I have really been trying to be more intentional about my friendships this year. When Paul and I moved away from my hometown back in 2012, I left behind some of my closest friends. Distance can take a toll on a friendship for sure. Trying to cultivate these long distance friendships has been a challenging and insightful journey for me. I have tried experimenting with a variety of different ideas for improving my connections and staying in touch.
A while back I read an article in the NY Times on How to Maintain Friendships. I found a lot of good tidbits in there but I had two major hang ups with it. First of all, I don’t want to simply “maintain” my friendships. I want them to thrive! And to do this, I believe friendship has to be cultivated, attended to tenderly and consistently, and prioritized as an incredibly enriching part of our lives. Secondly, I have a disadvantage to a lot of the suggestions because most of my closest friends are spread out across the country. The suggestions that seem practical to most friendships are less so when yours are primarily long distance friendships.
It occurred to me that pulling together a list of ideas I have tried to utilize (some more successful than others) might be interesting to other people as well. So I decided to share some tips that I have found to help cultivate my own long distance friendships. Please don’t get me wrong – I do not mean to come off as any kind of expert in cultivating friendships! To this day I am still learning and improving on how to be a better friend. It has taken me many many years to feel as though I finally understand what is required to really commit to a friendship.
Even with this understanding, I still struggle to be the best version of myself in friendship.
Navigating a long-distance friendship is no easy feat. Staying connected takes intentional effort. That effort can feel difficult to muster on days when you are pulled a thousand directions by what is right in front of you. Life sure keeps me on my toes. All of the priorities on my to-do list can be overwhelming on an average day. Then throw in a few sick kids, or a trip somewhere, or family in town, or a new project and let me tell you, it can seem hard to find time for myself, much less my friends! But the good news is, making time for my friends IS finding time for myself.
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“A good friend is a connection to life – a tie to the past, a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world.”– Lois Wyse
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I’ve learned through the years that friendship is a lifeline.
It is such an incredible experience to find friendships that enhance your life. Hopefully you will find something in this list that inspires you in some way to be intentional in cultivating your long distance friendships. I know I have. Even choosing one thing here and experimenting with how it might work for you can go a long way.
Without further ado, here is the list:
1. Pick up the phone
This sounds simple enough but let me tell you I really struggle with this. I’m not sure why but there is a mixture of guilt and bad excuses involved. I always think – I don’t have enough time to dedicate to a legit catch up call. It’s been too long, I should wait until I can really commit to more time. There are too many distractions – my kids are being rowdy in the background. I’m too tired, I’ll call tomorrow. So many reasons I can come up with to put off simply picking up the phone.
My friend Meagan says, “Just call me! If I can’t answer, I won’t – but I’ll still know you’re thinking of me!” Often the gap between calls with my long distance friends feels overwhelming. One thing I have noticed is the more frequently I do call, even if I just leave a voicemail, the easier it is to do it the next time. Even a 5-minute chat can make a world of difference in helping us feel more connected.
Sometimes I hesitate to answer the phone when a friend calls me and the timing isn’t perfect. Maybe I’m in the middle of cooking dinner or about to put the baby down for his nap. I’m less inclined to answer if I don’t have more than a few minutes to catch up. Honestly though, I think simply answering the phone and saying, “Hi! I miss you and I’m so glad you called! I can’t talk now but I really want to catch up soon!” can mean a LOT more than we realize. It’s the small effort that really matters here.
2. Remember important things
This sounds like a random one but I can’t tell you how much of an impact it can have on feeling connected to someone, especially a long distance friend. To me this is a sign someone is truly listening to what I say and genuinely cares about me. My friend Lauren does this incredibly well. She always manages to remember whenever there is some significant occurrence happening in my life. It’s not necessarily big life events, but the smaller things that matter as well. I might wake up in the morning on an important day and find she’s sent me a text message wishing me luck. Or when we catch up by phone, she always manages to ask me about specific things she remembers from our previous conversations – how was a trip to the beach or how are the boys’ haircuts?
Taking a lesson from her thoughtfulness – I have tried to be more intentional in paying attention. I’ve started writing specific things my friends have coming up (i.e. a gender reveal ultrasound, an in-law visit, an anniversary, an important deadline) on my calendar so I see them and can send a message to let them know I’m thinking of them.
These small kindnesses we share with each other are all about showing up for one another, even when we are miles apart.
A friend might have a particular fear or anxiety about something that you recognize and remember. Mentioning you are thinking about them when you know those feelings might be present is another way to support your friend. I remember being really upset when I dropped my oldest off at preschool for the first time. As I sat in the car crying in the parking lot afterward, I got a call from my sister who said she thought I could use some reassurance on such a difficult morning. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me that she remembered how worried I was about it.
“Friendships between women, as any woman will tell you, are built of a thousand small kindnesses… swapped back and forth and over again.”
― Michelle Obama
3. Start a friendship ritual
Earlier this year I initiated #friendfridays to make more of an intentional effort to do SOMETHING each week to prioritize my friendships. I wrote cards, made phone calls I had been putting off, sent text messages, etc. All things I regularly find myself wanting to do but that seem to get lost in the hustle and bustle of my everyday chaos. Anchoring these acts of friendship to a specific day of the week was incredibly helpful for me.
One of my friends calls me EVERY TIME she goes to Target. Even if she knows I’m not going to be able to answer – she still calls. And now that I’m playing tennis most Thursdays, I have a half hour of uninterrupted drive time there and back. I have been using this time to call and catch up with my friends without little ones in the back seat hollering for my attention. Creating small rituals like these can create positive experiences that go a long way in keeping you connected with your friends.
4. FaceTime each other
One of the best parts of this modern age of technology is the ability to use video communications to stay in touch. Being able to FaceTime is an incredible way to stay connected to friends. It’s a way to be face-to-face to share important events for which you can’t be physically present. Want to meet your best friend’s new baby? Sing Happy Birthday to someone? Get an up close glimpse of a new engagement ring? See a home renovation or redecorating? The possibilities are endless!
And it’s also a fun way to coordinate friend “dates.” My long distance friends and I often pour ourselves a glass of wine or a cup of coffee and call each other. We’ll prop up our phones, lounge on the couch, and just chat. It’s amazing how much it can feel like we are sitting across the room from each other.
5. Start a Virtual Book Club
If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you may already know that earlier this year I started a Virtual Book Club. This has been so much fun and a great way for me to connect with friends from all over the map. Once a month we get to hang out/drink wine/talk books all from the comforts of our own homes.
“There are no faster or firmer friendships than those formed between people who love the same books.”
― Irving Stone
You can get creative here for sure! Sarah J Hauser started a #summercookbookclub where she and her friends cook recipes from Ina Garten’s cookbook each week and connect on FaceBook and IG about their experiences. With technology as it is today, basically any club people can dream up to do in person, you can modify to do virtually.
6. Take on a new hobby or challenge together
If you follow Kelle Hampton on Instagram, you probably already know that she and her best friend Heidi have been working out together this summer despite both traveling around to different places. They meet daily via FaceTime and exercise for 30 minutes or so IN THEIR CLOSETS! She has posted some of their workouts in her IG stories and I have been so inspired by this. I think this is such a fun idea and a great means for accountability. Now I’ve just got to find a friend to commit to this with me!
There are so many hobbies you could pair up with long distance friends and do together.
My friend Kristin and I have been bonding over each starting a blog this summer. We decided to set time aside to brainstorm together. We meet by phone or FaceTime and set small actionable goals for ourselves with each other’s input. Then we text back and forth to check in on our progress and to encourage each other.
Another idea is to meal plan together. Perhaps try swapping recipes and shopping lists for 1-2 meals a week. Or maybe you plan one week and share it, then vice versa. This is an excellent way to generate new recipe ideas, break up the monotony of cooking the same ole same ole, and shake things up a bit.
“It is love and friendship, the sanctity and celebration of our relationships, that not only support a good life, but create one. Through friendships, we spark and inspire one another’s ambitions.”
7. Send snail mail
Nothing makes me feel more loved by a friend than to receive snail mail. There is something behind the care and attention put into writing a card or letter that is missing in today’s “instant” messages. I believe it is becoming a lost art and I want to do my part to continue to honor and protect the hand-written letter. I’m not trying to take away from the value of a text or social media message, but it takes more effort to sit down, find a card or some stationery, and write a note to a friend.
8. Plan a trip to meet in the middle
This one may not be reasonable depending on circumstances. But if you can find a way to make it possible and find a friend willing to adventure along with you, it can be so much fun. Perhaps this is a trip with just you and your friends, like my spontaneous trip to Nashville earlier this summer. Or maybe it includes your kiddos too! The bonding that happens when you travel together, especially when kids tag along, is priceless.
9. Celebrate successes
“Anybody can sympathize with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathize with a friend’s success.”
– Oscar Wilde
In my experience, friendships often feel most deeply connected during hard times. We reach out more consistently to our friends when we know they are struggling. Making time to voice our support and concern. These things are not rocket science. It’s what we do.
But the need to show up for our friends extends deeply into successes as well. My friend Ryan is awesome at this. She is so good at celebrating successes with me that she is one of the first people I want to call with good news. I love that she makes me feel supported and lifts me up this way. I believe that large and small accomplishments are best celebrated amongst friends.
Finally got the baby to slept through the night? Ran a mile (or made it to the gym for the first time in forever?!)! Got a compliment from the boss or maybe even your mother-in-law? Landed a book deal? Got a promotion? Finished a book you’ve been trying to get through? Started a blog? These moments are opportunities to share happiness, cheer each other on, and acknowledge our hard work and efforts. Everybody can benefit from an enthusiastic cheering section!
10. Acknowledge efforts / Be vulnerable
It is not surprising that when we are separated by distance, other gaps may begin to show up in our friendships as well. As we move through our day-to-day lives, other priorities may consume our time and energy once reserved for those friends. Spouses, children, work commitments, even new friendships may take precedent over our long distance ones. Sometimes this leads to the efforts of long distance friendships feeling unequal.
Being mindful of each other’s efforts is so important. If you try and try to reach out but your energy to connect is not reciprocated, you may feel discouraged and resentful. This is where acknowledging efforts and being vulnerable can help. Validating the efforts of each other by acknowledgment goes a long way. Be sure to say “It means so much that you’ve been so good at trying to keep in touch. Our friendship is important to me.” If you aren’t able to return the effort for whatever reason at the present time, make sure to communicate that honestly. And make sure you don’t leave your friend hanging once you do have the opportunity to reach out with more effort.
We also have to be willing to be vulnerable with each other.
It’s a level of authenticity in a friendship that represents being comfortable together and a deep trust. Being able to find the courage to say, “my feelings are kind of hurt that you rarely call me any more.” Or maybe the courage to acknowledge that you feel like you’ve been a crappy friend and you want to be better. Admitting that sometimes you feel like a hot mess, that you don’t have it all together, and that you are human keeps your friendships authentic. When we are vulnerable together, we become more relatable. We all want to feel acknowledged, loved, and understood.
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A long-distance friendship can be one of the strongest relationships you’ll ever have in your life. So many aspects of our lives focus on ways make things easier. But there’s no way around the effort it takes to cultivate long distance friendships. If you don’t put that effort in, the relationship won’t last. A long distance friendship requires being deliberate to stay connected. Being intentional about how to do that is what makes it meaningful.
“I think if I’ve learned anything about friendship, it’s to hang in, stay connected, fight for them, and let them fight for you. Don’t walk away, don’t be distracted, don’t be too busy or tired, don’t take them for granted. Friends are part of the glue that holds life and faith together. Powerful stuff.”
― Jon Katz
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How do you and your friends stay connected across long distances? Do you think any of these tips can help you cultivate those friends further?