How to "stay in touch"?
October 19, 2008 10:13 AM   Subscribe

How do you keep in touch with friends and relatives over long distances?

I have a lot of friends and relatives who I am not necessarily close to, but would like to be. They're good people, but we rarely ever see each other due to living far away.

I have the tools - cell phone, internet, mail.

I don't really know how to use them effectively.

How often should I be calling people? Once a week? Month? Special holidays? I generally stick to major holidays.

What about people that I never talked to before I became an "adult"? Like older uncles and aunts and younger cousins or nieces and nephews (like 10 years younger). How do you keep in touch when the ties are by blood, but they're just neutral.

I basically don't know what to say to people. If you got a routine you use or some concrete examples, I would appreciate it. I've read books on cold-calling and networking, and what I want is a more substantive relationship.

I need a frame of mind to approach this, maybe some idea that it's ok to have varying degrees of strength in a relation, maybe some advice that people don't necessarily get offended when I don't call.
posted by abdulf to Human Relations (12 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
All the people closest to me are physically far -- my family's a few hours away and all my friends are scattered at various schools across the country.

Three things that work for us:
1. Blogs -- you keep up with them and interact in the comments. We don't necessarily have "This is what I did today" blogs as much as big updates and opinions.
2. Gmail threads -- anytime I find something interesting, I start a big ol' Gmail thread, and we discuss things, make plans, share ideas/links, etc.
3. Instant Messaging

The key here is asynchronicity -- they can respond whenever they get the time.

The initiation in this case is usually sharing something related to a common interest, or one of their interests. For instance, one of my cousins is into photography, so everytime I find some neat HDR picture or something related on, say, Digg or Metafilter, I'll shoot him an email with the link. Some of my other friends who are scattered across the country share the same political and economic ideas as I do, so we often have big interesting political gmail threads.

And it's never a bad thing to send unsolicited emails asking how they're doing. If they don't respond, don't take it personally. Sometimes I will see an email and appreciate it, but don't have time to respond at that time, and it gets lost. Just shoot out another email in a few weeks or so after that -- people like knowing that there's someone taking an interest in their life.

As far as calling goes, I call my family (parents & sibling) pretty regularly, but they're the only ones who I use the phone with as a primary means of communicating.
posted by spiderskull at 10:34 AM on October 19, 2008

Over the past few years, family recipes have been a good avenue for me to (re-) create a connection with distant family members. Some cousin or aunt or someone will have grandma's cookie recipe or whatever, and I find out and call them. This lets you catch up while having some structure or goal for the conversation. It's just a way to break the ice.
posted by rhizome at 11:03 AM on October 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I started a family listserv using Yahoo Groups about 8 years ago when three of my cousins all got pregnant at the same time. At first, it was meant as an easy way to do a "guess the date/weight/etc" contest for the babies, but it turned into a lot more. We have a calendar that sends automatic reminders of birthdays and anniversaries, people send photos of new babies/spouses/houses/pets, and we plan holiday get-togethers and such. We probably average 25-ish messages a month among 30-ish members, so it's not terribly high-traffic. Different people respond to different things, and since it's collective, no one feels pressure to answer every single thread.

It was simple to set up, easy to maintain. Biggest challenges were getting some of the older relatives (my grandma is 86, great-aunt is 101) going, and helping them troubleshoot when they have problems, but that's not really been bad, especially if you take it as just another opportunity to have meaningful contact without having to invent small-talk.
posted by donnagirl at 11:19 AM on October 19, 2008 [4 favorites]

I talk to my parents once a week on the phone - I usually call them on Sunday. That's typically a catch-up call where we just talk about what happened the week before.

I mostly keep in touch with friends and brother by IM - it is SUCH a boon for keeping friendships going. For the friends that aren't on IM, we probably talk every few months or so. There's no script - one of us will just call the other to see how things are going.

I've found that with IM and facebook and stuff like that, I use email less than I used to to keep in touch with people.
posted by lunasol at 11:37 AM on October 19, 2008

Every so often my dad collects everyone's names and numbers and email addresses. Mom puts everyone's birthdays and significant anniversaries in and it gets published. We don't have an official listserv, but just about everyone has a distro list for all of us that they use for FamSpam - technical questions and such.

I tend to call my folks once a week, exchange emails and chats with friends and siblings. I got a LifeCam for Christmas that makes it fun for my folks to visit with their grandkids, and my kids to talk to their cousins.

I can't get into Facebook, myself. Too much "flair". Livejournal is about it, and I think I'm following three people on it.
posted by lysdexic at 11:51 AM on October 19, 2008

Facebook. You can go into the settings and fix it so that you aren't inundated with all the goofy crap. It works well because it is such an easy interface to learn and send messages, articles, pictures, etc. If you tweak the preferences to your liking, I think you would find it to be the best tool. Also, easy for the non-tech folks to learn.
posted by pearlybob at 12:45 PM on October 19, 2008

Writing letters has turned out as a great way for me to keep in contact with some college friends. Facebook is also a big thing; though it was used more when everyone was around each other and doing things together, checking in once in awhile is very easy. Plus you can always see what people are doing in your news-feed.

Also, in high school I started a forum for some of my friends (phpBB). We're still using it now. It might be a bit more than you're looking for, but there's good value in having a central location for everyone to keep up with each other.
posted by Korou at 1:18 PM on October 19, 2008

One of my favorite Facebook features is the ability to send private video messages to friends. Last year, one of my closest friends moved from New York to India, and even though Skype made it very affordable for me to call him, it wasn't always the best option because of time zone differences. So we started sending Facebook video messages to each other. I forget what the exact limit is for them, but I'm pretty sure that you can record at least 10 minutes of video on there. It worked really well for us because we both felt that we were too busy to write lengthy emails to each other as much as we'd have liked. It only took us 5 or 10 minutes to record each video message, and it came with the added benefit of feeling so much more personal than just text.

Ever since the latest Facebook redesign, I haven't been using the site nearly as much as I used to. But I still think it's a great place to begin if you want to keep in touch with people since you can very easily have all your contacts in one place, along with a great set of tools to work with.
posted by sabira at 1:18 PM on October 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

I find all of the online conceits for keeping in touch sort of . . . false. For the most part, friending someone on something like facebook means I'm aware of the person's life, but generally don't feel the need to actually communicate with them.

I moved out of state for graduate school last year, about a thousand miles away from where I spent the first twenty-four years of my life. With those I'm emotionally closest to, I keep in touch over the phone: call my LD fiance daily, the mother every other day (she's an empty nesty Jewish mom, so anything less would upset her!), my sister about once a week, close friends from high school about once or twice monthly.

As for my college friends, we never really had phone conversations, so those would be awkward now. Instead, we write one another letters. Really long, detailed, often intimate letters--probably three or four a semester. The nature of letter writing means that our friendships feel more intimate and special than they did when I saw them daily. Really, I'm a big fan of old school technologies. There's something much more personal about them, maybe because the care and time they entail.

As for relatives, I'll be watching this thread closely for advice. I've tried keeping up with my cousins through facebook and myspace, but it hasn't really worked.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:00 PM on October 19, 2008

I think it's nice to do a combination of the old and new communication methods. I'm on the opposite ends of the world from my family at the moment, and keeping in touch has been pretty easy so far, and the quality of our conversations and correspondence is high so it feels more special than when I was back home.

My grandma, with whom I am very close, now LOVES email, and sends me sort of stream-of-consciousness emails every other day or so. They make me laugh, and I treasure them.

I also use Picasa to upload photos, and my dad, sister, and uncle, also have picasa sites so we'll comment on each other's photos.

Phone cards are extremely cheap, so it's easy to call. I do so probably about once a week to those I'm closest with.

And mail is great. Everyone loves receiving mail. As long as it's light, it's pretty cheap, so I'll send handmade cards, or small souvenirs, or postcards back home. They take over three weeks to get there, even by air mail, which is the only downside. I'll usually just use my lunchbreak once in a while to write something or package something up and send it.

My grandma loves birds so I got a tiny pin with a bird native to New Zealand and sent it home to her. She loves it and likes to wear it up to the restaurant she meets her friends at and tells them about it.

Thanks Sabira for the mention of the private video message via facebook. That's a great idea and I'll be using that one.

As for what to say?

Just things like - I walked by a lavender bush today and remembered how you always had your house filled with it and it reminded me of you. Observations, thoughts, questions for the person so they'll have something to write back with.

Letter writing is a lost art -- I'm sure those with more of a literary background will have some examples of great episolary novels you can get some examples from.

Letters, postcards, packages, etc. will all make great history for you to all sift through and remember these times when you're older. You won't have that effect with email.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 3:01 PM on October 19, 2008

I find that you often establish a pattern of correspondence that can vary widely from person to person, regardless of how close you are. I have some good international friends and generally we exchange a long email once a month. I have a local friend who I rarely get to see and we'll call each other once every two months. I have a friend I see every week and we email each other every day.

I have and have had friends with whom I correspond with almost exclusively through lettermail because we're big stationery nerds. There's nothing nicer than getting a big, fat envelope in the mail, and it makes the write-response routine really easy. I don't have to worry about writing to her until I get something back.

If you feel stuck on what to write (which happens to me often), keep an eye out for something you know the other person has an interest in. They you can send off a link or image which will hopefully prompt a longer response from your friend. Or buy a funny or artsy postcard and send it off with a joke or simple "thinking of you." Keeping the lines open is important.
posted by Rora at 11:32 AM on October 20, 2008

One of the ways is also to devote some time during the week and research on what "they" do, what their life realities currently are. If they keep internet presence, join all the social networks they are on, add them as friends, comment on photos they post, set your feedreader to fetch their blog entries. Leave comments, often.

As per recommended tool, my vote would go for Friendfeed right now, Twitter to a lesser extent (but these things evolve all the time, so what's en vogue today is outdated tomorrow).

Postcards for all who refuse to go "digital".

I recently caught myself choosing air travel itineraries that would allow to have a lunch with old friends who moved to far away European places during my layover times. This is great!
posted by Jurate at 6:29 AM on October 21, 2008

« Older Name this guitar pedal   |   Help keep me and MrLyzzyBee warm AND solvent this... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.