How do you maintain a long distance friendship?
By the time February rolls around the corner, our local CVS starts to bombard us glittery red hearts, flowers, and whatever sweet lovey-dovey decorations they have that remind us that Valentine’s Day is none other than February 14th. Our conversations begin to reroute itself back and again to the topic of love and romantic relationships, as the holiday suggests. To be fair, it’s not quite a holiday because we don’t get the day off, but the holiday itself continues to rear its head into our lives year after year. And while romantic relationships are important, I’d like to investigate a different kind of relationship-- friendships.
Somehow, friendships never get the spotlight even though it is one of the most important parts of our lives. Romantic relationships are often at the forefront of our conversations, and familial relationships are constantly returned to when we investigate how we turn out the way we are (ah, therapy). Friendships offer a reflection of who we are--we learn to see ourselves through another’s eyes, revisit what our values are, how we love. They are the stepping stones to building relationships outside of familial ones. Much like a romantic relationship, we invest just as much emotional real estate in our friendships. We worry about passive aggression, we overthink what we said two nights ago, and we get anxious when there is tension. Like any relationship, we are told again and again that communication is at the core of friendships as well. But add some distance and it becomes difficult to constantly stay in touch.
One of the tricks that come with living as an international student is that your friends tend to be from all over, and scheduling a Skype session could be as difficult as waking up at 6am to call for just one hour. When you no longer share the same continent or time zone, it is easy for calls to turn into sporadic texts to no contact at all. But long distance is part of the friendship package now, and with technology in our corner we do our best to make it up. It makes everything easier, but it’s the time difference and scheduling that makes it hard. But what keeps a friendship sustainable in the long run? And how do we maintain friendships even when we are far away?
To look into this, I asked a few of my friends what they think is most important in a friendship and how they sustain their long distance friendships. Done, as expected, through text messages.
Ann. Friend of 17 years. Location: Taipei.
“I think the most important quality in a friendship would be being there for each other and knowing how to be a good listener.”
“As for LDR, it’s really about trying to catch up with the person whenever you can whether it’s a phone call or a simple how’ve been. It’s tough at times because time difference and everyone having their own things to do. But it’s really not hard with technologies these days to send a text asking if they’re well.”
Madeline, Friend of 7 years. Location: Boston.
“The most important quality in a friendship is trust, especially in a long distance relationship. You have to be comfortable realizing that you might not be able to share every moment of every day, and you have to trust that they’ll share what they feel is important for you to know. Like all long-distance relationships, you have to get used to the idea of space and do your best to communicate in whatever way works best for you. Listening becomes extra valuable because that is the best way you can give support without being there in person.”
“You also have to feel confident enough in your friendship to remind yourself that they care about your thoughts and feelings, even if they’re not there to show it. It’s important to reach out if you’re feeling vulnerable or just need someone to talk to without convincing yourself it’s a burden for them to make time for you because you’re not there in person. So really is it a two-way street of trust.”
Kelly. Friend of 3 years. Location: San Diego.
“I think one of the most important things in a friendship is the ability to feel comfortable with the person. If I can be myself around people, truly myself, then i feel like i can feel safe and supported and encouraged, etc. I think that the people who are good friends are the people who understand my flaws but who on the whole bring out the better side of myself. I think good friends should uplift the things you like about yourself and at the same time help you work on becoming a better person through their best qualities (but i have to be comfortable with them so I don’t feel like they are being judgmental/condescending in their advice/counsel).”
“I think I maintain the best long distance friendships with people who respect that my life has changed. Their life has changed too, now that our friendship is long distance, but that when we still talk it’s like nothing has really changed in the essence of our friendship. I understand that now my friends are living in different places and have different friends, interests, and habits that they might be difference or that our relationship might be different, but as long as we can still be real and comfortable with each other when we do talk/hang out, I actually get really excited to see my friends off doing their own things and living their lives wherever they are. Also on a smaller, more palpable scale, I think that small communications are the way to go. Now that social media exists it’s so easy to keep in touch even in the most trivial way with people who live far away from me while we are in between not talking/seeing each other. They’re like little reminders that ‘hey maybe i can’t talk to you right now but I’m still thinking of you.” And you know, the occasional FaceTime/crazy text conversation/social media DMs are always good for the soul in long distance friendships.”*
As true products of our time, we rely heavily on tech to sustain our relationships. But we also put in the effort each time to better nurture a relationship that is constantly changing, whether they are affected by big events like a move to a new continent or small ones like moving out of the same apartment. Each change in our lives can bring in a change in our relationships, and it is up to us to maintain the honest communication to make it work. If I were to throw in my own two cents on the matter, I would add that honesty and forgiveness are keys in maintaining a friendship, especially a long distance one. We have to forgive each other for the small and big mistakes that we make in order to sustain any friendship, and learn to let things go.
Whether it is in opposition to our friends or in agreement, good friendships often shine light to the parts of ourselves that we avoid, making us better people. After all, people say that friends are the family that you choose.
*And just a little extra:
Mom. Since birth. Location: Taipei.
“Honesty, loyalty, and respect. But it is so subjective, everyone will have different answers!”
“It’s harder to maintain with long distance, but if you have common interests and specialities or similar things to talk about, then it is easier to talk to each other through the internet to maintain the relationship. I am personally not a talkative person, so I don’t have a lot of good friends so I don’t know (teehee).”