decreases every time you’re home for the holidays, you know first-hand that a shared past is often not enough to fuel an ongoing friendship. That means if you value a long distance friendship, you have to keep breathing new life into the relationship by making new memories together.
For inspiration, look to the activities that helped you bond when proximity wasn’t an issue. If you were roommates who religiously split a bottle of Chardonnay every time The Bachelor aired, why not pop a cork in your respective apartments and FaceTime during the show? If you were gym buddies, try doing an at-home workout together over Skype, or pledge to call each other on your commute home from a new workout to complain about your sore glutes in real time.
Every relationship is different, and you might have to exercise a little creativity to invent long distance bonding opportunities that are relevant to your friendship. So long as you’re finding a way to continue cultivating shared experiences, you’re doing long distance friendship right.
Team up to pursue a goal.
One of the most challenging parts of keeping up a long distance friendship is remembering to put effort into the relationship. Because out of sight really does mean out of mind, it’s easy to lose track of a distant friend as you reflexively turn to the people you see on a daily basis when you need to vent, celebrate, or seek advice. A great way to overcome this inevitable obstacle to long distance intimacy is to choose a shared goal you and your friend can work towards in parallel. Remembering to keep your focus on an achievement that is important to both of you will naturally put more focus on the friendship as well.
Maybe you both want to train for a 5K or a half marathon. Maybe you’re both trying to get a side hustle off the ground. Whatever your goal, making a shared commitment to pursuing it will open up new avenues for strengthening the friendship. You can critique each other’s work. You can set up an accountability system for reminding each other to stay on track. You can vent to each other about frustrations. And you’ll eventually be able to share the joys of success. Most importantly, you’ll stay on each other’s minds and remain active participants in each other’s lives—the key to preserving any friendship, irrespective of distance.
Close the gap when you can.
Modern technology has given us a myriad of useful ways to keep in touch, but there is no real substitute for being in the same room as a person you truly care about. If your long distance friendship is drifting apart despite your best efforts to hold things together, taking some time to bask in the joy of each other’s presence can make all the difference. And if you and your bestie have stayed close despite a long separation, taking some time to hang out together will help ensure you continue to thrive.
Of course, it would be ideal if you could both dedicate a week or a long weekend to exploring a new destination or revisiting your old stomping grounds. But if you don’t have the luxury of dedicating tons of vacation time to reconnecting, try multi-tasking instead. Stay on the lookout for a conference in your friend’s city that you could make a good business case for attending, or a flight connection that would give you a long layover you could spend with your friend. Even if you only have time to sneak in a quick happy hour before heading to your next commitment, you’ll be glad you made the effort. A little bit of face time can go a long way in fueling your friendship.
Accept that it’s going to take some work.
We tend to fall into close friendships because these relationships are both comfortable and convenient. But convenience is definitely not a hallmark of any kind of long distance relationship. Once distance becomes a factor, you and your friend will need some time to find a new rhythm in the friendship.
The effort this process requires may make you question whether you’re really as close friends as you thought. But don’t be surprised that it’s more difficult to maintain a feeling of closeness when you no longer have a structure that brings you together regularly, whether that was your living arrangement, your work environment, or your weekly running group. Distance adds a layer of complexity to even the closest relationships. Recognizing that any awkwardness stems from your circumstances rather than your compatibility will help keep doubts about the strength of your friendship at bay.
Don’t put pressure on yourself.
There are going to be periods in your life when you have the energy and time to put into building on the foundation of your friendship. And there are going to be periods in your life when you really, really don’t. Remember that ebbs and flows in the amount of contact you two have are totally natural, and don’t put pressure on yourself to be the perfect long-distance friend all the time. Set calendar reminders for birthdays and other important events you really can’t miss. Have faith that your friendship can successfully coast for a month or two when you don’t have time to nurture it. And then remember to put in the extra effort when you can.
Your friend is similarly going to have their own set of challenges and busy periods. They may not return every phone call. They may have to reschedule a FaceTime session or two. They may even forget your birthday. Assuming best intentions and being forgiving of these kinds of oversights will be crucial to making your long distance friendship work.
This can be especially difficult if you’re the kind of person who remembers birthdays when your friend always forgets, or if you enjoy sending thoughtful gifts and letters often, while your friend seems to struggle to put a postcard in the mail. Giving your friend a hard time for not measuring up to your long distance friendship ideal is more likely to weaken the friendship than it is to change your friend’s behavior. Appreciate your friend for who they are, and don’t leap to interpreting differences in your and your friend’s communication styles as a sign that they’re less committed to the friendship.
Making a long distance friendship work may take a little extra time, effort, and understanding. But distance doesn’t have to prevent you from being there for each other, from sharing new experiences, or from growing closer over time. Rest assured, no matter the distance, your long distance friendship can stay just as close as it has always been. And as time goes on, you and your friend may even find yourselves growing even closer than ever.