Five years ago I moved to a new city. A stint of backpacking around Asia aside, I was freshly graduated from college, a place where I had come out of my shell and forged some of the most affirming and meaningful relationships of adult life. I’m not talking about my ill-matched college boyfriend or any of the men that I made out with on sticky club dancefloors; I’m talking about the friends that held my hand when we got matching piercings, who would happily spend an afternoon making outlandish fancy dress outfits together, and who ate pizza with me on Valentine’s Day after the breakdown of a brief but heartbreaking romance during my sophomore year.
Relocating was a seismic shift. All of a sudden the women who had been the foundation of my fledgling adulthood were miles away, separated by an arduous train journey instead of a shuffle down the corridor. The group chat was the new spontaneous cocktail night, and a monthly catch-up took the place of endless evenings crammed onto a creaking sofa watching reality television.
Long-distance seems to spell the end of many romantic relationships. You could therefore be forgiven for thinking that friendships would fare the same, falling into the wayside with each cancelled plan or inability to coordinate a free weekend. Luckily for me this was never the case. Although I’ve since forged friendship groups in my new city, these women were a shining beacon in the initial period of loneliness, and have remained so years later.
But much like long-distance love, long-distance friendship requires some effort. Here’s what to keep in mind if your friends are far away:
Don’t Fall into the Instagram Trap
The rise of social media means that our friends never feel too far away. You can go for months without speaking and still know where your gal pal went out for dinner last night. This sense of connection can feel like a lifeline in the loneliest moments, but it ultimately fails to come close to a meaningful relationship.
Never let a like on Instagram replace picking up the phone to call a friend. Remember that a string of emojis posted below a Facebook picture is not the same as a thoughtful message, and viewing someone’s story is not an intimate insight into their life. Becoming overly reliant on social media will only leave you feeling isolated.
Make sure that you connect with your long-distance friends in a direct way — whether this be face-to-face or via technology.
Meet In New Places
Although visiting pals in different places can initially be exciting, making the same journey multiple times can wear thin — not to mention the expense if your friend is particularly far away. Instead, meet in the middle or plan trips that take you both to new destinations.
Being able to look forward to a getaway or visiting a new place adds extra gloss to the excitement of seeing your faraway friends. Planning together will keep you connected as well as giving you something to look forward to. And if you get an incredible adventure thrown in? Who are we to argue!
Be Smart With Your Scheduling
Traveling to see your tribe can be time-consuming and costly. To counteract this it helps to be smart with your scheduling, particularly if you have multiple friends in the same city.
Instead of arranging one-on-one visits, see if you can open up the invite and host your whole group for a big weekend get-together. Follow up a big night out with brunch with another friend before you head back home. If you have a work trip and there is a friend nearby, then squeeze in a coffee with them before you catch your train. Your friend will appreciate even a quick catch-up if you’re in the area.
Don’t Rely on the Group Chat
For friendship groups scattered around the country — or even globe — a group chat is a saving grace. Popularized by platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook messenger, this tool can replicate the cozy sensation of a girls’ night in from thousands of miles apart and save friendships that might otherwise slip away.
For all its plus points, however, being overly reliant on the group chat can cause us to be lazy with our friendships. After all, why reply to that hilarious meme that one of your former work wives shared when a bunch of people can do it for you — and you can still feel included?
Use the group chat, but do so mindfully. Recognize what you are contributing to the conversation and consider if you could reach out individually to its participants more often. Good communication often takes place outside of a group setting. Make sure you’re creating the opportunities for it to grow.
Always Have Plans
Ask pretty much any of your friends how they’re doing and they’ll probably come back with the same answer.
“I’m just sooo busy right now!”
Living far away from friends makes planning extra difficult — you can’t just cram in a quick weeknight catch-up or Sunday brunch. As you carve out a life in a new place, increasing time commitments will mean that making plans that take you away from home may fall by the wayside. A good way to avoid this is to ensure that each time you see each other you pencil in your next friendship date. Lining up schedules is much easier face-to-face, and you’ll ensure that you don’t let months slip by without seeing each other.
Remember How Incredible Your Friendship Is
Long-distance friendships take time and effort. So why make them stick? Hopefully because your friends are brilliant, life-affirming people who you want in your life and are worth every train ride. Or at the very least are people who share your passion for trashy television and Happy Hour cocktails — interests may vary.
There’s a reason why you and your besties are prepared to go the distance to make your relationships last the distance. When you’re hungover on the long drive home or queuing at passport control again for an even further afield friend, remember the moments that make your friendship worth every mile.
Remember the good times: the nights out, the times that you laughed until your stomach hurt, and the monumental moments in your life that they were part of; remember the bad times: drunken rows, and times that they listened to you cry when it felt like your life was falling apart. Back when I graduated my friends were the most affirming and meaningful relationships of my adult life and they still are today. It takes more than a few train rides between us to change that.