Set a regular date
A 2008 study found that long-lasting friendships share the characteristic of reciprocity, meaning that both sides equally contact and share with one another. With busy schedules and clashing time zones, squeezing in long-distance phone calls can be a challenge. Finding a time that works for both of you and sticking to it can alleviate this pressure: maybe your commute to work is the best time to ring, or texting a Bake Off recap once a week will do the trick.
More isn’t always merrier
Instead of defaulting to catching up by phone calls or texts, make sure you have communicated with your friend about what method works best for you both. “Friends need to talk about their preferred methods of communication,” says Dr Irene S Levine, a psychologist and friendship expert. Levine also stresses the importance of talking about how frequently each friend wants to be contacted. There are alternatives to constant written communication, such as leaving voice memos or having a group chat dedicated to funny photos and memes. A 2018 study found that friends have the same neural responses to videos, so sharing visuals might do just as much to maintain your bond as asking: “How are you?”
You may be the friend who left or the one who was left behind; parties in a long-distance friendship will have different hurdles to overcome. “The friend who is remaining needs to be sensitive to all the additional time demands placed on the friend who has moved,” says Levine; the one in the new context should be sympathetic to the fact that their friend may feel abandoned. Acknowledging the struggles each friend faces will lead to better communication and understanding. “It’s also helpful for both friends to offer each other assurance that the friendship is a keeper,” says Levine.
Remember important dates
Anniversaries and birthdays carry even more weight in long-distance friendships. Alhough technology might make day-to-day communication possible, on special occasions, extra effort goes a long way. In an Ofcom survey from 2015, sending a birthday card remained the most popular way to send a birthday greeting. Simply keeping a diary that keeps track of friends’ birthdays and other important dates will make sure nothing slips by you (just remember to account for last posting dates for international delivery at Christmas and other key times).
It is easy to have a sense of connectedness through social media, but long-distance friendships – even close ones – may require more conscious effort to maintain. Prof Jeffrey A Hall, associate professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas, advises seeking out opportunities for “friendship renewal” through to spending face-to-face time together whenever possible. “Making an effort, as well as posting, is what keeps a long-distance friendship intact,” he says.