After university, my two roomies-turned-best friends moved to opposite sides of the country while I stayed in our hometown. They were my people. And then as life would have it, thousands of kilometres got in the way.
Going from an in-person bond to long distance is like friendship whiplash. If she’s not living within a few km’s, she might as well be on another planet, right? It’s normal to feel out of whack after being physically apart from a bestie. “You no longer have the same commonalities in your day, and may lose naturally occurring catch-up time you always had,” says Andrea Bonior, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Detox Your Thoughts and The Friendship Fix.
Companionship is just easier when you’re in the same place. A quick text, and you’re sharing take-out and a Netflix binge. When this changes, you gotta give your friendship extra TLC to stay close. While it’s kind of like a long-distance relationship, Marisa G. Franco, PhD, psychologist and friendship expert, says there’s also less pressure to be in constant contact. A few months with only a little contact here and there won’t hurt, she says.
Franco says whether you’re long distance or not, a strong friendship foundation rests on four factors: interaction, support, openness, and positivity. “What will change with long-distance friends is the medium in which these behaviours are maintained,” she says. If modern technology has given us anything, it’s many (maybe too many) ways to virtually connect.
With mutual handiwork and those four factors in mind, your long-distance friendship will thrive. Let me tell ya: Time zones are no match for these expert-approved tips.
Ask about her new friends on the regular.
When my trio split, I was jealous that they stayed as close as ever, and my silly brain told me they found their social footing with a snap of their fingers. Thanks, anxiety! Bonior says it’s a normal feeling when you watch someone’s life change from afar.
“Figure out what the feelings are telling you,” she says. Look the green monster in the eye and ask yourself what triggers the icky feels. Does your girl’s Instagram Stories with new pals make you feel like your own friendship is fading? That can remind you how much you miss and value her friendship, so make more of an effort to call. Or maybe her first day at her dream job drums up envy—use that as motivation to jumpstart your own job search or passion project.
If hearing about her new friends makes you feel some type of way, use it as motivation to deepen your connection with your girl and show interest in her new social circle. That way, next time you get to visit her, you’ll already be familiar with them, and hey, you might even come out of the experience with some new pals of your own.
Text her a picture of the good old times—then use it as an excuse to catch up.
Reminiscing can deepen relationships, Franco says. If life gets the best of you (a.k.a. realising that text you meant to reply to was from two months ago) the nostalgia card can rekindle communication. Text an old photo that jogs a hilarious memory, or send a message like, “Hey, (insert memory) made me think of you. I wanted to check-in and see how you’re doing.”
The caveat? The past shouldn’t be the only thing you can talk about. So, when you’re laughing about that date-gone-wrong from a few years back, use that memory to segue into your current dating woes or successes to make the convo current again. Keeping your friendship in the present and updating each other about what you’re going through will help you both invest more in the relationship.
Set up virtual friend dates.
Bonior and Franco suggest making plans that you can both experience, like turning Woolie’s runs into impassioned product recommendations via text. Embrace snail mail, watch a movie via Zoom together, start a mini book club, send celebratory flowers, or try a new hobby and keep your pal updated.
My LDF can attest to my rapid fire texts about my foray into pottery (especially the night I sent a piece flying off the wheel and was embarrassed forever). You know what’s life changing? Setting up a Slack for your friends to chat on the sly at work. Trust.
Tell her about the little things.
“Often in long-distance friendships, things shift because it doesn’t feel ‘worth it’ to update your friend on some new aspect of your life—you don’t want to bother to explain it all,” Bonior says. “But in time, that drives a wedge between you because there is less and less to talk about.” Don’t skip the small stuff because the mundane details about your day can help you stay close and up to speed. Share how you perfected making crispy tofu for dinner last night, the weird story you heard on your commute, or how you’re nervous to lead next week’s meeting. This way, you can refer back to these topics in later chats.
And the bad stuff, too.
Sure, baring your soul is easier post-meditation class or when you’re face-to-face chatting on your pal’s couch, but being open with your LDF helps build the emotional intimacy that makes distance feel a little more bearable. As long as you’re both empathetic and supportive, you have the space to talk through problems or decisions that have you running in circles. Put a happy hour on the Google cal every other month to reserve time to flaunt your authentic selves, have a vent sesh, or whatever you both need. “Don’t just pretend everything is fine,” Franco says. “It’s this type of vulnerability that deepens friendships.”
Accept that your friendship will change.
New chapter, who dis? Friendship evolves, so there’s a good chance you take up a different place in your pal’s life. And you know what? That’s totally okay. From new time zones, priorities, to communication styles, you’ll both have to adjust to a new normal.
“Remember that you need not mimic the exact relationship you had when you lived in closer proximity to each other,” Bonior says. “Be willing to let the friendship grow in new ways by challenging each other and supporting each other in new endeavours.”
This article originally appeared on Women’s Health US.
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