Long-distance friendships: we’ve all been there, right? We’ve all had them at some point, whether they stemmed from childhood pals moving away, college roommates scattering to different cities, or the modern marvel of meeting someone online. I understand the initial naivety of it all: the scheduled weekly phone calls, new photos invading your messages, and the excitement of the next time you visit. But somewhere along the way, the daily chats turn into sporadic check-ins, and those grand plans for visits get lost in the shuffle. It’s a familiar tale: fading long-distance friendships, where the initial spark dims as life takes its course.
When talking to Dr. Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., dubbed “The Friendship Doctor,” she had a few things to say about the current generation and long-distance friendships. “Technology enables friends to overcome the distance barriers more so than ever in the past,” she says. “Asynchronous communication means they can stay in touch with someone across the oceans. Texting means they can touch base in ways that are less intrusive than phone calls. In the past, people were less mobile and less likely to relocate for school or work.”
But that doesn’t mean that Gen Zs don’t go through the same hurdles when trying to maintain their long-distance friendships. To learn more about the long-distance friendship dynamic, I talked further with Dr. Levine, and even got some insight as to strengthen those bonds that you feel are slipping away.
Be open with your communication.
The lifeline of a fading friendship will always be communication. “Discuss the lull with your friend and tell her you’ve missed [them],” says Dr. Levine. While we expect vulnerability in our romantic relationships, we aren’t fully socialized to be emotionally intimate with our friends; to confess something as simple yet complex as missing them. Working towards bettering your friendship is a mutual choice both of you must commit to. If you can’t discuss the unfortunate state of your friendship, neither party will know that there is a bubbling problem. It’ll only lead to shallow conversations that you’ll end up dreading.
It could be just as simple as saying, “Hey, I miss talking to you btw. Could we possibly figure something out?” If the other person shows little to no effort in trying to change the state of your friendship, then maybe it’s time to move on. At least you can look back knowing you put in the effort to rekindle your friendship.
Celebrate special occasions, successes, and big life moments together.
One unfortunate part of being a long-distance friend is not being physically present in the big moments. While distance might physically separate you, it doesn’t have to distance your heart. “Remember to celebrate each other special occasions and successes together,” Levine reminds.
Remembering and celebrating these milestones, even from afar, can light up your friend’s world. A heartfelt message, a surprise gift delivery, or even a virtual party can turn an ordinary day into an extraordinary one. Responding to their Instagram stories when posting about their achievements could sound small but be incredibly meaningful.
Take time to make plans both virtually and irl.
Sure, it might not always be easy to coordinate schedules or find the perfect time, but certain sacrifices have to be made when it comes to maintaining those long-distance friendships. If that means you have to stay in on a Friday night to make some dinner on Facetime, then so be it! “Make plans to see each other regularly,” Dr. Levine recommends. “Nothing beats spending ‘Facetime’ with a friend when you can relax, spend uninterrupted time, and catch up with one another.”
As Gen Z, we love Facetime anyway! Sometimes we just call for the sake of calling, not necessarily for anything. We can sit on Facetime during our routines and day-to-day activities with comfortable silence. Wanting to be in each other’s company is an easy task during the digital age when you can take them around with you as long as you’ve got a signal. It doesn’t always have to be an event when you make plans with your long-distance friend. Friendships aren’t always about the big events and life moments, it could also be about the comfortable mundanity.
Taking steps to nurture your fading friendships is a daunting but necessary task. With just the right effort from both sides, your long-distance friendships might even be stronger than ever.