How To Make A Long-Distance Friendship Work
One of the most intoxicating things about friendship, in its initial stages, is proximity. The friends we fall in love with as children, at school, at university and even at work grow every time we are physically in their presence, pheromones, eye contact and all. Remember what it felt like to link arms with your best friend between classes at high school, to play with their hair, to choreograph dance routines to “Mambo No. 5”. So much of our early friendships are about physical contact. We’re evolutionarily designed to seek out human touch; we are social animals who, like chimps, get a chemical rush from touching one another. Every time we snuggle a friend, we get a sweet little dose of oxytocin, the calmest of the hormones. Being close to the people we adore is a comfort and a joy.
When we become proper grown adult human beings, friendship still thrives on the act of being physically close to someone: wedged into a booth at a restaurant for wine and tapas, side by side on a walk through the park, only ever the length of a brunch-laden table away. There is tremendous comfort in the reliability of proximity, in knowing that someone can be physically by your side in the time it takes to text, drop everything and get the Tube.
So it can be a rude old shock when a beloved friend moves away, putting miles and possibly a trip into the sky between you. All of a sudden, you have to find comfort in something other than the warmth of someone physically standing by you. All of a sudden, you can’t drop by with snacks to watch Set It Up on a Thursday night just when you need it. All of a sudden, you need an urgent lifeline set up between you in the form of WhatsApp emoji, handwritten cards and patchy Skype calls.
It’s heartbreaking, at first, but it’s entirely possible to maintain a long-distance friendship. Trust me, I know this. Three years ago, I moved 12,500km from Sydney to London. My closest friends in the world lived in Melbourne, Sydney, New York, LA and New Orleans. I became so painfully aware of how much these friends meant to me that I ended up writing a book about the importance of friendship and why we need to protect it at all costs (it’s called The Friendship Cure). I’ve spoken to lots of people about how they manage their long-distance loves – strangers from the internet, psychotherapists and friends of my own. Here are some tried and tested strategies for making a friendship work when you’ve got miles and miles of road between you. Every friendship has its own rhythms, its own language, its own heart – so find what works for you, your friend, your Wi-Fi connection, your budget, your schedule and your life.
Hear their voice
WhatsApp is a gift bestowed upon us by the gods of free, easy communication. Use it wisely, use it well. Have a designated WhatsApp thread between you and your friend and one for your broader group of friends, so that everyone can get in on the long-distance action. I don’t know if you’ve heard but people are big-time into voice memos at the moment. Recording a little voice note for your mates is like leaving a message on their voicemail without the agony of having to call and actually leave a voicemail. It’s surprisingly moving to actually hear the voice of the person you miss hanging out with in person. It doesn’t have to be profound or special every time; just pick up your phone, hit record and natter on like you might if you were lounging around in your pyjamas on the couch. The sound of your friend’s laughter can be the most healing, joyous thing possible on a bad day. Scrap that: any day.
Get a look at their face
Sometimes you don’t realise how much you miss someone until you see their little face beaming up at you from a FaceTime call. God invented FaceTime and Skype so that we could all gawk at each other’s faces lovingly while we gossip. My friend Kelly, who lives in Boston now, introduced me to her baby by FaceTime and I watched him stand up by himself for the first time the other night. I, in turn, put my dog’s face up to the phone so she can see how squidgy he is. We talk to each other’s partners, get tours of each other’s rooms and get that familiar sight of our mate hanging out at home in their trackies and a hoodie. It’s glorious, do it as regularly as you can fit in, even if it’s for a few moments.
Write love notes
Our truest friends can be the great loves of our lives. There’s no reason not to treat a long-distance friendship like a romantic love affair you have to have from afar. Get old-fashioned, pick up a pen and write down how much they mean to you in letters and novelty cards (I have one that says “you are the butter on my popcorn”). You can say all sorts of things in writing that sometimes go unsaid in conversation. Don’t wait until their birthday to send them a soppy message, do it just because.
Go on a buddy holiday
If this is at all financially feasible, meet somewhere you’ve always wanted to go and have a friends-only getaway, preferably somewhere tropical or Mediterranean. I’ve heard tales of limoncello-soaked days in Cinque Terre in Italy, long train journeys through France and warm nights spent putting the world to rights over wine in Portugal. My friends and I all met on a Greek island for 10 days last year. It was the first time we’d all been in the same place in more than five years and it was the most wonderful holiday of all time.
Declare love as often as possible
Declarations of love somehow shrink the distance between you and a friend, even if just a little. When you don’t have the benefit of proximity, you have to work a little harder to remind the other person that they matter. So be vocal with your long-distance buddy, tell them how much they mean to you as often as you can bear it. Say “love you” by text, tell them it’s a joy to see their face by FaceTime, leave little proclamations of affection by voice note. Do whatever you can to bolster that friendship with love, to keep it alive across the oceans, to hold onto it through the chaos of everyday life.
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