Friending at a distance
September 21, 2022 8:12 AM   Subscribe

I've moved cross-country and a lot of my close friends are now thousands of miles away. What are some creative ways you stay close to loved ones who live far away?

This feels somewhat silly to ask, but I'm a deep introvert who didn't hang onto childhood friends so the idea of maintaining long-term friendships doesn't come naturally to me. A lot of my close dear friends live in various cities across the country, and while we do keep in touch online it's easy for life to get in the way. I'm in my late 30s and a lot of my friends (especially during the pandemic) have expressed how bad they've been at connecting with friends and feeling guilty about it. I would like to shift this myself so I don't feel guilt either-- these people are important to me and I don't want to lose touch! So I thought it might be interesting to hear different ways you show love or stay in touch with your faraway friends and loved ones.

Do you do certain activities together? Mail them surprises? Come up with interesting conversation topics? Tell me about them all, I'd love to hear what you've tried!
posted by actionpact to Human Relations (10 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Having regular triggers for reaching out is crucial for me. So for instance, one friend and I always contact each other when we encounter a weird or funny name. Another texts me a picture of the sky every time they take a walk. Another is my go-to person for complaining about the crossword. There are friends with whom I share specific weird pop culture interests, so I reach out to them when I encounter something relevant to one of those things. Sometimes this leads to a conversation, sometimes not, and they're not the only times we're in touch, but they create a baseline amount of "being in touch" that reduces the perceived awkwardness or effort of getting in touch. Basically, setting triggers like this increases your degree of casual, low-stakes interaction, which keeps the communication channels open for deeper conversation or connection if you want it.

This is a lot easier if you and your friends are texters. I know Metafilter is down on texting generally, but for me it's a perfect medium for these low-stakes interactions. If you really hate texting you could consider using Marco Polo, sending voice messages, or even emailing. The idea is just to remind yourself to think of them, and then to remind them that you're thinking of them, through whatever medium works for that.
posted by babelfish at 8:28 AM on September 21 [11 favorites]

The majority of my close and/or longtime friends live in other cities across the country, so I've gotten pretty good at this! Here are a few things that we do.

- Have a WhatsApp chat or group. I use the desktop version on my work computer, so it's easy to take a quick break between tasks to catch up on messages or send a quick missive. It sort of feels like spending the work day with my pals! (This obviously will only work if your friends also have the desire/ability to chat sporadically during the day.)

- Play online board games. You can get an annual subscription to Board Game Arena for like $25, and they have TONS of awesome options for groups of various sizes. We usually meet via Zoom so we have live video/audio, then all hop on the website.

- Movie/TV nights. I think there are apps that will help you watch things together (watch parties or whatever), but honestly, we all just put headphones in, hit play at the same time, and have a Zoom going so we can hear each other's reactions. This is especially fun with crappy reality shows or movies everyone has seen a million times.

- Plan in-person trips! Even if they're a year or two away, it feels so good to know that you'll get to see your friends in-person at some point, and planning and anticipation is part of the fun. Bonus points if you're not just visiting someone at their home, but going to a new place together/as a group. It's super fun to be perusing airbnb options, restaurant menus, museum websites, etc. together as the trip gets closer.
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack at 8:54 AM on September 21 [1 favorite]

We have date nights with our closest friends. Sometimes we play jackbox games, or watch a movie together, or just have drinks and voice chat over discord. One of the things we talk about is one or two meetups or visits every year.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:02 AM on September 21 [1 favorite]

A long distance friend and Me are horror movie buddies (neither of our spouses are fans) so will try and set up times to watch stuff "together" as in at the same time in our respective homes while texting each other about the movie.
posted by Captain_Science at 9:07 AM on September 21 [1 favorite]

My long-distance friend group chats all day every day in a Discord server, with people dipping in or out as their other-life-stuff-going-on levels allow. But once in a while we also schedule a group movie watch or happy hour or even half an hour of "I'm behind on everything, you're behind on everything, let's hang out together online and do paperwork and motivate each other to get it done or at least have someone else to whine to while doing it."

But also, yes, sometimes a specific thing for specific people is fun. I have one friend who is Cool Rock Friend, if either of us is taking a walk and finds a cool rock we text it. (This has recently been expanded to include yard statues.) Another with whom I have a long-running twitter DM conversation consisting 90% of cat pictures. A couple of other friends like to send postcards, and I'm not very good at returning snail mail, but I do get them and text or email them to say thanks, and that seems to work well enough for all involved.

For me what seems to work best is, other than the occasional planned get together, just keeping a low but steady level of chitchat about our lives in whatever medium works best for that person, to keep us close on the day to day stuff.
posted by Stacey at 10:14 AM on September 21 [1 favorite]

Most of my friends do not live close enough for us to meet in person regularly. I text almost daily with one and semi-regularly with several others. For the latter especially (but also sometimes the former) I make a point of occasionally texting if I see, read, watch, listen to, or experience something that I can connect to them or that I think will interest them (a joke, something from the garden, a recipe, a bird, a podcast, bad traffic, a book, a movie, whatever) Sometimes if I haven’t communicated with them in a while I will go out of my way to find something (generally lighthearted) to send, just to keep the connection open.

I prefer texting/messaging to email, but some people prefer email and so I will do email with them.

I found that I did not want to just call people since I always felt like I would be interrupting them, so over the last 2-3 years I’ve started scheduling calls with a few friends. One is video, the rest are just audio. The frequency varies depending on the friend. With one friend, we schedule the next call at the end of each previous call. With others, we agree that e.g. “we’ll talk again in November, I’ll text you in late October to work out a date.” Then I set a reminder for myself to do that. For me, setting that expectation (for both of us) actually takes pressure off - I don’t worry if I’m bugging them or whatever, since we’ve already agreed on the plan.

There are also a few people from my past that I am “facebook friends” with, which (even with all the caveats about facebook) keeps us at least a little bit in touch. The effectiveness of this probably varies depending on what your friends think of fb/social media in general.

These are all 1-1 interactions, not groups getting together. And I don’t do any long distance activities with friends, just write/talk with them.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 12:12 PM on September 21

It depends, my two best friends and my family do not live near me, distances ranging from 250 miles to 6k miles.

Closer friend and I text a lot and have a video call periodically. Generally these have to be scheduled because young children and assorted commitments. With that friend time zones line up enough so we sometimes schedule lunch on Teams as well. Works very well.

Far away friend and I text less but do tend to have a video call every two weeks, if one of us is travelling it may stretch to three weeks. They aren’t scheduled long in advance but we definitely text to find a convenient time, they are long calls.

If anything significant is going on we’re in touch more, normally by text because that’s easier to fit in.

And we do all make an effort to meet up where possible. I have had a few city breaks with the friend that is closer. My v long distance friend will be travelling to London for work in two months and I‘ll meet her there for the weekend. I‘ll be travelling to within 600 miles of her city around new year’s and we’re going to meet up somewhere…tbd. My family are motor homers and they texted me yesterday to say they’ll be within a 1.5 hr drive from me at the weekend so I’ll meet them for the day on Sunday.

I think the key is to figure out what works with each person and to keep doing that.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:50 PM on September 21

Perhaps worth adding - we don’t worry about finding ‚interesting’ topics. We want to hear what we’ve each been up to. I am intimately acquainted with my far away friend‘s hvac troubles and my closer friend‘s childcare troubles and my family’s concerns about the aging dog and they are the things I want to hear about. They are the things I‘d hear about if we lived closer to each other and were able to meet regularly in person.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:57 PM on September 21 [1 favorite]

I'm historically awful at long-distance friending. The thing I figured out recently is to have (1) an activity and (2) a schedule. That way I have a reason to call and a time to do it. (Otherwise I don't have a reason to call and/or I think "maybe tomorrow...")

Specific example: An old friend and I both wanted to do more yoga, so we made standing plans to get on the phone every Saturday and do yoga class from YouTube. We often spend more time chatting than doing yoga. Sometimes we skip weeks or even months because we're busy or whatever, but I take the initiative a lot more, which leads to talking more overall. Prior to this she initiated >90% of phone calls, but it's getting more balanced these days.
posted by sibilatorix at 12:01 AM on September 22 [1 favorite]

I do a lot of this as well and have done for a number of years. It does take effort.

- One friend and I have pizza and wine over FaceTime every few months. Two emojis let the other person know they could use a catch up, and we dedicate a couple hours every few months on a weekend night. It's almost always a frozen Dr. Oetker pizza (on sale)

- I collect postcards so friends know when they visit a new country, I will shyly request a postcard with stamp from wherever they travel

- Walking is a thing that I do often for exercise, so will often go for a walk with a friend, we each put our headphones in and have a phone call

- I do rely on Instagram a fair bit

Please be mindful that there are folks who have never had to maintain a long distance friendship. In their minds, it may just not compute. It's not that they care less about you, bu they are not used to the planning and level of effort required. It may feel unfair at times because you are initiating, following up, etc.
posted by nathaole at 10:55 AM on September 22

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