I live on the East Coast. My closest friends live in Austin, Chicago, and St. Paul. We’re all moms of young children without the time or funds to travel easily. For a long time, we did the usual – have a 2-3 hour phone conversation every 3-6 months. These conversations were great, as these are the types of friends that you can just start talking to, but with that type of schedule, the conversation tends to focus on the big highlights and what’s going on right now. It’s hard to get a sense of the day-to-day rhythm of life. Over the years, we’ve done some different things that have helped us stay close.
Regarding Pregnancies and Babies
Kids can happen to the best of us, and they tend to take up an awful amount of time and attention. When my Austin friend got pregnant with her first child 9 or 10 years ago, I knew that this meant a big change in our carefree stay-in-touch schedule. Not wanting things to ever get to an awkward place, I had a conversation with my friend before the baby was born. I told her that I was worried about bugging her with calls, as a schedule with a baby could be so chaotic; however, I didn’t want to just stop calling her or be forever questioning if it was a good time. I offered her a deal: I would call when I felt like it. She was under no obligation to answer or call back, and she was not allowed to feel guilty (another path to faltering communication). If I was bugging her with my calls, she would tell me (so I wouldn’t be second guessing myself). Neither of us would “keep score.” If I called her 9 times, and she hadn’t called me, we would assume that everything was okay unless one of us said otherwise.
This worked really well for a while. I had a really long commute, so I called and left her a message almost every day. Most of the time, these messages were light anecdotes or “I’m thinking about you and hope you’re doing well.” Sometimes I’d talk about something that bothered me. When she got a chance to call me back, she’d tell me how much she appreciated the messages and how much they helped her feel connected when she was sucked into the mother-of-a-newborn world.
This idea is still in Beta testing. After I sent a package to my friend in Chicago, she suggested that we save the box and use it to send things to each other that we (or our kids) have made. I absolutely love this idea, but we haven’t really implemented it, yet. (Which leads to a really important rule with all of these suggestions: We have lives, and stressing ourselves out about friendship rituals isn’t good for anyone. These should be fun and flexible, not anxiety provoking!)
(We actually use a program called Zoom, but I thought more people would understand what I meant with Skype. I love Zoom though – the video quality so much better!) My Chicago friend and I love drinking tea, Jane Austen, good literature, knitting, all that stuff.
Of course, after she moved to the Mid-West, we realized all the opportunities lost for chatting over tea. But then we realized that in this age of technology, distance doesn’t have to be a barrier! Every couple of weeks(-ish), we have a “teleconference” where we sit down with our tea and talk about what’s going on in our lives. We’ve been a little off with Summer schedules, but I know we’ll get back to our rhythm. The scheduling that seemed to work best for us, before we ended each chat, we’d set up our appointment for our next chat. Every week seemed a little burdensome, so we average every 2 weeks, although, sometimes if we’re having a busy month, we might only do one chat that month. I really don’t like looking at myself on the video of the chat; however, the quality of the conversation with being able to see each other is worth overcoming my vanity.
Staying in Touch With Daily Life
My Austin friend and I were roommates in college, and our friendship is the age equivalent of an adult. When we saw each other last year (We usually manage to see each other every year or 2), I told her about my MS diagnosis. We took a moment to process; the following conversation ensued:
Her: “Do you need anything?”
Me: “I don’t know?”
The next day I got a text message from her with a picture and the caption, “Image of the day.” Almost 15 months later, we’ve only missed a handful of days and never more than 3 days in a row. Some days there isn’t a picture, just a message or a funny thing that happened. Sometimes the pictures are stunning, sad, or heartwarming, but most of the time, it’s just daily stuff that happens in life. Some of my pictures have included pretty foliage (what’s the use of living in New England if you can’t rub it in during the fall?), a picture of my son’s socks that he asked me to take, and the slice of pizza that we woke up to find in our yard one day. My friend has a huge advantage, she’s a youth librarian and a public library, so she has lots of interesting pictures; however, yesterday’s picture was of the pile of reading logs that she’d spent the day reviewing.
I feel like we are much more connected with each other’s daily lives, and every once in a while, a photo will turn into an extended back and forth about a big issue that’s going on in one of our lives. I don’t know how long this will last, but right now it’s the best friendship thing that’s ever happened. Interestingly enough. . .
I was hanging out with my St. Paul friend (who comes to Massachusetts once a year), last year, and I told her about the picture a day texts with my Austin friend. She really liked the idea and suggested that she and I do it, too. I said, “Of course!” although I never told her that I was initially apprehensive. I was only about a month and a half in this with my Austin friend, and it seemed like something that would be easily promised but challenging in practice.
I’ve never been more happy to be wrong! She and I have also kept this up for over a year. I cheat a little, I’ll often send the same picture and message to both friends, but it’s amazing the different paths that the conversations take from that initial text. I had my feeling of connectedness confirmed when we briefly saw each other a couple of months ago. My friend noted, “I know we didn’t get to talk that much, but I feel okay with it. I feel like we’re caught up through the daily texts.” I felt exactly the same way.
Do you have any rituals that you use to stay in touch with good friends who live far away? Do you think you’ll try any of these ideas?