How to Maintain a Long-Distance Friendship
By Jess Novak
When a close friend moves away, it can feel like you’re going to lose them. But with some careful maintenance, long-distance friendships can be among the most important relationships in your life, and they’re definitely worth the time and energy it takes to keep one going strong. With a little creativity, keeping a close friendship—whether with a school pal or a Bumble BFF match-turned-bestie—after one of you splits town can not only be doable, but also fun and endlessly rewarding.
“In my research, there are three aspects of maintaining a healthy friendship: having consistent, shared experiences; experiencing positive emotions; and allowing for vulnerability,” says friendship expert Shasta Nelson, author of Frientimacy. These can be challenging in a long-distance friendship since we tend to have those positive experiences and allow ourselves to be vulnerable in person. But the following expert-approved ideas can help keep your friendship alive and thriving even when you’re miles apart.
Offer each other little surprises
“Sending a small token gift is a nice way to say ‘I’m thinking of you,'” says psychologist and friendship expert Dr. Irene S. Levine. Show your friend they’re in your thoughts by giving them unexpected treats, like sending them $5 digitally for a cup of coffee, writing a thoughtful email, or mailing a cute present or postcard.
Coordinate special activities
“You have to learn how to focus on the friendship, not the long distance,” says sociologist Dr. Jan Yager, Ph.D., author of When Friendship Hurts. Jager says that it’s important to remember why you became friends in the first place, and choose activities that can help deepen your particular relationship. Sharing in-person activities might seem impossible to pull off when you and your friend live far away from each other, but it’s actually totally doable: for instance, if part of your bond is that you’re both into cooking, try making dinner together over video call. If you love thrifting, go on coordinated thrift store adventures and send pics of outfits you find throughout the day. Or if you just love relaxing and catching up, try getting pedicures at the same time while chatting via text. Doing an activity together makes the conversation even more meaningful.
Keep the conversation current
While reminiscing on old times can be wonderful, if you want your friendship to last it’s important to also talk about what’s going on around you and stay in the present. One way to keep the friendship current is by keeping up with each other’s interests. “If you spot an article that your friend might find interesting, send a link and a comment or two,” says Yager. “Small efforts like this help your friendship grow rather than stagnate.”
Another easy way to keep your conversations current is by watching the same TV series or reading the same book and using it as fodder for conversation, suggests Levine. You can set up a low-key book group schedule to chat it out, or just send texts back and forth as you read. A group chat can be a great place to discuss a favorite podcast, share audio notes, or live-text a TV show, too.
Establish a regular video call…
Having a low-key, weekly check-in is a great way to stay current with your long-distance friends—and can drum up lots of positive emotions, Nelson says, noting that this is one of the most important aspects of maintaining a friendship. She suggests sharing highlights and lowlights of the week, discussing specific decisions you’ve made, or bringing up something you’ve recently found inspiring. This way, you’re not just updating each other about dating, families, or relationships, which can be a pitfall of many long-distance friendships: the conversation becomes all about other people, and can easily turn more into a news report than a meaningful conversation.
…but if you’re not into standing calls, don’t be afraid to reach out spontaneously
A lot of us are afraid of intruding in each other’s life by calling someone on the phone, but Nelson says the key is to intentionally take the pressure off. If your friend doesn’t pick up, text them to let them know you’ll try again in a few days, and to not to feel any pressure to call back. “Tell them, ‘I just wanted you to know that I’m thinking of you,'” she says.
And if you’re someone who tends to pick up the phone when you want to vent, remember that it’s critical to share wins as well as losses. “Be careful about being too negative,” Yager says, noting that while it’s important to talk about what’s bothering you, it’s equally important to avoid turning your long-distance friend into an amateur therapist. Instead, strike a balance by intentionally reaching out when you have good news as well as bad.
Plan a trip together
Taking a trip is an ideal way to reconnect with someone who means a lot to you. “Spending time together helps create shared memories,” says Levine. “And having that unstructured time allows friends to relax and feel closer to one another.” However, it can be even better for your friendship to visit your friend’s new home, Levine says, since you can see what their new life looks like now that you don’t live in the same area.
Remember to check in with each other
When friends live far away from each other, it can be much more difficult to spontaneously spend time together. Their lives may start going in different directions, and this separation can lead to growing pains that can be, well, painful. “The person who ‘left’ may be consumed with the logistics of getting settled in a new place and making new friends,” Levine says. “And the other person may feel like they were left behind. Both friends need to be sensitive to the changes that distance brings about to any friendship.” As the friendship develops in its new setting, the most important thing is to remain open and honest with your friend about any feelings that arise, and be supportive of each other’s opportunities for development and growth.
So whether your bestie is planning a move across the country or you’ve been missing a close friend who moved a few years ago, consider these long distance friendship-building ideas. They’re a great jumping-off point for keeping that relationship going strong, and can help you not only maintain a friendship that matters to you, but also develop new bonds and grow your friendship even further.