How To Keep The Flame Of Friendships Alive When You Can’t Meet Up

With a little thought and effort we can stay as close as ever to our best friends, even if we can’t see them IRL

As Irish people immigration is a solid part of our culture, it’s in our blood. We all have a second cousin once removed who set up shop in Australia 20 years ago and is doing absolutely grand for himself now – even with all those spiders and humidity, as your Aunty Joan likes to question him about at every family function he comes home for. Aside from the prodigal cousin, in recent years most millennials have lost a close friend to trendy Vancouver, or New Zealand.

We attend more going away parties than we have hot dinners, and with each farewell we bid, we enter into an endless conversation of voice notes and gifs, with neither of you ever really getting your heads around the difference in time-zones. But, still, no matter how many long-distance friendships we’re forced to adapt to, each one feels like whiplash, and for good reason, Friendship expert Kate Leaver, tells me, “When a friend moves away, it can be really difficult, especially if you’re used to living close by. It’s a sort of grief, really, as you work out how to negotiate this new distance between you.”

Such are romantic relationships important to us and our wellbeing, so are platonic friendships. In fact, our gal pals can be hailed as literal life-savers, Little did you know that laughing together over a take-away, or exchanging slagging texts could add years onto your life, but Kate explains that surrounding yourself with good friends is paramount to both your mental and physical health. “It’s obvious that we need our friends for things like joy and solace and fun and support, but there’s also plenty of research now to suggest that we need it to live long resilient lives. Friendship can protect us from things like heart attack, stroke, dementia, cancer, and depression.”

But still, knowing all the benefits of having friendships, won’t stop the feckers from upping and leaving us for halfway across the world. I myself have been in an on-again-off-again long-distance friendship with my childhood best friend since we finished school six years ago. While I’m delighted to see her following her dreams, flittering off to wherever her heart desires, and I can’t double-tap the pictures she shares from new exotic locations fast enough, I still miss her like crazy. But, although pangs of sadness come over me when all I want to do is have a cuppa and a catch-up with her IRL, Kate says that this is normal and doesn’t mean that your friendship is jeopardised, “Change can be baffling and scary and research does show us that proximity makes a friendship easier to maintain. But, this doesn’t mean that you should lose hope. You just have to adapt and find new ways to connect with your cherished friend. Physical distance does not guarantee emotional distance, so long as you are proactive and sensitive about keeping someone in your life, your friendship will withstand the test.”

Withstanding test after test when it comes to maintaining friendships is something 35-year-old Fiona is well used to. After moving to Australia three years ago, she made the difficult decision to return back home for the foreseeable future this spring amid COVID-19 to be with her father who lives alone. “This year has been such a weird one like it has for so many,” she begins telling me. “Moving away to Aus three years ago was such a heartbreaking and exciting time for me. I balled my eyes out saying goodbye to my best friends of 20 years, and even though we made an effort to stay in touch, organising video calls as much as possible, it just wasn’t the same.” Explaining that constant traveling through remote areas, along with a 12 hour time difference made contact with her friends sparse, Fiona said that she eventually felt a strain on her friendships, “I was the only person from my friend group abroad, so I would see pictures of my friends out having brunch and drinks together and feel so left out. I knew it was my own choice to be ‘left out’, so I found it a bit difficult to cope with missing them.”

Rituals, Kate says is the key to making a long-distance friendship work, a study carried out by Interflora found that 33% of women would never share how much a best friend means to them, while a shocking 63% of people would never celebrate a friendship anniversary, things Kate insists needs to change if a long-distance friendship is to last. “Maybe it’s choosing a day every week when you have a standing phone call or FaceTime chat. Maybe it’s exchanging long, rambling voice notes. Maybe it’s regularly sending each other letters or emails or presents or books or flowers or artwork your kid drew or photos of your dog or playlists you think they’d like. You just have to find alternative ways to say “I care about you”. Little ways of interrupting someone’s life to say “hey! I’m thinking of you!.”

Now, back home again due to the pandemic, Fiona finds herself in an unusual situation where she not only can’t spend time as normal with her Irish friends but has now entered into a new set of long-distance friendships with the friends she made while traveling too. “It was bittersweet coming back home earlier this year, I knew I would be physically closer to my best friends, but social distancing put a wedge between us, meaning I didn’t see them in the flesh for about 3 months after coming home. And what’s worse, I made so many amazing, life-long friends over my three years traveling that I’m now feeling the pressure to stay in touch with them, because I miss them so much also!”

2020 threw a spanner in the works for friendships all around the globe. Forcing us into long-distance friendships, even with the ones down the road, social distancing has made us all feel lonelier than ever. While it’s not something that can be fixed with the click of a finger, Kate says that it is possible to still keep our friendships ticking over, by letting one another know that we still care, even during these trying times. “Going through a global pandemic is a hectic, sad, anxious thing so my advice is really to do anything you can think of to reassure, distract and comfort someone,” she says.

“We need to treat all friendships as though they’re long-distance right now and do the same things that we would for a friend halfway across the world. Find rituals that work for you, lock in regular times to chat if that suits, and reach out with little gestures to brighten their day. If they do live close, you could always drop by and leave baked goods or flowers or a book they’d like on their doorstep, knock and then wave from across the street.” Whether it’s a friend just a few doors down or one on a continent far far away, it’s clear to see that even just the smallest amount of effort can go a long way. In the words of the Spice Girls, friendship never ends, and if 2020 has shown us anything, it’s just that.

Images Via Unsplash 


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