9 Long-Distance Relationship Habits That Totally Apply to Staying Close With Friends, Too

published Feb 10, 2021
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Credit: Lauren Kolyn

So you haven’t had a chance to visit with your bestie who lives across the country or even your childhood friend who lives in your hometown. Although it’s true that in-person dinners, brunches, and celebrations can create stronger bonds and help cultivate friendships, long-distance relationships don’t have to take a back seat this year. There are still ways to honor these connections and everyone’s safety during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Take it from me: Over the last year, my childhood friends and I decided to embrace a new way of keeping in touch. We each purchased the weekly journal “52 Lists for Happiness.” We’d take snapshots of our lists and text them to each other every Friday. Even though I’ve known this set of friends for over 30 years, it was a new approach to explore with and learn about each other in a nontraditional way. 

So don’t assume that you can’t connect with a friend simply because you can’t see them in person. Here are nine tips endorsed by relationship experts that will help distanced friendships and long-distance romantic relationships alike. 

Go deeper than small talk on video chats.

It’s important to move beyond the surface on video chats. The goal is to become vulnerable with your friend in order to strengthen your connection. Kristen Carter, a family and relationship coach and author of the book, ISPEAQ: How to Stand Up for Yourself and Have Difficult Conversations, recommends asking the following questions: 

  • What is making you happy right now?
  • What do you do when things feel hard?
  • What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen or heard lately?
  • What three words sum up your feelings about life and the world right now? 
  • What gives you hope right now?

These questions might seem big in the beginning, but if both friends are willing to share their deepest (and perhaps darkest) thoughts, it will help create a closer bond. 

Text often about everything and nothing.

“One of the easiest ways to keep a long distance friendship going is by staying in constant contact, rather than having sporadic check-ins,” says Jessica Small, a licensed marriage and family therapist from Denver. She believes if you’re regularly in contact with your friend, it’s easy to stay connected and it feels like you’re part of their daily life. “It may feel silly at first, but tell your friend about the delicious salad you had for lunch or how you just tripped in front of a group of people — this keeps the momentum going.” 

Send them something personal that shows you thought about them.

Sometimes a friend needs a non-digital reminder of how much they mean to you. Try sending something personal like a card or letter. “Electronic communication has almost eliminated the need for handwriting, but it’s so nice to see words written in a familiar hand,” Small told Apartment Therapy. 

Learn which stuff to sweat.

Offer friends some latitude and keep their personality and communication style in mind when trying to connect with them.

Laura Tremaine author of the book Share Your Stuff. I’ll Go First: 10 Questions to Take Your Friendships to the Next Level, wants people to extend some understanding in their friendships. “It’s too hard to have blanket rules for every person and friendship,” she says, noting that one friend might forget your birthday but regularly offer to pick up your child from soccer practice because that’s how they show they care. “Take the time to understand the way someone moves through the world with their communication or lifestyle in order not to take everything personally if it’s not the way you would do something.”

Save that buzzy new show or movie to watch “together.”

With Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other platforms, friends can connect over pop culture like never before. One way to replicate your monthly matinee date? Try watching a movie simultaneously — pull up a Zoom session to discuss the film in real time without getting shushed in the theater. “Even though you’re far apart that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy something together. If you watch the same show at the same time it will give you something to talk about and something to look forward to doing together,” says Small. You can also use this time to start a book club or make an effort to rewatch the same beloved series at the same time.

Plan a virtual event, like a wine tasting or brunch.

During the summertime, I participated in a virtual, informal wine tasting and invited four of my friends to join. We held it on a Saturday and dedicated two hours to sipping wine and talking about our lives. Even though it was over Zoom, we found a way to have conversation and learn each other’s taste in wine. The chat doesn’t necessarily have to revolve around wine — it could be any activity a group of friends enjoy doing together. If you or another member of your group doesn’t drink, try hosting your usual brunch over Zoom.

If you each make different recipes, lean into it — the only downside is that you won’t be able to swipe a bite of your friend’s pancakes if you made an omelet.

Plan a trip together.

The key to making the most of the time apart is to plan an activity in the future. Right now, talking about a future vacation or trip together can shift the conversation to happier times. “Planning a trip (even if it’s a year out) is a super fun project and can be as detailed as desired — create an itinerary of activities to do, restaurants to try, and places to stay,” says Kati Meyers, a life coach. Planning a trip gives friends something to look forward to and work on together. 

Make it a point to send birthday cards and gifts this year.

For some adults, a birthday is a big deal, especially during the pandemic when many people are feeling lonely and disconnected. “Birthdays can sometimes put people in a downward spiral. Make it a point to remember people’s ‘big’ birthdays like turning 30 or 40, says Caroline Madden, PhD. “Those people are so bummed out right now. They had plans that have totally blown up — in a bad way.”

Maybe in the past, we took birthday cards for granted, but now is the perfect time to grab an envelope and stamp, and write out a meaningful message to your friend.  And even if you were never the kind to give each other gifts, a thoughtful present might make the both of you smile in the process of sending and receiving it.

Credit: Liz Calka

Share things that make you laugh.

A funny GIF, TikTok, or a meme is a quick way to keep it light and share a laugh with a friend, according to Carter. Over this past year, I’ve sent several memes to friends and families over text and email. We laughed together virtually, but also shared a momentary connection. Carve out a few seconds in the morning or evening to send a quick GIF to brighten a friend’s day. It might be just the thing they need.