Long-distance friendships are friendships between two people that live far away from each other, often in different countries.
One of the best things about having friends that live all over the world is that when we are traveling, we can get amazing insider tips on things like attractions and restaurants that only the locals know.
For example, the time I visited India and my friend who happens to be local, showed me around different cities. It was totally different from the typical tourist experience.
Another time, my friend and I realized that we were both in Vietnam on holiday at the same time and were able to meet up and hang out.
Most of us feel that when our friends go long distance, we’re just shit out of luck and that we will eventually drift apart. That assumption isn’t based on just randomness–I bet that many friendships end up that way because of the old adage “out of sight, out of mind”.
We don’t prioritize those tiny things here and there that show we think and care about our friends. For example, instead of writing “happy birthday” on their Facebook wall, send them a private message or even better call them even if it’s just for 60 seconds on the way somewhere.
Anyway, this is not a rant to make us feel guilty but rather a deeper look at what we can do in different situations to make our friendship stronger even if there is some distance between us.
The reality is that we have different seasons of friends when we live abroad. Some become lifelong friends even if we move to another country, while others might be our neighbors but we barely see them. I’ve been living abroad for about seven years at this point and I have both friends that I’m still close with after meeting them abroad almost a decade ago and friends from home that I’m close with after so many years.
I’ve found that friendships tend to become stronger if they last the distance since both parties tend to believe more in them, and that will continue to make them stronger in the future.
Let’s discuss what fucks up a long distance friendship and a few of the techniques I’ve used to maintain great friendships across the distance for many years while living abroad.
What often fucks long distance friendships up
You know that feeling when your friend calls but you are busy with work and so you think to yourself “I’ll call them back later” … then a week or two passes by and you realize you totally forgot about it?
That’s what happens to most of us in our long distance friendships but contrary to what we might expect, I’ve found that that isn’t really what often ruins a long distance friendship. One of the worst things is feeling like we have to be type A and always respond quickly to friends in order to keep things going.
It isn’t realistic but luckily it isn’t necessary either. The bigger problem comes when one doesn’t take initiative as much as the other. It has to be even one way or the other, or it’s doomed. If one changes and moves away from the friendship there isn’t much we can really do except talk to them about it. It is normal that it happens when important life events take place like when one has a child or gets married. It is often a temporary situation but it can turn into a habit over time. Unfortunately, only that person can choose to change it.
We can’t control someone else and so if they go in a different direction and simply don’t want to maintain the friendship, we can’t force them or do anything about it but accept it and work to be ok with it.
The best we can do to mitigate it is reminding ourselves that this is natural and might simply be a season in someone’s life since it changes as the kids grow up and they require less attention than the first few years (and people get better at managing it).
It sucks but the reality is that with this “new” person, the old memories that we are holding on to will never repeat themselves because that friend isn’t like that anymore. It’s hard to accept but we can only control ourselves, not others or the world around us.
It would be weird to have the exact same friendship throughout our entire life because we evolve as human beings and learn new things that we share with each other. For example, we don’t want the same things in our 30s as we did in our 20s. It is in our best interest for it to evolve together rather than staying stagnant.
In the next two chapters, we’ll dive into how I’ve maintained long-distance friendships with friends for many years, and perhaps you’ll find some inspiration for your own friendships.
How I’ve maintained long distance friendships for years effortlessly
Before we are able to hang out in person the next time, we can create traditions of doing things together remotely. They are not meant to replace face-to-face time but work more like a quick check-in. I like to look at these in two categories: short ongoing talks and longer online ‘meetups’ like video calls.
I’ve found that playing video games like wordfeud on our phone, counter-strike on computer or Fifa on playstation can work well as a weekly or monthly hangout session. Another option if you and our friend like the same sport are to create a private league together, like in fantasy football or with stock investing. A book club can also work but usually, they tend to go sour around the second or third book when people realize how much work it is to maintain.
Other alternatives are beer skype or wine tasting where each person brings a certain number of beers and tastes them together. We’ve had fun quizzing about the origins of each one or something else that’s interactive. It brings a fun little twist to catching up so it doesn’t just become the same old stuff of “how are you doing”.
Another cool idea that I have yet to try is competing with each other through running tracking like Joe Rogan’s gang did for sober October. The sports tracking devices sync with each other, and we can create groups or a private league like you know from sport manager games but instead of managing a fantasy team based on weekly results, it’s based on our own workouts.
I’ve also found that having ongoing group chats with some friends works better than having long catch-up calls once in a blue moon since that can feel long-winded (and overwhelming). With group chats, we are able to share our everyday experiences and often just send fun things like “look what just happened”, gifs, etc.
Another trick is to plan a holiday together or what you’ll do once you meet again. It could for example be for yearly events like a lunch around Christmas or whatever you are into.
A systemic approach is the easiest
With close friends, I’ve found that setting a calendar reminder works well whether it is monthly, weekly or whatever. It doesn’t have to always hold up but it’s good that it’s there and it can always be removed or moved around. The same goes for calling our parents.
How not to drift apart in long distance friendships and become even better friends
When we catch up with old friends in person, we tend to do just that–catch up. It feels great to reminisce about the good old days over drinks.
It feels good because we are used to it and it’s easy to slide into, especially in a “new world” where that’s what we know we have in common for sure, whereas we might have both evolved in different directions and so this new part of our lives might not be as similar as it once were.
The challenge is that it becomes a trap to just talk about the old days as it gets boring after a while to talk about the same shit we’ve had fun with a hundred times. It can lead to the friendship slowly dying out as when we have to schedule the next meet-up, we might realize that we’ll have that same conversation we had a million times and it isn’t really as much fun as it once was.
I’ve found that to change that, the key is to start new traditions and make new memories together. That could be going on a tour, visiting a different country together or even something as casual as going fishing if we are both into that. For example, a friend of mine has a standing appointment one week every year, where she meets a particular set of friends and they rent a villa in a foreign country just to have fun. They have it planned out twelve months in advance, so it’s easy for everyone to get time off work.
If you are into crazy TV shows, you might be able to get some ideas from Mad Dogs. There’s a US and UK version, one in Belize and one in Gran Canaria where a group of friends meets up after many years as one friend invites the rest to visit his new amazing house abroad before things take a dark turn…
I find that the best way to make a new friendship out of an old one is in the same way that we make new friends when moving to a new country: by doing activities that both us and the friend enjoy. For me and some of my friends, that is for example:
If both of you have kids, that can also be play dates or holidays.
The best pro-tip I can share is to go visit them in the new place whether that’s a different city or country. They will appreciate it because most people don’t bother and you will build a stronger connection.
You’ll have a better understanding of their everyday life abroad. I totally get that most people can’t just do that but for those who’ve visited me abroad, we tend to have a much stronger connection years later because we have a better understanding of how things are different as both have experienced it on their own bodies so to speak.
- Create a little process for how to stay up to date with each others’ life effortlessly
- Go visit your friend in their new place, they’ll love you for it
- Don’t get stuck reminiscing about the same old stuff, also go make new memories together