How to Maintain a Long-distance Friendship

With the pandemic raging on in Europe, North America, and other parts of the world, people are increasingly finding themselves frustrated by forced separation from loved ones, family, and friends. In such a scenario, it’s important to find ways to maintain a long-distance friendship with your childhood buddies or even colleagues-turned-friends who are now working from home. Here are some tips to help you navigate a terrain that’s essentially different from being in any kind of geographically close relationship where physical proximity is a given. In a long-distance friendship, you don’t have that advantage, which means you have to find other ways to maintain your long-distance friendship. You can leverage technology for this purpose, but there are also other things you can do to ensure the longevity of your friendships with people who are physically distant.

The Technology Angle

Let’s deal with the low-hanging fruit first. Technology today enables us to virtually be in the same room as someone else a thousand miles away. From Skype to FaceTime to Google Meet to Zoom, there’s no dearth of video conferencing tools to accomplish this. However few of us actively use technology to nurture relationships; rather, we simply look at it as a convenient way of staying in touch. That’s why it’s vitally important that we make a voluntary shift in perspective and look at technology as an enabler, and then be proactive about using it to build on the valuable relationships we share with our friends and family members. Here are some tips around that:

Set Specific Times to Get in Touch

Nothing gets done unless someone takes the first step, and that first step is to use your calendar to set specific video call times with special friends overseas or in another state/city/town. Google allows you to share calendars with others, so use that to coordinate free times so you get to talk at least once a month, if not more often. One added benefit of doing this is that it gives you and the other person time to think about the updates and life’s goings-on that you want to share with each other. A planned call is always better because there’s room to mull over what to say when you’re on the call. It also helps get your thoughts more organized.

Involve People in Group Video Calls

Some people (including yourself) might be more comfortable in a group setting, so provide for that. It can be as little as three people. Remember, group therapy works because it helps people who might not open up in a one-to-one session. Treat your friends with respect and show them that you’re sensitive to their needs. Give them an option so they get to choose whether or not to be part of a particular group. And when you’re on the call, encourage others to speak instead of hogging up all the airtime. That’s important, especially if you’re the talkative kind – let the normally silent ones speak, and actively listen to them so you can ask relevant questions about what’s happening in their lives.

Start a Social Media Group for Specific Circles of Friends

Some people aren’t comfortable with verbal conversation, so make it easy for them to share their thoughts virtually. A closed social media group will allow them to feel safe enough to share their personal thoughts and experiences, yet provide the opportunity to become more close-knit as a group. Do it on whatever platform you’re comfortable with. Each social media app offers slightly different ways of doing this – groups on Facebook, lists on Twitter, and so on. However, all of them have specific privacy settings so you can communicate within a closed group that others can’t access or see.

Use Relationship-focused Gadgets

If you want to strengthen a long-distance friendship, there’s no better way than with a pair of Friendship Lamps. These lamps work on your local Wi-Fi connection wherever you are. One stays with you and one goes to your friend overseas or any distance away. Once they’re set up, if you touch your lamp, your friend’s lamp will immediately light up in a specific pre-chosen color. And it works both ways so they can touch their lamp whenever they think of you. It’s worked for thousands of people separated from their siblings, parents, kids, cousins, friends, lovers, and partners by distance, and it can work for you. You can learn more about Friendship Lamps here or directly order a pair here. There are also touch bracelets and similar products, but make sure you never ever buy a cheap Wi-Fi touch lamp, for these reasons.

The Low-Tech Angle

Aside from the technology angle, there are also other ways to stay in touch and build and maintain a strong long-distance friendship. These tips help you leverage resources that are rarely used anymore or those that require some physical effort on your part. Believe us, they’re worth the results they’ll bring in the form of being able to build and maintain strong long-distance friendships with those closest to you.

The Art of Letter-writing

Remember the term “pen pal”? That’s from before the days of electronic mail when you had to write a physical letter to a friend overseas and mail it in, and they would then write back to you in an ongoing back-and-forth conversation.

You can revive that old classic by starting a letter-writing group with your friends, and there’s a very important reason to do this. In the modern age of instant gratification where everything is expected to be “one-hour”, “30-minutes or your money back”, and “same day”, we’ve lost the thrill of delayed gratification. Information is available at the speed of Google Search, communication happens at the speed of Zoom, and even consumer items can be shipped to our homes in as little as an hour.

In such an environment, it’s refreshing to have to wait for something so you can savor it when you finally get it – like a posted letter from your friend in another state or country.

The Original FaceTime

Another great low-tech approach to maintaining a long-distance friendship is the occasional surprise visit. Imagine the look on your friend’s face when they see you standing at their doorstep. Isn’t that more exciting than seeing the Amazon delivery guy? For this, you’ll need to plan ahead and surreptitiously figure out the right time to surprise them. You don’t want to land up at their apartment or house when they’re on holiday, obviously, but it also helps if you know their daily schedule so you’ll catch them at the best time possible – preferably when they’re in the shower with soap in their eyes!

Gifting

Buying presents for long-distance friends is another way to keep that connection strong. Everybody loves receiving gifts from their friends, so anything you send will be more than welcome. However, do spend some time in researching your options based on their likes and dislikes. The Friendship Lamps we spoke about earlier are perfect gifts. All you have to do is order one for yourself and another with their address in the shipping section. When you get yours, you can call them up and set up the lamps together. Other possible gift ideas include gag gifts, sensory gifts, utility gifts, and so on.

Do or Get Something for their Family Back Home

If your long-distance friendship goes back several years, you probably know of family members living in your vicinity. For instance, if your friend is in a military station overseas, you can visit with their spouse or parents back home. You can also consider inviting them over for dinner at your place or at a restaurant. This will allow you to reminisce about your friend with people who know her or him better than you. Another great idea is to set up a video call between the two of them in case they don’t do it regularly or their parents back home aren’t tech-savvy. Anything you do for the family or loved ones of a friend who’s far away is worth its weight in gold. You have no idea how that can strengthen a relationship.

Some Thoughts on Far-away Friends

As we go through life, we tend to leave old friends by the wayside and only focus on keeping the ones that can do something for us. While this is the way most of us do it, there’s something wrong with it. That’s because your the friends from your childhood and young adulthood are still valuable – if you get the time to reconnect and stay in touch with them. Some people do this naturally while others have to work at it. Whatever your situation, you’ll find that it’s definitely worth that extra effort.

Social media today makes it possible to reconnect with ‘friends from our babyhood’, in a manner of speaking. It’s not only good for our mental well-being to connect with those long-forgotten but also from a holistic health perspective. Reliving old memories, especially the good ones, can be quite a refreshing experience that’s good for the body, mind, and soul.

Another advantage of ‘having friends in all places’ is that, when you travel, you’ll always have someone to reach out to in an otherwise unfamiliar place. What’s more, it might even entice you to plan trips to places you’ve never been before – just because you have a friend living there. This will enrich your life experience in more ways than you can imagine right now.

Yet another benefit of reaching out to those living far away but close to you mentally is that you get to open up about your life. Talking about your life and what’s going on can be extremely therapeutic. Ever wonder why people with real friends are often the happiest around? It’s no coincidence. Having a lot of friends is one of the signs of overall well-being. But even if you can count them on the fingers of one hand, you can be sure that they’re a big part of your wellness in the long run.

What is a Friend?

Believe it or not, most people often confuse a friend with someone who is simply a little more than a casual acquaintance. But that’s not what a friend is. In order to qualify for the esteemed but oft-misused title of ‘a friend’, a person – and their relationship with you – must have the following characteristics:

  • Have they got your back?

Does the person stand by you no matter what? Have you ever been in a situation where that person has gotten you out of a jam, no matter how small or big? Did they lend you money when you were down on your luck? Did they call or visit when your dad passed away? Have they shared their personal moments with you in order to help you through your own difficult times? That’s what a friend does, and if you know a person who hasn’t done any of these things, they might not be your friend.

  • Do they have at least a few things in common with you?

Oftentimes, we mistake someone for a friend because we shared one experience. Don’t get me wrong, you might end up being friends one day, but does one shared commonality make a friendship? I posit that it does not. Friends needs to have more than just one or two things in common. In rare cases, you may have a close friend who’s diagonally opposite to you. This is often true of lovers and married couples. On the surface, they appear to be polar opposites. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll see that the relationship is based on some very deep connections that brought them together in the first place.

  • Are they available for you?

I don’t mean “will they drop everything and come to your aid?”, but I do mean “will they prioritize your needs, at least over their less-urgent tasks?” Are they willing to listen when you need to get something off your chest or are they constantly trying to find a way out of an uncomfortable situation? Are they will to share their own troubles and take your advice, or at least give it an ear? These are indicators that they are your friend. If not, you might just be on their ‘network list’ for their own benefit.

A few other things to consider are:

  • Are they always honest with you?

  • Do they accept you for who you are rather than constantly criticizing or trying to change you?

  • Do they leave you by the wayside when things go wrong?

Answering these questions is like a ‘friendship filter’ that will weed out the good ones from the bad. So many times, we’re stuck with friends who aren’t really friends at all. Doing this Q and A exercise with yourself will bring a tremendous amount of clarity to the state of your relationship. But never forget – anyone in your circle of influence can become a lifelong friend, so keep digging and you’ll find the diamonds in the coal.

For more tips on long-distance friendships, check out this article: Long-distance Friendship: 21 Ways to Re-connect and Stay Connected

And don’t forget to take a closer look at our Friendship Lamps!

Long-distance Friendship: 21 Ways to Re-Connect and Stay Connected

Everyone has a friend in another town, out of state, or overseas – friends from your childhood days, college buddies, colleagues you were close to in another job, etc. Although social media has allowed us to connect with old friends in every part of the world, that doesn’t give you a deep enough connection. Of course, it helps you keep tabs on what they’re up to and so on, but most people tend not to share personal stuff on social media. They only put the good stuff out there for the world to see, not their real selves. So, how do you start getting connected to long-distance friends? And how do you stay connected and make sure the years don’t slip away without enjoying the benefits these valuable life-long relationships can bring you? Here are 21 ways to connect with long-distance friends and ensure that you stay connected for several years.

#1 – Social Media

Despite what I said about social media, it is a fantastic tool to search for and connect to long-lost long-distance friends over the Internet. Sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are great for finding old friends anew. Older millennials are able to appreciate the value of this because, even though they grew up with the Internet during their teen years, social media didn’t come along until the end of the 20th century with apps like SixDegrees, BlackPlanet, Migente, and others. But it wasn’t until Facebook launched in 2004 and then opened to the public in 2006 that social media finally went mainstream.

history of social media

Social media is a great way to get in touch with people across the world that you haven’t seen for years. Sadly, although extensive communication tools accompany most social media platforms, it doesn’t allow you to get really personal. Nevertheless, it’s a good way to get connected to long-distance friends.

#2 – Instant Messaging

Messaging apps are actually far more popular than social media platforms, mostly because that’s what we need from social media, anyway. Most people just want to keep in touch with a quick message rather than make a call or put up a post on social media. IM is much faster, and most platforms offer end-to-end encryption for total security and privacy.

#3 – Electronic Mail

Email is a great way to say more than just a couple of lines. Penning your thoughts on email is a great way to keep your friends informed on what’s going on in your life. You can attach videos, photos, and other media to enrich the experience as well. Much of the younger generation thinks that email is outdated, but it is still the best medium for long-form communication that includes multimedia capabilities. Moreover, creating a group ID with multiple emails means you can just type in one ID in the To field and reach several people at a time – a great resource for a group of friends spread out across the country or the world.

#4 – Voice and Video Chat

Voice and video chat now comes integrated with most social media platforms. Whether you prefer Messenger, WhatsApp, Duo, Hangouts, or any other platform, voice and video chat is a great way to connect with a group of friends or on a one-to-one level. This wasn’t true a few years ago when data speeds were too slow to handle real-time video communication. Imagine Skyping someone with an old dial-up connection!

#5 – Voice Memos

Like instant messaging, voice memos are great for short messages, but in your own voice rather than text. Most platforms now have voice messaging options built-in. Instead of typing out your message, why not record yourself speaking? It’s a lot more personal and it will convey a far more accurate version of what you want to say because of the voice intonations and other subtle communication cues.

#6 – Virtual Collaboration

There are several platforms on which you can do things with long-distance friends either as a group or just one-on-one. For example, there are even platforms like Rabb.it that allow you to watch Prime or Netflix movies together from different locations. There are also other options like virtual gaming, virtual book-reading, etc. that you can enjoy as a shared experience.

#7 – Cloud Calendars

Online calendars are great in more ways than one. You can mark dates that are special to your friends, such as birthdays, religious festivals, anniversaries, and so on. You can also share calendars with one or more friends so you’re all on the same page. It’s a great way to stay connected with long-distance friends, especially when our lives are so hectic and there are literally dozens of distractions every day.

#8 – Pick Up the Phone!

The smartphone today is rarely used for what it was originally intended – as a device to make and receive calls. The devices we use are now handheld computers with calling capabilities. In fact, I think we shouldn’t even call them smartphones anymore. Nevertheless, they are a useful tool to stay in touch with friends from afar. Curate your friend list on your phone and put them on speed dial so you can have quick 10-minute conversations when you’re stuck in traffic or commuting to work in public transportation.

#9 – Master the Art of Gifting

If you and your long-distance friends are living in different countries, a good way to stay connected is to send each other care packages with local goodies and delicacies. You don’t have to spend too much money because it’s the thought that counts. There’s a lot you can do with the concept of gifting if you really think about it.

#10 – Connective Technology

Friendship Lamps. If you’ve never heard of them, they’re a pair of lightweight lamps that connect to the local Wi-Fi in different locations and are then hooked up to a single Group ID. You set it up in a way that if one of the lamps is touched on the sensor plate at the top, the other lamp will light up in a particular color no matter where in the world it is. Since they each use their respective Wi-Fi connections to communicate over the Internet, the two lamps can be in adjacent rooms or on different continents!

long-distance friendship lamps

The best part is that you can add as many Friendship Lamps to the Group ID as you want, without limits. So, if you have 10 friends spread out across the world, each of you can have one and they can all be hooked up to the same Group ID. If one of the lamps is touched, every other lamp lights up in the same pre-chosen color so you’ll know exactly who’s thinking of you. It’s great for long-distance friends, long-distance couples, and even family members separated by distance. A word of warning, though: beware of cheap long-distance friendship lamps and knock-offs.

#10 – Plan an Annual Trip Together

A great way to connect with long-distance friends is to plan a special holiday in a new location each year. That way, each of you gets to fly to a brand new place you’re never seen before, and the thrill of the new experience coupled with the rush of meeting up with old friends will be an absolute treat. It doesn’t have to be very expensive. Get one of the more organized friends to set it all up online. Alternatively, there are a lot of travel agencies that can get great deals for such trips. They’ll do all the hard work of finding the right time for cheaper flights, hotel deals, and more.

#11 – Write a Letter

Snail mail has gotten a bad rap since the advent of electronic mail. But it’s still a fantastic way to communicate your innermost feelings – or just keep your friends up-to-date on the happenings in your life from time to time. There’s nothing as special as receiving a hand-written letter from someone you’re close to. It’s a dying art, so why not revive it?

#12 – Offline Book Club

Why not start a book club with your long-distance friends. We’re all busy but we do find the time to read important stuff as well as stuff that entertains us. Pick a book and get everyone a digital copy from your Amazon account, then set a date to discuss the book. If you want it to be less formal, skip the group discussion and just have a chat group where you each share your thoughts about the story, the characters, and the plot as and when a thought strikes.

#13 – Create a ‘Recommendation Circle’

We’re all consumers at heart, so why not create a group chat to recommend products that you recently bought. It’ll come in handy when someone else in the group needs to buy the same thing. Encourage others to share ongoing deals and discounts, coupons, special offers, etc. It can be on books, electronic items, gifts, etc. and it will serve you well as we enter holiday season 2020. Amazon does it for complete strangers so why not do it among friends who know each other’s tastes and preferences?

#14 – Start an Investment Pool

This novel idea will help the financially inept members of a group of long-distance friends benefit from the investment skills of others. If you’ve made money on your investments, why shouldn’t your friends benefit from your advice? You can each put in a little bit of money to create an investment pool, with each one putting in only as much as they can afford to lose. That’s important because you don’t want to lose your valuable friendship if the investments go sour, as they often can.

It doesn’t even have to be the same amount. For example, if three of you put in $1000, $2000, and $3000, you can split the money you make in the same proportion – 1:2:3. It’s simple and it will avoid any confusion. You get back in proportion to what you put in. The advantage of this is that you have more money to invest as a group rather than as individuals, which could get you better deals.

#15 – Tell Them What Makes Them Special

People rarely do this because we tend to take our friends for granted in the long run. Why not do the opposite and tell each other exactly why we’re friends with them. Make someone feel good by reminding them of their best qualities. And don’t do this randomly, although that works as well; make it a point to tell each one how special they are on a regular basis – monthly, weekly, or whatever. Better yet, make a template that you can share with them. For example, the first line can start with Dear Billy, you’re my friend because… and add some space there for another person to tell Billy why he’s important to them. Put one line for each friend (including yourself) and share the template with them. Include a ‘Fill and Return By…’ reminder so they can add it to their calendars.

#16 – Plan Your Individual Futures – Together

Friends are in the best position to give you advice about your future, so how about sharing your future plans as a group and then giving each other encouragement to achieve your individual goals? There’s a famous story about two people. Both were ambitious young men in their 20s, and both wanted to conquer the world, but in an ethical manner. Through the years, they kept asking each other how far they’d reached in achieving their goals. They didn’t rest until, one day, one friend was one of the richest businessmen in the country and the other was the Attorney General. Each of them rose to the top of their chosen fields because they kept goading each other to succeed. Can your group of friends inspire each other this way, constantly keeping tabs on how each of you is progressing down your own path to success?

#17 – Celebrate your Successes

Keep your fingers on the pulse of your long-distance friends’ lives. Follow them on social media. If they post something that’s special to them, give them a call to congratulate them rather than simply hit the Like button or put a random comment. Make it personal. If LinkedIn reminds you that someone got a new job, pick up the phone and tell them you’re happy for them. In the end, these are the moments we truly cherish, when someone we love and respect showers their personal attention on us. And it will tremendously strengthen your friendship as you grow older.

#18 – Share Stuff That’s Important To You

Found a book really exhilarating? Share it. Read something that made you ROFL? Share it. Have a thought about what’s going on in the news? Share it. But wait, don’t just share it on your generic social media posts. Share it with a close group of friends so they can put in their two cents as well. Sharing things that you feel are important gives your long-distance friends a chance to appreciate and understand you in a deeper way. It will also help align all of you to the same values over time. That’s what friendship is about, isn’t it?

#19 – Involve your Families

friends with their families

Get your spouses together, and the kids. Make as many additional connections as you can because these are lifetime investments in your family’s future. It expands the reach that your family has if a crisis hits, it helps your kids learn important values like friendship and loyalty, and it’s a healthy practice to let your spouse in on the inner circle of friends you had even before you fell in love or got married.

#20 – Start an informal charity project

Everyone can do something to better the world no matter how much or how little they think they can contribute. Get together with your long-distance friends, identify various local charities that are close to your hearts, and then work on helping those charities with money and other resources. It will help strengthen your bond with your friends in a meaningful way, not to mention giving you the collective satisfaction of having helped someone less fortunate than you. You can use sites like JustGiving to start a fundraising page and then promote the page online to your respective social circles.

#21 – Stay in Touch

Everyone has crazy schedules, life events, kids, hectic jobs, or any number of things that keep them busy throughout the year. Don’t use that as an excuse to lose touch with the people who are important to you. If needed, schedule a monthly catch-up with your friends – as a group or even on an individual basis. The key is to maintain that contact to show the other person that they mean something to you and that they’re important enough in your life to at least warrant an occasional ‘hey there, how’re things with you.’

A Word to the Wise

Leverage technology as much as possible. This will help you stay on track on your path to reestablishing or strengthening your connections. Do this for long-distance friends and those to whom you have physical access. Set reminders and schedule calls if you have to. It’s important to put in the manual effort required to keep a relationship healthy. It’s easy to get carried away with our lives and leave old friends behind. Don’t make that mistake.

Friends can enrich your existence and make it more fulfilling. Rather than put them in the ‘I’ll get to it when I can’ outer circle of your daily life, include them in your core activities. That’s the easiest way to keep friends once you’ve made them. None of us get to choose our family members but all of us get to choose our friends. Now that you’ve chosen, it’s your responsibility to nurture that relationship with every resource at your disposal.

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