People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime,’ the phrase goes but keeping friends for the long haul isn’t always easy. While it’s romantic relationships that often get much of the spotlight, these long-term friendships are some of the most rewarding partnerships to find ourselves in.
With many of us relocating for work, partners or a change of life, often we will struggle to see friends that live in other states, cities or countries. Especially with the global pandemic making socializing and travel that more difficult. Keeping these friendships strong and alive takes time, effort and work. Here’s how to do it:
Make a conscious effort
For friends living geographically apart, it’s important to commit to the friendship and both agree you want to continue making it work. “You need a commitment from both of you to say this is important and how can we keep it alive,” counselor Amelia White explains. Much like in a romantic relationship, friendships need to be nurtured. “In couples therapy, you look at the relationship as the third part of the two of you and consider what the relationship itself needs to thrive. It is the same process for friendships,” she adds.
Acknowledge the friendship is different
If you or your friend has moved away or you are struggling to see each other due to COVID restrictions, accepting and acknowledging that the friendship is going to take a different dynamic is important. Be honest and open with each other about the change and how you would like the friendship to work in this new shape.
Schedule proper catch-ups
Like any relationship, friendships take work. “You can’t expect it to keep going without putting any fuel in. You need to keep the friendship topped up,” White said. If you can’t see your friend in real life, pandemic or no pandemic, you need to make time for them in another way. This could be on the phone or virtually via a platform like a Zoom or Facetime. Just like you might make a date in the diary to grab coffee or dinner, choose a date for the catch-up and stick to it. It could be good to discuss between the both of you what feels like a realistic frequency, for example weekly or monthly depending on your time constraints.
Don’t read too much into written messages
Communicating via text can be a minefield at times and often leads to miscommunication.
“You don’t have the non-verbal cues. Many people jump to conclusions about a message and take it the wrong way when someone is simply getting straight to the point,” psychotherapist Tania Taylor notes. Instead of jumping to assumptions, it’s best to check in with the person and clarify what they mean straight away. This can avoid a build of resentment or negative feelings.
Let people know they are in your thoughts
Regular lighter communication is one way of keeping in contact and feeling close even though you are far. “Don’t be afraid about worrying that you don’t have enough to say. Sending a couple of kisses to let someone know they’re in your thoughts can really help,” Taylor suggests.
White recommends sending photos. “I have a WhatsApp group with friends who don’t live near called the ‘Mindful photo group.’ People post photos from when they are out and about and it helps us all feel connected.”
Don’t rely on social media to tell the whole story
Often when we see people posting regularly on social media we feel like we have caught up on their news or know what is going on in their lives. However, as we know deep down, this isn’t the authentic version of their lives. It’s important to note their behavior offline, not online. “If they are slowly distancing themselves from behind the scenes, that is when you need to pay attention,” Taylor notes. If a friend is noticeably distant, it might be worth reaching out to check in and see if they are OK. Don’t always expect a response but just by letting them know you are there can be very comforting and supportive.
See each other IRL when possible
Making time to see others in real life is hugely important. Of course, during the pandemic, this has been harder, especially for friends living in different states or even countries. However, when we can travel more easily, prioritizing these friends will be important. Making a vacation that involves a trip to see them or even vacationing together can give your friendship some solid quality time it needs.