Out of sight doesn’t have to mean out of mind.
Our friends often know us better than anyone else, and it is their support that gets us through some of the toughest times in our lives. If you’ve managed to keep up your connections from childhood or college, you’ve likely experienced how difficult it can be to stay close with old friends as life takes us in different directions for our jobs, marriages, or family commitments — but many of us have found ways to maintain our friendships through it all.
New forms of technology have made it much easier to keep in touch, and research shows that utilizing certain forms of social media, like WhatsApp, can help us feel less lonely and more connected to the people we care about. But there are certainly more ways to engage with our faraway friends, as members of the Thrive community shared with us. Check out the strategies they’ve used to maintain strong long-distance friendships over the years.
Leverage social media for good…
“I’ve moved several times throughout my life, so keeping in touch with long-distance friends has become the norm. I belong to several Facebook groups (dating all the way back to grade school) in which group discussions about memorable moments often lead to private messages, too. When Google prompts me with photos of fun moments, I sometimes send the pic to a friend with a note. Social media can be a great tool for keeping old friendships alive — but I keep in touch with close friends with emails and the periodic phone call and visit, too. There’s nothing like the human touch.”
—Nancy A. Shenker, marketing consultant and writer, Scottsdale, AZ
…but communicate outside of it, too!
“Although I live on the East Coast and most of my childhood friends are on the West Coast, we still have managed to stay connected beyond social media. We exchange birthday cards (real cards that you send in the mail!), leverage times when we’re traveling to the same cities to grab a drink or coffee, plan annual visits, and share our thoughts, opinions, and life events via text messages or other private messaging. It takes a little effort, but there is nothing like picking up right where you left off with a long-distance friend, and not having to explain yourself. I wouldn’t trade those relationships for the world.”
—Tracy Burns, CEO, Boston, MA
Keep each other posted on your day-to-day happenings
“Many of my most important friendships are now long-distance friendships. Planning weekly calls around different time zones, our children, and our work schedules has become nearly impossible. So, we constantly update each other on our WhatsApp group chat, sharing pictures and videos from our day-to-day lives. No matter where we travel, we make sure to send each other a postcard with a handwritten note saying ‘Wish you were here!’ Long-distance friendships are made easier with technology, but they don’t always need to be on the digital space! It’s the little things that count.”
—Erandi Palihakkara, digital marketing manager, Savannah, GA
Recommend favorites to each other
“I’ve lived, studied, and worked in nine different countries now, so naturally I have made myself an international network of friends. In fact, my closest friends live in other countries. Technology is extremely helpful for keeping in touch — we use email, Twitter, Facebook, and whatever messaging apps are used in specific countries like Kakao Talk in Korea and We Chat in China. This has made staying in touch very easy. We send each other links to things we find funny, interesting, horrible, or even sad, simply to have something to discuss. We recommend music, TV shows, books, and movies as well, and talk about then after we’ve listened, seen, or read the suggestions.”
—Melvin Sanicas, physician-scientist, Zurich, Switzerland
“Sit down” together — even if you’re miles apart
“Many of my friends and I worked in the hospitality industry, and are now scattered all over the globe. We make a point to Skype at least every few weeks to maintain our connections and stay fluent in the languages we know, both native and acquired. We began with phone calls and letters, but as we all relocated to other countries, the internet proved a better option, giving us the ability to sit down over coffee or cocktails and catch up face-to-face. It keeps our friendships warm, interactive, and current, as they were when we all lived in the same city.”
—Jo-Anna Silver-Sparta, communications connector, Berlin/Cannes/New York
Lean on each other’s support
“I live overseas and my friends live in America. I try to send snail mail cards in addition to texts and FaceTime calls. I’ve made goals to take holidays with some of them, too. Most of all, I try to contact friends with daily calls or texts. We don’t have to talk long, but it is these frequent and short conversations that keep friendships fresh. During a recent difficulty, I called upon my friends’ wisdom, humor, and support, and feel so grateful to have a tribe that’s international.”
—Tricia Wolanin, Psy.D., clinical psychologist, Mildenhall, U.K.
Carve out time to meet in person
“My best friends of 42 years and counting have always managed to stay connected even though we live in different parts of the world: U.S., Turkey, U.K., and Austria. We never lost touch, even in the days when we did not have technology. We called each other during our biggest milestones as well as our darkest moments to vent and hear each other out. Now that our children are grown, we make sure we meet somewhere in the world every year. The three or four days we spend together strengthens our relationships even more. It also helps that we share common values and make an effort to be nonjudgmental and trusting.”
—Brooke Ozlem Erol, speaker, author, and consultant, San Diego, CA
Share your ‘non-Instagrammable’ moments
“I am fortunate enough to have friendships in which we can go a year without seeing each other and still pick up where we left off. The secret? We can call each other at 2 a.m. when we need to talk. We know each other well enough that we don’t waste time on small talk. We send each other snail mail or flowers when we need to remind one another that it’s been too long. The important thing is that I call when something major is happening. And they do the same! For example, I know when my friends’ kids are struggling in school because they don’t put on a front. They just straight up tell me their non-Instagrammable story of the week… no fuss.”
—Michaell Johnson, blogger and photographer, Los Angeles, CA
Share humorous and relevant content
“Many of my closest friends now reside in different parts of the world. We keep in touch by constantly sharing information and knowledge based on our common or relevant interests. Right now, our kids bind us together, so we share our best practices, provide much-needed emotional support and a little push to do things better, and lots of other lighthearted things to keep the wheel spinning. Sometimes it becomes a challenge to stay connected; however now we are programmed to start where we left off. That’s what great bonds are about, isn’t it?”
—Aakriti Agarwal, coach, facilitator and image consultant, Hyderabad, India
Stick to a catch-up schedule
“Schedule it! I schedule my catching-up phone calls or Skypes just like I do with anything else that’s important, like a work or client meeting. We decide whether we need 30 minutes, an hour, or longer and plan accordingly. While we’re on that call, nothing else is going on. No dishes, or folding clothes or distraction — it’s just us and our conversation. Nurturing your friendships — long-distance or not — requires planning and dedication, so schedule it in.”
—GiGi Diaz, entrepreneur and radio personality, Miami, FL
Plan a friendship-nurturing getaway
“For over 15 years now, five high school girlfriends and I make the effort to meet for ‘Chick Weekend’ at the beach. No matter how busy we are, we flush out the dates early, mark our calendars, and keep the commitment. We are all busy professionals, but it’s such a soul-nurturing trip that none of us would ever dare to miss it. We lost one ‘chick’ for part of one weekend due to her winning an Emmy, but other than that single extraordinary diversion, we are all wildly devoted to our love-filled ‘Chick Weekend’ adventures.”
—Bridget Fonger, author, Los Angeles, CA
Invest in each other
“My closest friends are family to me and we’ve known each other for 20 years! What’s really helped to solidify our relationships is making it a point to see each other at least once or twice a year, at minimum. We often schedule the trip around events happening in one of our cities. Over time, we have been in each other’s weddings and one of my best friends was there for the birth of both of my children (that’s a 10-hour drive down and back!) We will be getting together again next month and this time, with each of our families for the first time in five years. It costs me time, money, and energy to keep in touch, but it’s simply a priceless investment, especially when friends have stood the test of time make that investment, too.”
—Josh Neuer, licensed professional counselor, Greenville, SC
Make an effort, not excuses
“It was a beautiful September morning when I mistakenly came across a friend’s obituary. In the busyness of life, I had allowed myself to lose touch with him. Suddenly, what I was doing seemed less important. I was devastated. I don’t have a special strategy for keeping lasting friendships — I simply make an effort instead of excuses. I make the call, text, or commit to seeing friends. The effort doesn’t seem like an imposition anymore, now that I’ve learned that friendships are one of the most precious treasures of life. I want to do everything to honor, nurture, and appreciate each friend for the unique and special joy they bring me.”