How to manage a long-distance friendship
Moreover, as people increasingly put off moving in with partners, marrying and having children, their platonic relationships may stand in for romantic ones.
Maintaining faraway friendships can seem just as daunting as starting fresh in a new place. But there are plenty of ways to cope with the challenges of distance — and even use them to your benefit.
Time differences can help
“We have more tools at our fingertips than ever to stay in touch,” said Max Marder, 27, who moved to Gaziantep, Turkey, just over two years ago to pursue an internship with a Syrian civil society organization. He had just earned his master’s degree from the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs and was seeking full-time employment.
“It was a race to find a job before I was overstaying my visa,” he said.
Despite the stress of settling into a new country and looking for work, Mr. Marder’s relationship with his best friend, Sam Jinishian, remained close. In fact, the seven-hour time difference between Gaziantep and New York worked in their favor; Ms. Jinishian was often on Google Chat at work around the same time Mr. Marder was wrapping up his day at home.
Will Lefferts, 25, who is pursuing a master’s in communication at Sciences Po in Paris, has also found that living in a different time zone has its social advantages.
“Right now, I’m in that weird place of my life where a lot of my close friends are in graduate school as well,” he said. “They don’t have work responsibilities in the same way, so we can talk.”
That’s true for Mr. Lefferts’s friends on the East Coast, at least. “The six-hour difference isn’t that big, but the West Coast is a nightmare,” he said.
When friends’ schedules don’t line up quite so serendipitously, setting call dates can ensure more regular communication.
(Related: The art of making — and not making — plans)
The medium matters
When people are trying to talk across time zones, some methods may work better than others. Mr. Marder said he keeps in closest contact with his friends who have the messaging app WhatsApp or use iMessage to text.
Alexa Wybraniec, 22, studied at Sciences Po during her junior year at Rutgers University, before she had an iPhone. With that constraint, she found herself using Facebook as her primary means of contacting people. Her best friend, a Facebook abstainer, joined the network for the year just to keep in touch.
“The biggest game-changer for me was when I got my first iPhone,” said Ms. Wybraniec, who moved back to Paris after graduation. “IMessage changed everything.” The price of connection, though, was distraction: Before she switched phones, she said, she “wasn’t Snapchatting the whole city.”
Though disappearing messages are the bread and butter of Snapchat, some of the app’s functions may allow a more lasting connection.
Mr. Marder has a friend in New York whom he called “the king of Snapchat stories” — photos and videos that users broadcast to all of their friends, rather than just a handful. “He’s very skilled at tracing these narratives,” he said. “He’ll go to a friend’s wedding and interview people, or document the antics of birthday parties.” The unedited, often funny footage helps Mr. Marder feel connected to his friends back home.
Janan Dave, 24, who recently moved to Bangalore, India, to pursue a 10-month fellowship in public health, felt the same way about the app. “When my internet’s strong enough to look at people’s Snap stories, that actually kind of helps me feel like I know what’s going on in people’s lives,” she said.
“You need to find new ways to relate to each other that are satisfying,” Dr. Levine said. “A friendship can’t just exist on the past.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean going full Taylor Swift and planning a weekend of professionally photographed fun with friends. It could involve travel, though.
“I have a pact with a group of friends: If we’re ever in the same country, and if it’s at all reasonable, we have to try for it,” Mr. Lefferts said. Last summer one of his friends got married in Michigan, and everyone in the group made it to the party. Soon they’ll unite again, for Mr. Lefferts’s Halloween party in Paris.
Shriya Samavai and Clare Drummond have been friends since they were toddlers. When they graduated from high school in 2011, Ms. Manian moved to New York from Indiana to study at Columbia University, while Ms. Drummond stayed in their home state to attend Purdue University. It was the first time the 23-year-old best friends had to consider what it might be like to live apart. As longtime collaborators — on photo shoots, illustrations and songs — they believed art could be the answer to their long-distance problem.
“After I moved, we started sending each other stuff in the mail,” Ms. Samavai said. “We’d make art and scan it by email. Then we started writing these songs for each other.”
In addition to keeping their creative partnership alive, Ms. Samavai and Ms. Drummond have used distance as an excuse to visit each other often and travel to new places together.
“We’re always discussing, ‘When’s the next time you can take off, and where do you want to go?’” Ms. Samavai said.
“It’s one thing to have come from the same place, and that’s really powerful,” said the author Ann Brashares. “But it’s important to be going in the same direction.” Friendships form in temporary contexts, such as school, work and location. Without them, those relationships may lack meaning.
In their absence, Ms. Brashares said, it’s essential to create new situations in which friendship might thrive, whether it’s starting a book club, going on vacation together or sharing a pair of jeans, as the characters in her “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” series do.
“As I get older, I’m more and more convinced of the importance of the concrete,” Ms. Brashares said. When she was writing the “Sisterhood” series, she was looking for a physical representation of her characters’ relationships that honored the past while continuing to change in the present. The jeans were a perfect fit.
When Ms. Wybraniec first left for Paris, she packed reminders of her two closest friends: sketches that her friend Nora drew in high school, and a necklace her friend Natasha made that bears a rock pendant from a mountain in their hometown. They provided her with “something physical and tangible to hold onto from home.”
Physical reminders of friendship aren’t always items you can pack in a suitcase or send by mail. Take, for example, the best-friend tattoos that Ms. Samavai and Ms. Drummond got in 2013.
“We didn’t want something matching, but we wanted two things that kind of completed each other,” Ms. Samavai said.
She and Ms. Drummond first considered inking themselves with a watering can and a houseplant, respectively, then revised the vision in favor of a bergamot plant and a teapot filled with Earl Grey, a drink they often shared at each other’s houses growing up.
Credit Shriya Samavai
“When we stand side by side, you see the teapot pour into the plant,” Ms. Samavai said of the tattoos, which Ms. Drummond drew. “I don’t know why, but Earl Grey has been a central force in our friendship.”
Be a support system
Anyone who has recently uprooted is likely to be “consumed with the challenges of finding their place in a new community,” Dr. Levine said. They could be living alone, or with strangers. There may be a job lined up, or there may be stress over a seemingly endless search for work. Even simple things like figuring out where to buy groceries can be difficult.
The mundanity of moving shouldn’t be a barrier to bonding. Dr. Levine recommended that rather than withholding the details of a transition from friends, you should “make them part of the journey with you.”
“I keep Sam pretty in the loop about even the most banal things in my life,” Mr. Marder said.
But living near the Turkey-Syria border has meant that some of his conversations with friends revolve around more pressing issues, like his safety. When Gaziantep was bombed in August 2016, he was “marked safe” on Facebook.
“I didn’t even know it had happened until I started getting messages from people in America about it,” he said.
Mr. Lefferts had a similar experience in Paris during the November 2015 attacks.
“I didn’t know anything had happened until after my mom texted me asking if I was O.K.,” he said. In the days that followed, he received concerned messages from Facebook friends, some of whom he had not spoken to in a long time.
“I really appreciated it,” he said.
Friends “can be a life preserver or a buoy in your next environment,” Dr. Levine said. With a strong foundation and the right tools, it’s possible to live apart, support each other and grow together.
Want more? You might also like:
• How to have more engaging conversations in everyday life
• How to professionally network without being a leech
• 15 ways to be a better person
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