September 16, 2022 | CULTURE | By Carlee Castillo | Illustration by Iris Guo

Last Thursday, my best friend traded in her mountain view for the New York City skyline. We’ve seen each other pretty much every day for the past six years. Whether for a midnight drive to Taylor Swift or an 11 a.m. brunch at Snooze, she’s always been a mere 10-minute drive away.

In 2013, Tara and I unwittingly enrolled in two dance classes together, her with her glasses and me with my lanky limbs. We never spoke. However, after I switched dance studios, she soon followed.

Throughout high school, we danced together and quickly became inseparable. In a birthday card, she wrote to me, “It’s crazy how people meet and are destined to become friends at a different time.” We have always been tethered together by an invisible string. Although that string has become a bit more taut recently, it has never frayed.

Here are some tips on how to maintain long-distance friendships:

Intentionality

In 1994, author and scholar Steve Duck found that one basis for maintaining long-distance friendships is “strategic planning for the continuation of the relationship.” If we want to keep people in our lives, we have to be explicit about it and put in the effort. Before or while your friend is away, continuously reach out and plan specific times to interact. Time is the most valuable currency. Therefore, you show your friend you truly value them by integrating them into your schedule.

Routine

Another foundation of Duck’s theory is “the breezy allowance of the relationship to continue by means of the routine, everyday interactions and conversations that make the relationship what it is.” Typical, everyday interactions aren’t possible when distance eliminates routine. Traditional movie nights and ice cream runs are much more difficult to share when separated by a plane ride. However, with the vast capability of modern technology, we can almost feel like we’re in the same room as our far-away-friend.

Here are some ways technology can tether our relationships…

  • Share collaborative playlists on Spotify featuring both of your favorite artists and songs (some of me and Tara’s sentimental favorites are “Smoke Signals” by Phoebe Bridgers, “Invisible String” by Taylor Swift, and “Sweet Creature” by Harry Styles).
  • FaceTime regularly. Talk like you would at a middle school slumber party, spilling the details of your Saturday night out or how your recent math test went.
  • Become pen pals. Receiving mail, expected or unexpected, is sure to brighten yours’ or your friends’ day. Send a gift basket filled with your friends’ favorite snacks or make a Build-a-Bear with a personalized voice message.

Openness, honesty, and acceptance

Jealousy and conflict are natural responses to distance. As old friends make new connections, we can begin to feel territorial or excluded (even from 100+ miles away). However, it’s important to remember that the expansion of love does not diminish where it already lives.

If you are feeling abandoned or there is miscommunication present, don’t use the separation as an excuse to sweep your feelings under the rug. Voice your concerns thoughtfully and listen to your friend to understand their experience. Prioritize positivity, openness, assurances, joint activities, social networks, and mediated communication. These are the pillars that associate Professor Daniel J. Canary of Ohio University and colleagues discovered are essential to any successful connection in their Inductive Analysis of Relational Maintenance Strategies.

Tara loves to read. She is an avid caffeine consumer. She is unapologetically enthusiastic about the things she loves and is the sister I never had. I already miss the smell of baking cookies in her kitchen. I don’t know if I will ever watch the 2019 version of “Little Women” with her cat and dog perched on either side of me after eagerly waiting for the brilliant yellow tree of her front yard to come into view as I drive up to her house. However, I will always hear her laugh in the chiming door of a small-town coffee shop, see her smile in the crooked spines lining the aisles of Barnes and Noble, and know she is always just a phone call away.

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