Facebook Doesn't Cut It: How To Be A Better Long-Distance Friend

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
By Natasha Burton

Whether your childhood BFF settled across the country or a once-local pal recently switched jobs (and cities), you likely have more than a few long-distance friends. And, while most of us have the best intentions to catch up regularly, life can often derail those plans.

Don't rely on texting and Facebook to maintain your connections. Instead, make an effort to employ the following tips — including suggestions from real women on how they've maintained their own long-distance friendships — and watch your relationships bloom.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Decide Before They Move
Maybe she thought you were going to video-chat every night. Or, you assumed that she'd be back often, so there'd be no need for in-between catch-up sessions. While it may seem weird, Nicole Zangara, LCSW, author of Surviving Female Friendships: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, suggests having a chat before she moves away.

"It's better to hammer out the expectations now than be let down when schedules get busy and the friendship starts to dwindle," she explains. "Discuss everything you can — including how often you'll visit — up-front, so that you're both as prepared as possible."
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Pick Up The Damn Phone
I know, I know. There's no time to call people anymore. But, even a 20-minute catch-up is enough to get the rundown on each other's lives, laugh a little, bond, and hear each other’s voices. Talking on the phone "can do wonders for the friendship. It's more meaningful than email or text," says Zangara. Playing phone tag? Schedule a quick “meeting,” just like at work.

If you live in different countries, try Google Hangouts or Skype for some face time (or FaceTime!). You can even do a group call with a bunch of friends, and "hang out" while drinking wine. Sure, it's not the same as happy hour, but it's as close as you'll get without traveling.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Or Write A Letter
For some friends, especially those who live in drastically different time zones, calling or Skyping regularly just isn't possible. This is where the art of letter-writing comes in. "A good letter warms your heart," says Julia B., who regularly writes letters to faraway friends. "I have found that when I get a great letter, I read it again and again. It's not very easy, for me at least, to convey emotions well on social media, and somehow a letter can really breach that barrier."

While writing a letter probably takes just as much time as an email, snail mail is more thoughtful and personal. You could even include little tidbits, like an old photo or a picture you tore out of a magazine. If you're short on words (or on a fun trip), postcards are also fun.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Schedule Quality Time
Saying things like "We should talk soon," or "I really want to come visit!" only goes so far: At some point, you have to make the effort to put some plans into motion. Plus, Zangara says, "Knowing you have something planned takes the pressure off," since you know you're nurturing the friendship.

Jennifer A., whose childhood best friend lives in another country, adds that putting concrete plans on the books — whether it's a date to grab lunch halfway between your cities or a weekend getaway — also gives you something to look forward to together, which is another way to bond.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Reach Out
Friendships are give-and-take, but your relationship with a particular friend doesn't need to be "equal." If a pal recently moved away and has been slacking on calling or emailing you back, don't take it personally. She may be struggling with her new job, exhausted from getting lost in her new city, or generally dealing with the newness of relocation.

Unless the friendship has always been one-sided, give her the benefit of the doubt and take the reins for a while. When you're the one going through a major change, she'll know to step up.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Celebrate & Commiserate
Be supportive through your friend's ups and downs. Whether she, say, just got married, had a kid, got the flu, or lost her job, don't just show your encouragement (or consolation) via Facebook comments. Instead, send a care package, suggests Sarah B., who recently surprised long-distance pals by doing just that.

It doesn’t have to be large or expensive. Just include a couple of items — her favorite candy or snack, a magazine, a toy for her new puppy, you get the idea — that you know she would enjoy, and ship it with a flat-rate USPS box. (A medium box would fit all those items and costs $12.) Putting in the extra effort will make her feel loved, no matter what the circumstances. If your budget is tight, even a handwritten birthday card can go a long way.

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