When Good Friends Live Far Away

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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.

Practical ideas for maintaining long distance friendships

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.

Tangible Contact

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!)

Skype Tea

(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.

Skype Tea with Friends
Almost as good as the real thing!

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: “Yes.”

Her: “What?”

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.

Chilling and texting with friends
What my ideal version of texting with friends looks like

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?

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  1. It’s definitely hard to have friends who live far away, who you see kids you’ve never met grow before your eyes on social networking. At the same time at least there’s that blessing of social networking to be able to keep tabs on one another when you just can’t find the time to actually TALK. Of course it never replaces the real thing. My sisters live far away and I mail them “real” pictures of my baby girl on occasion since they’re not big social network users. :)

    • Victoria says:

      Emily, I love the idea of mailing real pictures! I definitely wish I had more “real” pictures of friends and family, and I’m not good about taking pictures from my computer and phone to be printed out. It’s definitely a challenge when you’re using a different “system” than the people you’re staying in touch with; congratulations on finding a way that works!

    • Victoria says:

      Notice I didn’t put anything in here about staying in touch with people here; that’s because I am in no way qualified to offer advice on that. 😉 So many things to work on. Sigh.

  2. lorigraceh says:

    Great suggestions! I have far away grandkids and I try to do some of these things to keep in touch with them!

    • Victoria says:

      Thank you! I think it can be even more of a challenge to have the generational factor as a part of figuring out ways to stay in touch. Congratulations on finding ways to stay in touch!

    • Victoria says:

      Being in different countries definitely increases the the challenge factor. I love real letters (although I haven’t done one in years), but the technology that we have available today seems to make these things easier.

  3. Skype tea is such a great idea! :-) I’ve some friends living in Canada and I totally know what you’re talking about. Sometimes it’s so hard to keep in touch because everybody is so busy!

    • Victoria says:

      Thank you! We feel pretty proud of ourselves for coming up with it! I can’t emphasize enough how much finding the balance between flexibility/ scheduling forgiveness & perseverance has been key for us.

    • Victoria says:

      I’m sorry you’re going through this. For me, it takes away some of my resiliency. I hope that you and your friend(s) are able to use some of these systems (or find your own). I’d love to hear from you if you end up doing one of these!

    • Victoria says:

      Thanks! I agree with you about distance sometimes acting as a filtering factor, accelerating a process that would have happened anyway. In a way, I find facebook to artificially keep things going. There are people I’m “friends” with on facebook who I’d otherwise not miss.

    • Victoria says:

      I’m so glad you like the tips, Michelle! It sounds like you have some great strategies in place for staying in touch!

  4. Olga says:

    I love these tips! My two best friends live in other cities/states and it has been difficult to stay in touch the way we did when we were in college. I am working on being present in our lives a lot more this year and will definitely try some of these tips out. I must add though that sometimes an old fashion letter or card is what the doctor ordered… I’m old school and love to get mail :)

    • Victoria says:

      Thanks, Olga! I would love to hear from you on how things go or if you develop some new systems. Other commenters mentioned traditional mail. I have to confess that I too frequently forget about it or dismiss it as harder than it really is. I should definitely do it more often. Thanks for the reminder and good luck!

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