Maintaining Friendships at a Distance

Preserving a long-distance friendship is no easy feat. As a freshman whose friends are attending out-of-state colleges, I am learning how to adapt to the new parameters of our relationships. With pandemic procedures still in place and current weather conditions making travel treacherous, getting together with friends has become an increasingly difficult task. So here’s a few tips on how to keep those connections growing, even if you’re not able to meet in-person:

  1. 1. See No Friend, Hear No Friend, Have No Friend

    The main issue that breaks up friendships, either suddenly or so subtly you don’t even realize until it’s too late, is lack of contact. With work, school, and significant others, it can be difficult to spare any time to talk with those you care about. For some, merely texting does the trick; however, I don’t find it as an effective means of connecting. Oftentimes, texting relies on already having a close relationship in order to correctly decipher all the nuances of a person’s style of communication. If you can read a message in that person’s voice, with the same inflection and character that they normally have in person, then this method is perfectly okay for you. However, that is often not the case.

    It can be hard to connect with mere words on a screen, even with the inclusion of visual forms of emotion, such as emojis and bitmojis. When possible, contact your friends in a way that simulates in-person meetings, like Zoom or FaceTime. If a video chat, or even a phone call, isn’t possible, sending a recording can preserve the original presentation of the message and prevent any possible misinterpretations. Sometimes it’s just good to see someone’s face. My friend is known for making funny faces, so she’ll send me a photo of her with an exaggerated facial expression from time to time. Going the extra mile and making an effort to reach out and convey how much you care about your friends will continue to grow your relationship and keep things from getting awkward when you finally meet with them again.

  2. 2. Embrace the Little Things

    You don’t have to have a three-hour conversation talking about the meaning of life in order to maintain an emotionally-invested friendship. Sometimes being there for someone is just a matter of sending them a meme every few days or something that could raise your friend’s spirits and indicate that you’re thinking of them. A lot of my friends send me encouraging Instagram posts or things from Pinterest that expound upon their personality types (e.g. Myers-Briggs, zodiac signs, or the enneagram) in order to connect while also allowing me to understand their perspectives to a greater extent. I also have collaborative Spotify playlists and exchange songs of the day, broadening my musical horizons while also being able to share my mood through specific song choices. Then, when we eventually do hang out, we play our shared playlist so we can jam out in person and mock each other’s dance moves. Sometimes our most memorable moments with people aren’t found in grand gestures and surprises but rather in the small ripples of laughter that erupt at 2 a.m. after receiving a Harry Potter meme.

  3. 3. Send Each Other Mail

    Going old school and rummaging around in the corners of your drawers for an envelope and stamps can be a unique way to keep in touch with the old souls in your life. Taking the time to physically write out a letter and send it to someone can mean a lot in a world where technology and social media have become an ingrained aspect of our culture. Sending mail is also a cool way to create keepsakes for each other. I have had friends send me stickers that are now proudly displayed on my water bottle. My friend and I exchanged “open when” letters as birthday gifts, and I often look at them when I’m having a rough mental health day. Who knows how long your friend will hold onto a note that serves as a perfect time capsule of your friendship?

  4. 4. Know When to Let Go

    I know, I know, this article is supposed to be about keeping friends. The hard truth is, sometimes salvaging a relationship just isn’t possible and it’s best for you to go your separate ways. Falling out of friendship can be difficult to recognize at first, as it can begin with losing contact due to varying schedules and quickly dissolve into occasional awkward conversations where you realize that you only hung out because it was convenient. If quarantine has taught me anything, it’s which friends I’m willing to work hard to connect with and which ones weren’t as loyal as I’d originally thought. Any relationship, whether it be platonic or romantic, needs both people to contribute in order to work. If either or both of you aren’t willing to support the other, then that’s a sign that your connection isn’t one worth expending energy to preserve.

Maybe someone jumps to the forefront of your mind while you’re reading this article, someone who you want to rekindle a relationship with but haven’t messaged recently. I encourage you to reach out to them with a “hey” or “I’ve been thinking about you lately.” Don’t expect your friendship to retain value if you’re not investing anything into its upkeep. Ultimately, maintaining your relationship with your friends relies on how much time and effort you’re willing to contribute in order to make all parties involved feel loved and appreciated. If you’re not going out of your way to connect with someone you’ve been separated from, then you’re going to fall into a stagnant friendship that isn’t going to last the test of time.