Nowadays many people move frequently, either for work or living a nomadic lifestyle. While this can lead to a much richer life (both financially and experientially), it can leave a gaping hole when it comes to long term friendships. I feel like I have learned how to maintain long distance friendships far more than most people I know, largely thanks to it being a necessity with my constant moving, so I thought I’d share some lessons I’ve learned.
1. Set up regular Skypes
Whatever you do, don’t just say, “Let’s talk again sometime” and leave it at that. Set up weekly, biweekly, or monthly Skypes. Whatever is the default happens; that’s why it’s so easy to maintain relationships in school and university. The default is seeing your friends every day. This is true for local friendships too, but especially for remote ones because you won’t have the triggers of seeing them at unrelated events to remind you that you should hangout. Set up a few regulars so that you can maintain a level of friendship that is a lot more satisfying than receiving a congratulations on your wedding that happened a year ago.
2. IM or text a lot
Skypes are good, but to really maintain your relationship, it helps to IM. The benefits of IM compared to other mediums of communication is that it’s considered OK to just spontaneously talk to somebody instead of arranging an hour two weeks out and it’s not set to a certain time period. You could just send two messages back and forth or chat for hours. This allows you to get and give emotional support if something just happened, to share those random shower thoughts you have, and just generally keep the relationship alive.
3. Encourage spontaneous calls
If there was one gripe I have about modern culture that’s not actually all that serious, it would be that people are against spontaneous calls. They want you to book something weeks out. Calling without texting first is considered rude. This leads to much less close relationships because neither of you can reach out when you need it, and people think they have a lot less spare time than they actually have. They might make you book two weeks out when actually they’re feeling lonely that evening binge-watching Netflix. Being able to call just to chat is a huge boon to a friendship, local or remote. Of course first if they’re OK with it because some people are quite opposed, and let them know that you’re open to it. Just be OK with people saying that they’re busy and you’ll have access to a whole new realm of social connection.
4. Have friends on different time zones
This applies less if you don’t move internationally very frequently, but if you do, this is essential. Otherwise you might move to a new place and find that all of your friends are asleep until 10:00 PM your time. I try to have friends in North America, Europe, and Australasia to make it so that if I feel like chatting in the morning or the evening, there’s always somebody awake and not working.
In conclusion, loneliness is endemic in our modern age where people are less location dependent, so being able to maintain a long distance friendship is extremely good for people’s mental health. I hope these pointers will help you and others be able to do so so we can live in a flexible but connected world.
I'm an effective altruist who co-founded Nonlinear, Charity Entrepreneurship, and Charity Science Health (Suvita)