Friendship is something I value more than almost anything. Friends help me overcome struggles, encourage my creativity and make me laugh so hard I snort (the best kind of laughter). It is important to try to focus on the present and find new friends when you move to an unfamiliar place, but I am a firm believer that some friendships are meant to endure and even thrive at a distance. I’ve been living abroad in Iceland for one year, but it’s not my first rodeo at maintaining long-distance friendship. I grew up in Tennessee, moved to Illinois for college and then lived in NYC for two years before returning back to Nashville. During those years I also lived in France for five months and traveled around Europe for another three months. I am by no means perfect, but I have learned some strategies to help me stay connected.
1. Less More Often
Conversation is such an important part of friendship–I love to talk about everything under the sun and learn what’s going on in my friends’ lives. But everyone has a busy schedule and time differences definitely don’t help when it comes to planning a catch-up. It’s also difficult to feel tethered to a scheduled phone call. Scheduled calls can inhibit flexibility, and flexibility is key for those who are trying to grow their community. When you are new in town, you want to be available when someone invites you to a last-minute barbecue or for a morning coffee. A good friend will understand if you cancel, but if it happens too often, feelings will be hurt.
This is why I have come to believe in a “less more often” philosophy when it comes to long-distance friendship. I cherish the moments when I can have hour-long conversations with my besties, but I try to stay connected in-between. A quick text is an easy way to check in, and apps like Marco Polo make it simple to send short videos that can be viewed anytime. Don’t save all your news or hold back from reaching out because you’re waiting for the long conversation.
2. Every Friendship Is Different
Every person communicates differently–some friends love to talk and some prefer texting. Ask your friends what works for them and use that knowledge to stay in touch more effectively. One friend might value a long text that they can quickly read more than a video that they have no time to watch. Other friends might prefer videos because they have no time to compose their thoughts and type out a long text. I am still friends with a German woman who I met while traveling through Europe. We send one another handwritten letters 1-2 times per year, never speak on the phone and rarely text, and yet I still value this friendship despite how little we communicate.
3. Technology Helps
Written letters and postcards and very special, but let’s be real–texting, video calls and phone conversations are essential for long-distance friendship. One of my favorite tools is Marco Polo, a video chat app that lets you record videos to send to your friends who can then view them at their convenience. One amazing aspect of the app is the ability to have multiple friends on a group video chat. This is a great way to stay in touch with a friend group and give updates to multiple people at once. You can also multi-task and watch the videos while you are doing chores or talking a walk. We all lead busy lives, so it is wonderful to get a quick update even if you don’t have time for a face-to-face conversation.
My parents recently gave us a Facebook Portal. It looks like a small computer and is setup through your Facebook account. Initially, I wasn’t certain that it would add anything different to my life as I could already use my phone or computer to make calls on Facebook messenger. But having the Facebook Portal has been a game changer. It’s a great tool for my “less more often” philosophy. The Facebook Portal is on our kitchen table and something about its presence has made me more likely to reach out to my friends and loved ones just for a short chat. It’s a good reminder than you can call your loved ones whenever, and you don’t necessarily need to schedule the call. Even if they are busy and you only chat for two minutes, you will feel more connected to your friends.
4. Some Friendships Fade
Not every friendship is meant to last forever. Some friendships make more sense when you are living in the same city, but that does not mean that they will endure long-distance. And that is okay. Just because your friendship fades does not mean your friend despises you or that you are a terrible person. Everyone has busy lives and it is natural that a friendship is strongest when both people live in the same city. Don’t feel guilty if you lose touch with someone who you once considered a best friend. If the friendship is meant to be revived, it will happen. If not, treasure the memories and move on.
5. Live in the Moment
Despite all my tips about maintaining long-distance friendship, I think my biggest piece of advice is to live in the moment. When you move to a new place, your priority should be to grow your community and learn about your new home. It is difficult to make new friends if you are too focused on your old life. If your friends are compassionate, they will understand that your life has changed, and they will show grace in accepting that your friendship has also changed. Living apart from friends and family is a constant balancing act, and it is natural that some months you will better at staying in touch than others. Be kind to yourself and don’t stretch yourself too thin. If you have good friends, they will understand.