We’ve all been there. Building quality friendships to have one of them go on or move away. Whether it is a child in school whose best friend relocates or a grown-up whose best friend(s) move away; it hurts. Sometimes the pain is brief and you move on. The person stays in your life casually through social media and occasional texts, but you don’t necessarily maintain a friendship. Just an acquaintanceship. Other times, when the friend(s) moves along they take a piece of you with them and you enter into a long-distance friendship. It’s not desirable, it’s not easy, but it’s doable and oh so worth it.
I live in Memphis, and while it is an amazing city with oodles of opportunities and the fun abounds, it is a transient city. The job market is hot here. (The summers are too, but that’s another story!) The hot job market brings in new people who are usually not from Memphis and usually young in their professions. A few of these people make homes and stay here, like my husband and me, but a good amount of the others move on to new locations or move closer to their hometowns when the opportunity arises. Speak to any Memphis native or person who has made Memphis their home, and I promise you they can tell you about their friend graveyard.
Memphis has been my home for nine years now and my friend graveyard is getting pretty full. My Facebook feed boasts friends I made at work, church, across the street, at my kids’ day school–you name it–who have all moved on. I love them. I love to keep up with them. I am thankful and happy each and every single one of them shared a piece of their life with me. Three, however, stand out. They are my best friends. As juvenile as it feels to say that phrase, I can’t quite think of what else I would call them. “Friend” just isn’t enough and “sister” doesn’t quite fit the bill either, but that might be as close as I can equate.
Two years ago we all four lived in Memphis. Two of us in the city and two in the ‘burbs. It was wonderful. We all went to church together and hung out as much as possible. I jokingly called them our “Memphis Family.” We were there for the mundane day-to-day things, births, sicknesses, birthdays, graduations, promotions, job losses… all the life stuff. We made it more joyful or easier to cope for each other. Then one fall night it all started to change. One of my three friends and her husband met my husband and me for dinner at our favorite neighborhood BBQ joint. Of course, this wouldn’t be a good Memphis read without the mention of a BBQ joint! Toward the end of the night her husband told us he had accepted a job and they were moving to Nashville. My friend and I couldn’t even make eye contact! If we did, we both knew we would cry. It was her husband’s dream job and would be an amazing opportunity for both of them as they were expecting their fist babies–twins! We all shared the joy of new opportunities that night and pledged to remain close, even in different cities. As soon as we got home, my husband asked if I was okay and that was when I finally let the tears flow. Happiness for my friends never left, but sadness for change grew.
A few months later my above-mentioned friends had their precious twin girls and promptly made their way to Nashville. In that same time frame my two other remaining local best friends told me they were both moving, too! One for a personal opportunity in Arkansas and the other for a professional opportunity, coincidentally, in Nashville. More happiness mixed with sadness. How was I going to do this? ALL of my best friends were moving! I am a mom. How am I going to find the time to see them? It gets different and harder to do the older you get. Not impossible, though.
We are all now two years into this long distance-friendship thing. We pledged to stay best friends and in each other’s lives, and we’ve succeeded. Some seasons we are better at it than others. Some seasons one or two of us carry each other along as others go through busier or harder times in life, but it all evens out. Two years in we have also learned a few tricks.
Stay a part of each other’s daily lives.
It takes work! You are busy. They are busy. Everyone is BUSY! This is where technology is your friend. Send a quick text. It can be an encouraging note for them, a note talking about what chaos you are going through, anything. Heck, sometimes I just send a picture of the current chaos I find myself in. Kids hanging off the walls? Take a pic and then get them off the walls. I kid… kind of. One of my friends also turned me onto a free app called Voxer. Basically you can leave voice messages for each other to listen to at each other’s convenience and return really quickly as well! I know. It sounds like dreaded voice mail. I thought the same thing and held out on getting an account for a long time. Because, frankly, if you leave me a voice mail and you aren’t my kids’ doctor or teacher I am not listening to it (sorrynotsorry). However, Voxer is amazing. You don’t have to take the time to call a number, wait for it to ring, and listen to the awkward voice greeting to leave your message. And your message doesn’t have to explain why you were calling or ask to have someone call you back. You have something on your mind? Open the app, hit their picture and say it. It’s that easy! Added bonus, you get to hear their voice. Sometimes we can hide that twinge in our voice via text and our friends don’t quite get the level of what we are going through. Voxer adds a little oomph to the random message.
Celebrate with each other.
To do this, you have to share what’s going on. Tell them when you have a happy. Don’t assume because they aren’t there they don’t want to celebrate with you in spirit. No matter how small, if it makes you happy it will make them happy too. If your friend(s) haven’t shared a happy for you to celebrate lately, reach out to them. Find out what’s going on. Maybe they have forgotten to share with you or maybe there isn’t much to celebrate? Which brings up another good tip: commiserate with each other as well. Just the same as they could hug you when you needed it, they can be there with you long distance. Maybe times like this you bring out the big guns a FaceTime or Skype? Either way, comfort is more than a touch.
Do something special for each other.
Special doesn’t have to be over-the-top or expensive. By all means, it can be, but it’s not necessary. This last fall my friends all got together and secretly worked to get pictures of my three children turned into silhouettes by a well-known artist. I cherish them. Not only is it something I always wanted to have as a keepsake of this precious time in my life, to have the added bonus of my friends being a part of that process is priceless. This week I went to Target and saw a few cute things in yellow and decided to make a sunshine box for my two friends in Nashville. I haven’t seen them a lot lately and thought this might brighten (no pun intended–maybe) their day and let them know I am thinking of them. My friend who moved to Arkansas, who recently moved back to Memphis (!!), gave a birthday card with a sweet picture printed of us all at her wedding. It was small, but I equally treasure it. Every time I see it I smile and am thankful for their friendship.
Have an open couch policy.
Literally. Make sure you all know you are all always welcome to stay in each other’s houses when in town. On your couch if that’s all that’s available! Hotels can be expensive. If you have kids they can be a flat out pain in the rear. Money and patience frequently run short for everyone and committing to seeing one another is easier for everyone if both aren’t a factor. Last year the two friends in Nashville each hosted the two friends in Memphis for a weekend. That meant my family of five staying with my friend’s family of four. It was crowded, crazy and perfect. Precious memories were made that weekend and it’s memories like those that pull us through until the next visit, where we always pick-up like nothing has ever changed.
I’m not going to lie and say long distance friendship feels exactly the same as regular friendship. It doesn’t. But part of the process to building and maintaining great long distance friendships is accepting the fact it will be different. While we are at it, you have to admit and be okay with cheating. There will be cheating. Lots of it. New people will come into everyone’s life. Some of them will come and go, but some will stay. You have to accept the new people. Be happy there are new people there to make the people you love so much happy. Have confidence you are as special to your friends as they are to you. Long distance friendships are hard and they wouldn’t bother with one if you weren’t special and loved.
Dedicated to SAM.