“There are big ships and little ships but the best ships are friendships”. Long distance friendships are beautiful but complicated. It can be tough to be separated from people we care about. I’ve been there! If you’re struggling with being apart from your best pals, here are 11 ways to maintain connections while far away.
As the friend who’s been the one separated from everyone, I know what it’s like to feel the risk of being forgotten. The fear of life moving on and an emotional distance joining the physical separation. Growing apart and losing touch… So how can we keep the connection alive throughout long distance friendships?
Friendships are the most unique of relationships in our lives. They’re the family we choose, coming in all shapes and sizes from emotionally intimate ones to shared passions and beyond. Through life, friendships are bound to evolve, fizzle, and revive (not necessarily in that order). When we find ourselves separated by a significant distance from our friends, maintaining that spark and special connection can feel daunting.
Long distance friendships are not uncommon. In fact, I reckon most of us experience them at one point or another! Life takes a new direction, people move away, careers and loved ones take us to new pastures… Very rarely is separation the result of a friendship itself, but often it is hugely impacted.
Sarah Crosby at @themindgeek on Instagram posted an excellent list of ways to support relationships in isolation, but I think it also applies to relationships and friendships through separation too. Her points are included in this article and fleshed out to highlight ideas and suggestions for taking care of long distance friendships.
Here are a few ways to be a supportive pal when you’re separated by long distance.
A huge part of any long distance relationship is effective communication. Many forget, however, that talking is only one side of communication. Listening with your full attention lets the other person know that they, and their thoughts, matter to you.
Your long distance friend might want to fill you in on all the exciting news they have to share, or they might be needing a familiar ear to hear their worries and concerns. For the former, listening without interrupting or straying from the subject reminds our friends that we care about all the important parts of their lives. No matter how big or small. With more serious conversations, listening carefully with our full attention reassures our friends that they’re not alone, we’re here for them, and eases the burden even just a little.
2. Ask questions
Asking questions is another way to maintain a strong connection in long distance friendships. Like listening, it invites the friend to open up and share about themselves.
A positive action such as asking questions clearly indicates your interest in your friends life. It also provides an opportunity for you to listen and learn about them a bit more. An engaged and productive conversation will naturally provide each participant with the chance to ask and answer questions. In other, less analytical terms, a good natter just flows!
3. Express gratitude
When was the last time you paid your friends a compliment? What about your long distance friends? It’s easy to forget that an act as simple as this can do wonders for strengthening a friendship regardless of distance.
Express gratitude for the relationship with your friends. Tell them the qualities about them that you value. Speak openly about the reasons your friendship has endured the distance.
I appreciate it’s not in everyone’s nature to be so forthcoming and sappy. But there are more subtle ways to do this.
A handful of suggested ways to show gratitude for your friendship without going overboard include:
- “Thanks for taking the time to chat today, I really appreciate it!”
- “Your friendship really means a lot, thanks for all your support.”
- “You’ve been a great friend – I hope I can return the favour.”
- “I love your outlook! It’s been so valuable to hear your perspective.”
- “I’m so happy to hear you’re doing well and flourishing, thank you for sharing that with me!”
More than words, gratitude can also look like other actions. A card in the post, a spontaneous throwback photo in your inbox, a favourite tasty treat delivered on special occasions. All of these show that your friend remains an important and loved part of your life. And they can all be done from a distance!
Whichever way you and your long distance friends choose to show thanks for being in each other’s lives, don’t underestimate how valued these acts of love and friendship can be.
4. Allow room for sadness
Life is tough sometimes. It can be especially challenging when you’re far away from your nearest and dearest.
I noticed during my time living abroad that there is a temptation to always focus on the good stuff. The few and far-between catch ups became highlight reels of happy moments. Rarely did I open up about the difficulties faced. I wanted to show a strong face for my friends and family so as not to worry them or dampen the mood of our infrequent chats.
But stressful moments and hardship are part of our journey through life. Part of a friendship is being able to offer support when someone needs it. Trying to be supportive when we’re not able to comfort our friends in person might leave us feeling unhelpful or unsure of what to say and do. Navigating the best course of action to be a supportive long distance friend varies greatly between each relationship. The best we can start with is allowing the conversations between our long distance friends to be a safe space for worries, sadness, and doubts to be heard and acknowledged.
Ask your friend: “How can I help?” when they’re facing difficult times.
As the saying goes:
“A problem shared is a problem halved.”
Our friendships exist to give us love and support. As a friend, it’s our role to reciprocally offer it.
Furthermore, seeking comfort when we feel low is the only way we can ensure we have the support we need. Your friends are there for a reason, don’t deny yourself the love that they can provide.
It can be hard to openly confront sadness with our friends. We want them to see the best of us, and we want them to perceive us in the best possible way. However, the longer an issue is avoided, the more subsequent problems will arise.
Whatever you do, try not to shy away from tough conversations. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: communication is the foundation of any long distance relationship. Particularly without the social cues and usual opportunities to interact, your words mean are more important now than ever.
Being frosty or aloof with a friend, especially while apart, is only going to cause each of you more worry. They might think they’ve done something wrong or become frustrated with being shut out. You may then not only worry about the initial issue, but a strained friendship too. And that’s just not good for anyone!
5. Connect without distractions
Ever been on a video chat and someone’s eyes keep darting to the side? MEGA annoying right?
There’s nothing more distracting than someone else being distracted.
When you finally get the chance to catch up with your long distance best pals, focus your attention. Put down your phone, turn off the TV. Even if you’re strapped for time, dedicate it to them. Set a timer if you must. A shorter but more focussed chance to connect is better than a drawn out half-hearted one anyway!
6. Don’t make assumptions
Assumptions can swing either way both positively and negatively. Just because last time you checked they were hunky dory or having a tough time doesn’t mean that’s still the case. Life can move pretty quickly and situations change rapidly.
Distance and the presence of social media plays a role in this. Don’t assume that because they seem super cheery on their Instagram Stories that they’re all good and don’t need to hear from you. Social media is only a fraction of our lives, often the best bits. There is much that lies beneath the surface.
Some people prefer to use the internet as a space to escape from worries. I know that I personally try to use social media as an escapism and to enjoy the parts of life that make me happy. Doing so doesn’t detract from personal issues I’d rather discuss privately. Do my beach photos mean I’m not finding another aspect of life difficult? Of course not!
Watch out for presumptuous comments, and be willing to call out both your friend and yourself for making them.
“Oh I thought you were loving that new city”
Shocker opinions can change!
“Last time I checked you leaving your job?”
Circumstances develop and take you in a new direction. Life is complicated like that!
Remember, an assumption is simply a lack of complete information.
Adjust your reactions and behaviours accordingly once you’ve gathered all the most up to date and relevant info to correct the assumption.
7. Reach out
You know the easiest and best way to remove assumptions for long distance friendships? Reaching out and ASKING your friends! Questions give us more information to help us respond and evolve our actions and thoughts about a situation.
Be clear in your communications. Take our two above examples. Reframe those comments with a direct question:
- “I remember how much you were enjoying discovering your new city. How’s that going?”
- “Last time we chatted you decided to leave your job, is that still the case?”
Reaching out can be more than questions, too. It’s the easiest way to maintain a connection and remind your friends that you’re thinking of them.
Whether it’s checking in on their latest news, catching up about your favourite TV shows, or recalling a fun memory you both share: a quick message says more than you think.
Reaching out is especially important when a long distance pal has moved far away.
We ALL love a spontaneous message from a friend. Even more so when they know you’re far away from loved ones. You may be feeling disconnected, isolated, or lonely. Reaching out to remind them you’re still emotionally present is so valuable to diminish those worries. It doesn’t have to be your closest pals, either. I recently reconnected with an old friend who I haven’t seen for years. And it has been so nice to catch up digitally, we’ve discussed and learned so much!
I’m super grateful to friends who reach out. It is always incredibly appreciated and I never forget those who take that time to do so.
Being separated from most of your loved ones is overwhelming.
It can be hard to reach out for lots of reasons! For me, I feared rejection. But it was important to me that my friends know I’m still there for them, even if I was messaging them at weird hours thanks to the time differences. When it’s reciprocated, it’s one of the most important ways to feel secure in my long distance friendships while living abroad.
8. Reframe your dialogue
Whitney Goodman, a US-based psychotherapist posted this Instagram prompt of questions to ask instead of “how are you?”. This really resonated with me, because I so often find that the daily quiz of how we are often feels empty. When we’re struggling with distance, there’s nothing that we dread more than being asked this question.
Asking “How are you?” can often seem like the easiest way to reach out for friends who are separated. While the intention is well-meaning, there is so much more to be asked and discussed. Opening up the conversation with a different question invites more than the “I’m fine”-s and “not too bad”-s. You know, the swiftly brushing over the deeper topics mumbles. Why do we so often shy away from these topics?!
When you can’t always keep up with each other’s lives, asking more specific questions offers so much more and allows you to connect in a deeper way than passing niceties. This will strengthen your long distance friendships and lay a path for future growth in the friendship.
9. Remember 1:1 time
We all lead busy lives. If you’re part of a big friendship ground it might be easier to focus on group activities. Kill multiple birds with one stone and avoid repeating yourself 10 times. This might work swimmingly for lots of long distance friendships. However, some friends might prefer more intimate interactions or feel less comfortable expressing how they feel in larger groups.
As much as I love a group get together or WhatsApp group to chat nonsense, nothing quite beats a catch up with just one person. It’s these occasions where you strengthen individual relationships. They’ll have your full attention and you’ll have theirs. You can choose to get as deep or broad as you like without distractions.
Living abroad in Perth meant I haven’t seen my friends in the last couple of years as much as I’d like. I often opted for a pub trip with everyone at once to make the most of limited time. Although these events are great, I always come away wishing I’d spent longer with each individual.
Let’s be honest, not all topics of conversation are appropriate for a group setting. It just never works out that way! Remember to book in some 1:1 time with friends either in person or digitally to ensure low quantity of time spent together does not lead to a lack of quality time.
10. Be forgiving
It’s easy to feel resentful of friends that aren’t keeping in touch. Their silence may send you spiralling into worry, or spitefully into disappointment. However, it probably isn’t about you.
It’s important to remind ourselves that the friends have their own struggles and successes to focus on. Cancelled plans or a delayed reply isn’t really to do with you at all.
Try to understand that as much as you want friends to contact you, they probably wish for the same! There is no shame or harm in being the friend who messages first. I am regularly that friend! Yes, it becomes annoying to always be that friend, but do not let this build into a damaging perception of your friendships.
I hate to say it, but some people are just not natural communicators. Give them the space and time to respond and keep in touch at their own pace. Each of us require different levels of attention from our friends. Recognising that we want more or less helps to navigate the needs of others.
So, forgive friends for dips and lulls in the friendship. These times do not mean the friendship is over or unsalvageable. They more often than not simply mean that life is pulling each of you in different directions right now. The best you can do is continue to be a supportive, good friend and hope your communication will be more frequent soon.
11. Get creative
We are so lucky with how much technology is available to us these days! Make the most of it by using fun and unique ways to communicate with friends and allow your long distance friendships to thrive.
My first Christmas away from home I even managed to send all my friends cards and my family’s presents. You know how many I got back? 2. From my mum and grandparents… Whilst the “I don’t know how to send a card to Australia” excuse doesn’t cut it for me, there are so many other ways to show someone some love on a special occasion. Send an e-card, ask for their address, research postal times, order online (such as moonpig or their local flower delivery service), film a video message, or even just send a text to say thanks and you’re not sure how to return the favour!
It’s certainly not all about receiving gifts and treats in a long distance relationship. But it is about showing you care, however that may be.
Looking after our long distance friendships
I hope these suggested ways to maintain a connection with long distance friends will be helpful for my fellow expats, travellers, remote workers, and international explorers. Nurturing any friendship takes work on both sides, and being physically apart certainly makes it that much harder.
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