I’ve maintained a lot of long-distance friendships in my life, with eight of my best friends currently living outside of the country. From Denmark to Seattle, Oxford to Pennsylvania, the people I love are scattered across the map. I don’t joke when I tell people that I know time zones like most know times tables.
Over the years I read a lot of articles on how to maintain these relationships and, as someone who is pretty experienced in the long-distance game, I can say with unwavering confidence that most of them are full of shit. After recently reading an article that claimed weekly Skype calls and matching heart tattoos were the keys to a lasting overseas BFF, I was done. ‘Oh dear god,’ I thought to myself as I calmly exited the website, ‘someone has got to get real with people’. So, this is me, ‘getting real’ with you.
I was seventeen when my three best (and at the time, only) friends all moved to the US and left me with the realisation that while I knew a lot about friendship, long distance was a totally different game. Looking back it’s funny how much attention is put on long distance couples, while friends in separate cities are left to figure it out through a whole lot of trial and error. Many don’t survive and drift their separate ways, but when they survive, you can bet they become some of the most solid and fulfilling people in your life.
Let’s start by stating the obvious yet overwhelmingly ignored truth; long distance is a pain in the ass. No one in their right mind would choose the early mornings and late nights, the feeling desperate when they never reply, or guilty when you don’t. There, we’re off to a good start, the truth is pessimistic, but it’s out there; we’re getting real, remember?
Life doesn’t care about your Skype date
Time and time again you’ll be advised that the key to long distance is scheduling contact, whether it’s a weekly Skype call, daily text message or whatever. There seems to be this big focus on consistency and, I know, when you’re hugging your best friend goodbye at the airport and swearing you'll talk every week, you really honestly think that you will. But you won’t. Not because you are bad friends, but because life doesn’t give a damn and is going to keep on going, with its short deadlines and long days. So the real key lies in setting realistic expectations. Take whatever you think you’ll manage and pull it back a step. Instead of promising to call every week, go for monthly. Schedule it in the calendar or don’t be afraid to leave it unscheduled for whenever your free time collides.
It survives the silence — I promise
Last week I caught up with my best friend for a coffee and after giving him a tight hug I casually asked what he’d been up to. We both broke into laughter, not because the question was particularly funny but because after a year of not being in the same country, or speaking, he had a lot to catch me up on. While it’s an extreme example, it’s one that reminds me how friendships aren’t nearly as fragile as we make them out to be. Days can easily turn into weeks and while it’s vital for a couple to stay in contact, separated friends play by different rules. Surviving silence isn’t the sign of a doomed friendship, it’s a sign of strength.
Treat them like snowflakes
That being said, it’s key to know that no two long-distance friendships are going to look or feel the exact same. Partly this will be because of the form of communication you both vibe with but also the friendship that you have. Consistent weekly emails with my childhood friend are going to look totally different to the monthly Facebook message updates with my college friend or Skype calls with my sister. The moment I went with these differences instead of trying to find a ‘one size fits all’ approach, the better it was. Just the same as any other friendship, they’re all snowflakes of individuality, roll with it and find what works best for each person.
Facebook > Facetime
Arguably one of the hardest things about overseas friends is the missing of the ‘little things’. They miss hearing about your terrible job interview or cute shop clerk who called you ma’am. They miss your review of that latest film or talking you through pre-date nerves. Instead, your conversations are reduced to big moments compressed into short sound bites swapped during rushed calls. The fix for this? Facebook voice messenger. It’s not an exaggeration to say that at least two of my friendships are kept alive through the magic that is voice recordings. See, the truth is that calling a friend isn’t always as simple as aligning time zones and schedules; you have to match headspaces as well. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there are times I have nothing on, but opt out of calling a friend because I’m just too overwhelmed or exhausted. See, with Facebook’s recording feature, you’re able to send updates about those ‘little things’ despite time differences, while still retaining that ‘having a chat’ feeling. No lie, it was pretty awkward at first, but now there is nothing better than waking up to a bunch of recordings I get to listen to throughout the day.
There will be days
There will be days when it all feels just so pointless. You’ll see the little green circle beside their name and sure enough, moments later, a message will blink up onto the screen. “Hey! You free for a chat?” You’ll want to, but it’s 10.37pm and it’s been so long since you talked. The weeks of life stack up to this insurmountable pile of happenings that you can’t quite muster the energy to rehash. These will be the days when it feels like nothing but hard, the days when you’re tired of the calls and emails and space between, days when you’d kill for them to just be around, not even talking just sitting side by side. To that, I say, remember that there will also be the days when it is so bloody worth it. Days when you just sit on the phone for an hour rambling about life, days you wake up to 10 minutes of voice recordings after their big exam and days when they tell you they’re flying home for the holidays. These are the days you hold on for.