One of my best friends has a video of me with tears streaming down my face. It was taken after college graduation, when my group of five best friends disassembled — we were all moving to different cities in separate states: Chicago, Denver, New York, Phoenix, and Savannah. The video was supposed to be a light-hearted “update” of our lives as we moved out of our college house where we’d made countless, Prosecco-infused memories. As we started filming, sentimentality got the best of me: Would this be our final update? Could our friendship handle distance? I was bawling and laughing at the camera.
Outbursts of mixed emotions like this are common in the face of long distance relationships, according to Theresa E. DiDonato, Ph.D., a social psychologist and associate professor at Loyola University Maryland.
“Transitioning from seeing someone nearly every day to a long-distance friendship can be stressful, even if it's for happy reasons,” DiDonato says. “You might be mourning the loss of the every day configuration of your friendship. Our emotional reactions can surprise us as we realize a friendship is changing and that we will have to reconfigure how we’ll sustain that relationship.”
Moving away from your support system is scary. And if you’re worried about maintaining your friendships from afar, those feelings are valid. However, Anne Moyer, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Stony Brook University and the co-editor of The Psychology of Friendship says that the best friendships are built to withstand thousands of miles.
“Some research is showing friendships aren’t fragile, they’re flexible,” Moyer says. “With distance, sometimes friendships can change, but that doesn’t mean they dissolve. They just may take on a different character as your lives change.”
As long as you can maintain “perceived closeness,” or the emotional ties that bind and fulfill you, Moyer says that friendships can survive across the globe. It’ won’t be easy. But with enough care and the right foundation, it can be done, DiDonato says.
“Sheer proximity fosters closeness and friendships,” she continues. “So, when you’re long distance, you have to get beyond that key factor and rely on other things that promote closeness.” These often have to do with similarities in goals, values, and careers, DiDonato says. But, in general, it can also come from bonding, keeping tabs on each other, and being there when it counts.
Here are a few ways to keep with your best friends, no matter how far apart you are.