My friends are like good hair days: I have few, and they’re very far between.
Seven years ago, my roommate packed up everything she owned and moved across the country, becoming my first long-distance friend. Since then, my pals have scattered to every nook and cranny of the country, and then some.
It’s a good week if I get an hour to chat with one of them, coordinating our rotations with each other’s separate network of long-distance friends. It’s quite the web, and it keeps me supported and feeling loved beyond my wildest dreams. If you’ve ever had the gift of maintaining a long-distance friendship, there’s not much else like it in this world, both in challenges and rewards.
“I opt for phone calls when they work, texting when that works better, and the occasional (and fail-proof) meme tag.”
There’s the standard advice of scheduling a weekly phone date, reading books and streaming shows together, and, of course, making in-person meetings happen as much as possible. But I’m not one for forcing obligations, my read/watch list is abysmal, and I don’t always have the time or money to see my girlfriends. Bad excuses, yes, but excuses nonetheless.
So, I opt for phone calls when they work, texting when that works better, and the occasional (and fail-proof) meme tag.
Beyond just routine maintenance, these past couple years have brought my closest friends some of life’s deepest struggles and tragedies—and I wasn’t able to be there for them. I could fill an ocean with the tears I wish they could have cried on my shoulder, but instead settled for long phone calls and Skype dates where we hashed out grief and made bad jokes with each other.
So instead of telling you to write letters and send surprise Starbucks gift cards (actually you should), here’s how I’ve been keeping my friends close to my heart, especially when I can’t visit them during their most difficult days.
Create a shared language.
I have a code word with a friend that says “I’m okay even though I sound like I’m not,” which is helpful if we’re talking after a tiring day. We also explicitly tell one another when we need a solution to a problem, or just a loving listener. Tell the truth when you’re tired, when you’re angry, when you’re sad (especially when you’re sad), and when you’re the happiest you’ve ever been. Remind your friends clearly and often to reach out whenever they need you most, day or night.
Share laughter in the face of challenges.
Humor lights my way in times of grief, and I’ve found that it does for many of my friends, too. Send inside jokes, memes, stupid faces you make. If Instagram is our highlight reel, send your best friends your bloopers to remind them that you trust and miss them. Since I can’t always be there to cry with my friends, I can at least be on the other line to share a therapeutic laugh with them as we process the aftermath of tragedy. A little laughter, in my experience, helps to lighten the load.
Celebrate the little things as much as the big ones.
I’m a bit forgetful when it comes to friendships, so I’ll admit: as soon as I’m done with a call, I set reminders on my phone to text my friends on first days of work, presentations, tests, anniversaries, etc. Set early reminders about birthdays if you’re sending a gift or card (I have never once sent anything on time). Beyond that, make an effort to remember their friend’s names—I always feel loved and heard when my friends remember names, and it warms my heart when I know my faraway buddies have a local support network of their own.
Nurture space for them in your daily life—and in your heart.
Think about them, worry about them, celebrate them often, even if they don’t know you’re doing it. Name them in your stories and in daily conversation. My coworkers know the names of my friends and stories about my adventures with them, and I know some of theirs. Carry your friendship with you wherever you go, no matter how far away they are physically from you. Because chances are, your friend is doing the same with you.
And most importantly, tell your friend that you love her.
With each passing year, I become more generous in telling people I love them. 10/10 times, the person breathes a sigh of appreciation and returns the love. It cracks open a beautiful new chapter of friendship. Tell your friend that she’s the sister you’ve never had, tell her that without her love, you might not be where you’re at today. I sometimes remind my friends how much I didn’t know I needed them until they arrived in my life, and should probably do it more often. If you deeply appreciate someone’s very existence, tell them—it’s the most important thing you can ever say.