How to go the distance; Friendship Edition

I was seventeen when my three best (and at the time, only) friends all moved to America within four months. Rough doesn’t begin to describe that phase of life, with its unanswered skype calls and months without speaking, anticipated holiday visits and lengthy emails. Yet a few years and friendships later, the people I love are scattered across the globe, from Denmark to California, Oxford to Pennsylvania and while it isn’t always easy, I’ve come a long way from that clueless 17-year-old.

Whether it’s books, t.v. series or magazine columns, there is no shortage of content dedicated to long distance dating. Yet when it comes to friends in separate cities, we’re left to figure it out for ourselves. As a result, I’ve read a lot of unrealistic, unhelpful and just plain stupid advice from people who claim that matching tattoos and weekly skype dates will close the stubborn gap made by time zones and oceans. Finally, one day, I was done. Done with reading useless suggestions from people who had clearly never spent more than a week away from their mates. So, here is me getting real with you, because someone really should.

Life doesn’t care about your skype date.

Time and time again you’ll be told that the key to long distance is scheduled contact, whether it’s a weekly Skype call or a daily text message. It seems that the emphasis is always on consistencyand I know, when you’re hugging your best friend goodbye at the airport and swearing you’ll talk every week, you really, honestly think that you will. You won’t. Not because you are a bad friend but because life doesn’t give a damn about your promises; it will just keep on going with it’s short deadlines and long days until you look up and it’s suddenly been a month and how on earth can you make up all the time? So the real key lies in setting realistic expectations. Take whatever you think you’ll contact and pull it back a step. Instead of promising to call every week, go for monthly. Schedule it in the calendar or don’t be afraid to leave it unscheduled for whenever your free time collides.

It survives the silence — I promise.

Last week I caught up with my best friend for a coffee and after giving him a tight hug I casually asked what he’d been up to. We both broke into laughter, not because the question was particularly funny but because after a year of not being in the same country, or speaking, he had a lot to catch me up on. While it’s an extreme example it’s one that reminds me howfriendships aren’t nearly as fragile as we make them out to be. Days can easily turn into weeks and while it’s vital for a romantic couple to stay in contact, separated friends play by different rules. Surviving silence isn’t the sign of a doomed friendship, it’s a sign of strength.

Treat them like snowflakes

That being said, it’s key to know that no two long-distance friendships are going to look or feel the exact same. Partly this will be because of the form of communication you both vibe with but also the friendship that you have. Consistent weekly emails with my childhood friend are going to look totally different to the monthly Facebook message updates with my college friend or Skype calls with my sister. The moment I went with these differences instead of trying to find a ‘one size fits all’ approach, the better it was. Just the same as any other friendship, they’re all snowflakes of individuality, roll with it and find what works best for each person.

Facebook > Facetime

Arguably one of the hardest things about overseas friends is the missing of the ‘little things’. They miss hearing about your terrible job interview or cute shop clerk who called you ma’am. They miss your review of that latest film or talking you through pre-date nerves. Instead, your conversations are reduced to big moments compressed into short sound bites swapped during rushed calls. The fix for this? Facebook voice messenger. It’s not an exaggeration to say that at least two of my friendships are kept alive through the magic that is voice recordings. See, the truth is that calling a friend isn’t always as simple as aligning time zones and schedules; you have to match headspaces as well. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there are times I have nothing on, but opt out of calling a friend because I’m just too overwhelmed or exhausted. With voice recordings, you’re able to send updates about those ‘little things’ despite time differences, while still retaining that ‘having a chat’ feeling. Sure, it’s pretty awkward at first but now there is nothing better than waking up to a bunch of recordings from a friend.

There will be days.

There will be days when it all feels just so pointless. You’ll see the little green circle beside their name and sure enough, moments later, a message will blink up onto the screen. “Hey! You free for a chat?”. You’ll want to, but it’s 10.37pm and it’s been so long since you talked. The weeks of life stack up to this insurmountable pile of happenings that you can’t quite muster the energy to rehash. These will be the days when it feels like nothing but hard; the days when you’re tired of the calls and emails and space between, days when you’d kill for them to just be around, not even talking just sitting side by side. To that, I say, remember that there will also be the days when it is so bloody worth it. Days when you just sit on the phone for an hour rambling about life, days you wake up to 10 minutes of voice recordings after their big exam and days when they tell you they’re flying home for the holidays.

These are the days you hold on for.

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