We meet our best friends at different points in our lives, and the longer we have those friends, the more likely it is that the friendship will become a long-distance one at some point, as either or both of you move for school or work or life. Theoretically, modern technology and social media should make being long-distance best friends easy, but there’s far more to it than that.
FaceTime, instant messages, and constant social media stories keep us connected to our friends, but staying connected isn’t quite the same as staying close. You may feel yourselves start to drift apart, and while this is completely natural, there are steps you can take to help keep that friendship fresh and present in your life.
The importance of intimacy
“One of the biggest drivers of who you’re friends with is just pure proximity,” says Theresa DiDonato, a professor at Loyola University Maryland and an expert in intimacy. But beyond proximity, intimacy is the secret to long-lasting friendships.
There are steps you can take to help keep that friendship fresh and present in your life.
“Intimacy is a function of self-disclosure — and you can do self-disclosure of facts or you can do self-disclosure of really important emotional stuff that you’re going through,” says DiDonato. It may be easier with nearby friends, who know the ins and outs of your day and how you feel about any given topic at any given time, just because you’re around them. But you can also create that intimacy with people you don’t see regularly.
Pick up the phone and call
Some of my friends live a couple of states away; others are a few timezones away. We all do that thing you see in ’80s romcoms, where people pick up the phone and actually call each other. Scheduling times to do that, or even picking up the phone at random to dial a friend when you think of them, can be instrumental in keeping up your level of intimacy.
Texting is great and can be really convenient if you live in drastically different time zones, but there’s really no replacement for talking to someone. You’re able to convey so much more information through talk than through text, and hearing your friend’s voice in real time will make you feel closer to them than just reading their messages.
Having regular interactions keeps your friends present in your lives, even if what you’re talking about doesn’t seem that important. Telling someone about your day may not seem like it’s bringing you closer to someone, but having them know what you’re excited about or frustrated over allows them to know you better. That’s the intimacy part of things that the experts say is so important.
Take it from two besties: When they moved across the country from each other, Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman committed to scheduling weekly phone calls. Their talks about politics and pop culture and everything in between wasn’t just good for their friendship, it also turned into a hugely popular podcast called Call Your Girlfriend. Never underestimate the power of friendship!
Keep creating new memories with your best friend
It helps if you’re continuing to build new experiences with each other and focusing on creating new memories rather than dwelling on old ones. Reminiscing on old memories is great, but without building new ones your friendship isn’t able to move forward. To do that, think about what you enjoy and can do together, but also apart.
One great long-distance activity is keeping up with the same TV show, since it always gives you something new to talk about. Playing the same video game works too, whether it be an online game with voice chat capabilities or perhaps a good ‘ole game of Dungeons and Dragons with a group over FaceTime. For those who can’t do something at the same time, keeping up with the same book gives you something to text about.
There are plenty of apps that might help you feel closer through the digital void. Try Rabbit, a website that allows you to video chat and watch online content simultaneously. The Netflix Party Chrome extension will do the same thing, but for Netflix. WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger are really handy if your best friend is in another country.
One of my friends lives on the West Coast, and we keep a Google Spreadsheet of the shows we want to watch. We live text as we view them. I love having her recommend shows to me. It reminds me how similar our tastes are, and she introduces me to new things I know I’ll like.
It’s different for everyone, of course. The important thing is to find something that you can both commit to, and that helps you keep committing to your friendship.
Plan visits as often as possible
No matter where you are, you can’t stay in touch if you don’t put in the time. Make the effort to plan a yearly trip to see each other, whether you’re visiting each other’s towns or going somewhere new.
“There needs to be not only commitment but investment.”
As DiDonato said, “there needs to be not only commitment but investment.” The investment that you put into long-distance friendships is key to maintaining them. And there are some apps that can help you with this, too.
In the lead up to your next reunion, try using one of the many countdown trackers available to help you remember that distance doesn’t last forever. There’s a website called Time and Date that allows you to have a countdown on your desktop, and they have an app as well.
Be gentle with yourself and your friend
Remember to forgive yourself and your friend during times of lessened communication. There are friendships in which you don’t talk for months at a time — and then you pick up the phone as if nothing’s amiss — and that’s fine!
Just make sure you’re never hesitating to reach out just because it’s been a while. Sometimes life gets in the way. Your friend will understand, as long as you talk to them about it.
Keep in mind that your friends love and support you, that’s why they’re your friends. Reaching out to them when life gets chaotic and complicated is one of the best (and cheapest) forms of therapy; friends will help you through the bad, just as much as they make the good even better. So hold on to your friends, even when distance stands in the way.