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!
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