Something that a lot of us are experiencing right now is the shift of many of our social interactions to online. It sucks to not be able to see people you used to hang out with every day, I know. But for this post, I want to share my experiences with friendships that have been mainly conducted online and let you know that we can get through all this.
One of the longest-lasting friendships I’ve had in my life is with my best friend Hanna. Our dads went to high school together, and we immediately clicked when we first met when we were around 4. Since then, we’ve continued to be incredibly close and talk all the time. During a memorable summer when we were 8, I introduced her to Harry Potter and she introduced me to Club Penguin—both of which were very important elements of our childhood (don’t worry, we don’t stan J.K. Rowling anymore!). But she lives in Sacramento while I live in Alaska, so it’s always been a long distance maneuver for us to stay friends. Nevertheless, we’ve made a point to try and see each other at least once every couple of years and text all the time. We know each other so well and always have the best of times when we do see each other in person, and while it sucks that we don’t live anywhere near each other, we’ve still been able to make plenty of amazing memories together.
Last December I found out that I’d been selected to go to a program in Washington, D.C. for a week in March. Obviously it got cancelled at the last minute, making for a very painful introduction to the depressing reality of COVID, but I made the most meaningful friend group that I’ve ever had in my life so far. When I was invited to join the GroupMe some of the other delegates had started, I had absolutely no idea how much these people would change my life. Within a few weeks, we had moved from the “awkward” first phase of getting to know each other to being fairly close and trading college application essay suggestions. By winter break, about half of the 104 total delegates had been added to the chat and we began seriously bonding. I was really intimidated by a lot of them at first, but I discovered that they were all really chill and nice and shared my passion for everything political. In high school, I never knew anyone else that was this dedicated to the subject and understood why I was so fired up about making change, so meeting them was incredibly exciting.
In January, some of us started video chatting almost every day and sharing even more about ourselves, and it felt like we were already becoming such a tight-knit family. The bonds I’ve formed with my fellow delegates are the deepest I’ve made in several years, so obviously we were all incredibly gutted when we found out that the program was cancelled on March 5th, less than 24 hours before I was scheduled to leave. We couldn’t comprehend it at the time, and I remember telling myself that the virus really wasn’t that bad and this was all just a cruel prank. But no, we were really going to be denied that chance to finally meet in person, and the nation subsequently going into lockdown meant that we couldn’t try to plan another way to meet up. That spring was, well, pretty hellish, but my long-distance friends were always there to make me feel appreciated and that I mattered. When I got rejected from almost every college I applied to, they comforted me and helped me see that numbers don’t define you.
Although some of the delegates are going to college together right now or have had more local get-togethers, I still haven’t been able to meet any of them in person. The other Alaska delegate lives 500 miles away from me, and although I’m at school in Ohio right now, we’ve had a lot of travel restrictions placed upon us, so I haven’t been able to see anyone else in the eastern Midwest yet. Our group chats have quieted down more since we’ve all become so busy, but we still find time to Zoom and write pen-pal letters to each other. I have been talking to the two others who are in central Ohio right now, though, and we hope to do some sort of meetup in this next month before Thanksgiving.
This goes to show that yes, you can sustain a long distance friendship and still get endless amounts of enjoyment from it. Finding friends like these who immediately brighten your day whenever you hear from them can be tough, but not impossible. My advice would be to join a club, organization, program, etc. where you’ll be able to find people with similar interests. Even if it’s only meeting online, don’t be afraid to be yourself and get a little bit out of your comfort zone. If you’re like me and really shy when meeting new people, start up conversations with other people in the group chats or breakout rooms. Be brave—I promise you won’t regret it.