Maintaining Your Long-Distance Friendships

How Southeast Asia Ruined My Life

We always hear about long-distance relationships and best practices on how to make them work, but how often do we hear about friendships that span an ocean?

Yes, long-distance relationships are difficult, evidenced by some of my closest friends biting and clawing to make theirs work, but so are the friendships where you rarely get to enjoy each other’s physical company. You don’t get to laugh in person, high five in the moment, or slap one another’s back. There’s no teasing or throwing harmless objects at each other to strengthen the enjoyment.

Moving away from your friends and keeping the bond is a struggle of two or more.

It’s scary to see that months pass without either of you saying anything to each other. Contrast that to how casually you used to walk into each other’s houses on a daily basis to spend time together, not speaking at all feels odd. Sometimes I log into Facebook, look at my messages, and realize some of my best friends and I haven’t said a word to each other in months.

The biggest curse is that your conversations, formerly filled with inside jokes and gossip, turn into awkward small talk with no real rhythm. Having to think about what to say next makes you acknowledge the lull in conversation that was never there before.

What happened?

I’ll admit that the existences of my friends slip my mind sometimes. Unless there’s something that reminds me of a specific person, I rarely think of them. Awful to say, right?

I was having a conversation about this last week and my friend summed it up perfectly: “We’re great friends and half of the time I forget you’re alive.”

After I burst up laughing I stopped and realized the validity of that statement. How often do I really think about my friends? Perhaps the reason it’s so easy to lose contact is because all of us have our own things going on and we forget to remember.

We’re in an age where it’s easier than ever to keep in touch with old friends. We’ve got Skype, Facebook, and free text/call services like Viber. Geez, it’s almost laughable how simple it is. We can’t even use the old “long distance calls are too expensive” excuse anymore.

Yet, months pass without a single message being exchanged with my best friends. Do we just move on and grow apart? I refuse to believe so. I think the next time I see all of my old buddies in the U.S. we’ll embrace each other with big hugs and resume where we left off. I sure hope so.

Do as I say and not as I do. Check in on your friends. Make sure they’re alright. Tell them what’s new with you and make sure you know what’s going on with them.

Don’t assume you just grow apart because it takes an effort to keep a friendship going when you don’t have the luxury of entering each other’s homes at will.

Question: How well are you keeping in touch with your old friends?

Photo Credit: Andrey – Flickr

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Vincent Nguyen is the author of Self Stairway and founder of Growth Ninja, a digital marketing agency that specializes in Facebook Ads. Voted "Most Guapo" five years in a row (lost during 6th year to a hand model.)

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20 responses to Maintaining Your Long-Distance Friendships

  1. Hi Vincent,

    Ive actually noticed the more successful I become and more I evolve and grow the less and less I have do with some friends.

    Example: A couple of months ago one of my former long time school friends apparently had a problem with me, so instead of confronting me about the problem, he deleted me off facebook and said bad things about me to my others friends behind my back to, then when a couple of weeks had past he messaged me in a group of friends saying have you even noticed I deleted you? I replied no, why would you do that? He never gave me an exact reason as to what his problem was.
    However as soon as he said he had a problem another one of my friends who everything had been fine and dandy with came out and said the exact same thing.
    I responded well if you have a problem you need to actually speak to me about it, instead of deleting me off facebook and then getting upset because I haven’t noticed.

    • I actually had a friend do something similar. There was never a confrontation between us but he deleted me off Facebook and stopped talking to me for a while. The following year we started talking again because we shared a class together but the subject of Facebook was never brought up. He just spontaneously added me back.

      It’s sort of funny that such a thought comes through someone’s head. “I’m upset at this person so I’ll remove him off my friend list. That will show him!”

      • I know haha very high schoolish mentality right there. I actually never had that happend to me before, so I really didn’t know what to think. I always thought only girls did that type of thing.

        Bottom line I don’t want any freinds who can’t be honest and upfront with me.

  2. Mind you, Vincent, I had to leave my family for 6 months! Luckily we have technology so practically everyday we would chat on Skype. And since I was not very far (3 hours from my homeland Philippines), I occasionally have visited back home about three times during the 6 months time. While technology is a good substitute, there is no better way to be with family (my wife and kids) than with real physical presence. As for friends, I guess we have to make choices and in spite of technology, some refuse to be on Facebook and so it is really difficult to be in touch with them. Hence I make it a point to find time to meet them when I go home. 🙂 But then again that only means I have to create a new set of friends, for sanity’s sake! I still need that on top of family love!

  3. I should direct all my friends in Singapore to this post, Vincent. Love it. 70% of my friends live more than 6000km away from me. We’ve been friends ever since middle school and despite all odds, growing up moments and what nots, we’ve managed to stay in touch, all 12 of us. The trick is in the constant connection and sincere how are you.

    We use Whatsapp group chat to communicate and each time someone have something to say, the whole group will get to hear it. It does remain silent for days on end though but it’s not as bad as forgetting they’re alive. Haha.

    And then once in a while when I go back to Singapore, we’ll have a massive gathering. The good thing is, we won’t be completely lost on what’s happening in each other’s lives so thanks to technology this is all possible.

    I guess it all comes down to how much you want to make it work. No rivers, mountains and valleys are wide, high and low enough and whether it’s relationships or friendships, it will work as long as we all want it. Just my two cents. 🙂

    • Yes! Direct them all to my website, MWAHAHA!

      Using a group chat app is a great idea but knowing the majority of my close friends, it would end up being unused most of the time. Everyone’s studying and doing homework 24/7. 😛

  4. It’s hard. It depends on the friend and the circumstances. Sometimes it makes more sense to move on. But I use the phone a few times per year with my longterm close friends who live at a distance. We also get together once every year or two.

    • Definitely hard and there are plenty of people in the past that I’ve been super close with that has just sort of faded away. Friends whom I’ve attempted to reconnect to but for whatever reason don’t bother responding. Sucks, but it happens. I think it’s better to at least attempt to minimize the amount of friendships that die out.

  5. I’m guilty of not maintaining my long-distance friendships as well. It’s probably because I didn’t try to reconnect with them that much. It’s sad to think that some of these friends were my best buds but when they just become some sort of memory in the past and with little engagement in the present…I just feel bad.

    Something others should try to avoid.

  6. I’m going to play devil’s advocate here because I’ve been realizing lately how many of my current friends whom I see all the time aren’t necessarily the best investment of my time! I don’t understand why we have a weird sense that, once somebody’s a friend, especially a close friend, we’re obligated to try to maintain that forever. Why? That person played an important role in our lives *for a time.* Why should they have an eternal claim on our attention? Be grateful for their contribution, certainly (gratitude in general brings about great good in the world), but why feel obligated to continue to tie our lives together when we’re going different ways? We obviously want different things for this portion of our lives, and if asked directly, I’m sure neither of us wants to hold the other back, so why are we trying to hold ourselves back for the other’s sake? If our lives cross paths and we start going the same direction again in the future, we can always reconnect in the future.

    • Great arguments, Lindsay, and it’s always great to see other people’s perspectives on things. You’re right in a lot of aspects. There are plenty of friendships in my past that were obviously going to stay dead and neither of us would be able to put enough energy to bring it back to life. I think when that sort of thing happens you just know it.

      On the other hand, there are friendships on “pause” where you know can still be reignited. It’s hard to define and perhaps I didn’t capture it well enough in my post, but having both parties work to start the flame again can have it take off like the past has. Not all can, but some. What’s the harm in investing a bit of time every now and then to give it a shot?

  7. I never take it personally when people get busy and forget me a little bit. I do always love to check in with people. It’s warming, like receiving a letter in the mail. I’ve noticed there are two kinds of friends when it comes to distance. I have friends where we can be separated by miles and not see each other for years, but then we meet up or even private message, and we find ourselves talking nonstop with so much to catch up on and just shoot the shit about–life updates or books and shows, life lessons. There are a lot of friends who, even if I haven’t talked to them in forever, if I’m having a hard time, they are more than willing to help in any way, either by listening or sharing their experience or ideas. I’m that way.

    And then there are those friends who, just because I haven’t physically been there to witness their trials, it’s awkward and we have nothing to talk about. It’s as if I’m intruding on their life because they’re not sure we have the same rapport and trust, if I’ll truly understand since I wasn’t actually there, if I’m even the same person, and maybe they just can’t begin to explain because it was so nuanced, and they had their in-person support network, and I wasn’t around to be part of it.

    For the latter, I won’t have any in-jokes. For the former, I won’t need in-jokes. We’ll make new ones as we laugh over new things and old mistakes. We get excited hearing about how we’ve both changed or stayed the same. And some people just change so much, they’ll never play the role they used to, and that’s okay. There are others.

    Friendship is very much a numbers game. I say there are others, but I think being out of school can be really challenging because finding and getting to know new people takes effort, time and money whereas in school you were surrounded. I currently find it hard to have even a weekly social life beyond my lover and coworkers (who are hit and miss) because everyone’s so busy and has to schedule things or drive and spend money. I’m surprised to find myself reconnecting with super old friends from HS, whom I thought I wouldn’t talk to again since we all scattered to different cities for college, and now they’re my go-to short list of close friends.

    • There are so many levels of friendships that there’s no real clear answer for everyone. Lindsay made a good point above about how maintaining some friendships aren’t worth the time. She’s right, but what about friends like you mentioned first where you continue where you last left off? I’ve definitely got plenty of friends just like that while some others have slowly faded away.

      Figuring out which ones are which would be a good exercise.

  8. I argee with Lindsay.I believe that friends are for particular seasons in life. Once that season ends,we move on unless that friend is growing at the same pace with you or even faster than you. In that case that person becomes a mentor friend.

    • I wouldn’t say that applies to all friendships that have space between them though. To reference my response to Lindsay and Tisha, there are varying degrees/types of friendships. Some are definitely more temporary while others are unaffected by distance.

  9. In Polish “a friend” is very close to the biblical meaning (“No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” J 15,13)
    We have numerous different words to describe various level of relationships, but a “friend” is someone you would have died for.
    According to this definition I have two friends. Both of them I see maybe once a year. I do “forgot” they exist from time to time. We call each other several times a year.
    But the friendship is still alive. When we connect there is no awkwardness between us.

  10. hello vincent..
    I know it’s 2 years late to add a comment, but I really hope you have some answers to something that I’ve been thinking about so often, and sometimes it kills me just by thinking about it.
    I met this girl online almost one year ago. In our first conversation, we kept talking for half a day, and maybe more. We shared -during this conversation- a lot of our interests and we found out that we have many things in common; we both love politics for example, the middle eastern in particular. Anyways, few months later, we both gave our numbers to one another, obviously our relation had evolved. We wanted to use more sophisticated ways to communicate such as pictures, voice messages, videos…etc; so we used the whatsaap application most of the time. And since then, we kept talking and discovering more things about each other’s lives (college-friends-families). We even discussed our problems that we’re facing, a thing that she wouldn’t do with anyone as she said. I also told her an unsafe secret of mine, a secret that I’m sure that many people in this world will hate me and might leave me immediately because of it; and that’s the reason I told her about this secret, I just wanted her to know who I truly am; but she didn’t hate me for it and we kept conversing until we both admitted that we like each other very much, a thing that we both felt long time before admitting. Before I tell you what happened next, I want to share a subject we talked about, it’s about long distance relationships, we both agreed that this kind of relations will be doomed to failure because it requires physical approaches and such things. What I wanna say now, is that, she told me, not long time ago, “I love you as my friend”, a thing I wanted to hear from her because I felt the same thing. I think that the reason she said “as my friend” is what I mentioned before, the long distance, we actually live very very far (I’m Lebanese and she’s Australian) and we both agree that we can’t be in a relationship with such distance (we never said that to each other though), in plus, she told me before that she wanted to kiss me (she even said that while skyping), she also said that she has never met someone like me and that she believes that we will meet one day and that day will be one of the best days in her life, if not the best.
    Lately, we’re facing the same problem you talked about in your essay, but there’s a reason behind it, we are both busy focusing on our colleges, I’m studying civil engineering and she’s studying law+political science (both second year). We are talking from time to time, but our conversation isn’t as awesome and amazing as it used to be before, is that a normal thing? and is it bad? I just want you to give me encouragement to keep the depression away xD
    I also fear that she might fall in love with someone else in Australia :,(((
    thank you for your time 🙂

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