You do everything with your friends. You laugh, cry, share take-out, go out, stay in, hang out. Then it happens—a close friend accepts that once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity on the other side of the country. How are you going to stay connected?
Over the years, I have maintained many long-lasting friendships. Lately it seems that several of my friends have relocated to different cities. Keeping in touch across the miles can seem like a daunting task. It is so easy to let friendships slide when we are not around those people on a regular basis. It takes effort to maintain relationships even in the best of times. Here are some ideas that have helped me to maintain long-distance friendships:
E-mail. The great thing about e-mail is that you can spend as much or as little time on it as you want. Plus, you can answer on your own timetable.
Snail mail. In this day of the electronic age, the handwritten letter has almost become obsolete. Who among us does not enjoy getting a handwritten letter? Be creative; include newspaper or magazine articles of interest to the recipient, a favorite cartoon, photos, stickers from the cereal box. No matter what you send, you will make someone’s day brighter with a hand-addressed envelope.
Round-robin newsletters. Although I have never been a part of these, I love this idea. The catch is making sure everyone in the group is committed to perpetuating the letter. It works something like this: Person A writes a letter and sends it to Person B. Person B reads the letter from Person A, writes a letter of his own, and mails both letters together to Person C and so forth. I know of a group of six people that have been writing a letter like this for years. Although it moves slowly at times, they usually make the cycle twice in a calendar year.
Correspondence journals. You can buy these, or make your own. The idea is that you and a friend circulate a journal between the two of you over a period of time. One keeps it and writes in it for a while, then sends it to the other who reads it, writes and sends it back again.
Phone. With the advent of cell phones with free nights and weekends and so many affordable calling cards, there is no reason not to reach out and touch someone occasionally.
Internet communication. I have found that this is a great way to communicate with friends overseas. The connections are fairly consistent, and best of all, it is free. Nowadays, there are many Internet service providers that offer this service.
Road trip. Save your pennies and meet somewhere. Or visit one another. If you travel frequently for work, sign up for frequent-stay programs at the hotels you use the most. Use the free stays for an economical getaway weekend with a friend you have not seen in a while.
Discount airfares. Take advantage of the low airfares offered on the Internet by discount travel sites. This works especially well if you are flexible in your travel dates and times or are willing to change planes more than once.
Video journal. Grab the video camera and create a video of your day or week. Video the kids, the house, friends, neighbors, dinner…you get the idea. Go wild and create a one-of-a-kind video of your slice of the world. Share it with your friend across the miles.
Prize boxes. I periodically send a far-away friend a prize box. Nothing fancy, usually a bunch of stuff from the dollar store. Funny stuff, things that make me think of him/her, photos, favorite gum or candy, a favorite food not available in their current locale, maybe something handmade. I am not sure which is greater – the joy of putting together a prize box or of receiving one.
Be creative. Brainstorm and come up with your own list of ways to be a good long-distance friend. Decide the best way to stay connected to specific people. Just as no two people are alike, the same method of communication does not work for everyone. The important thing to remember is that just as friendships take time to cement, they take effort to sustain. The benefits far outweigh the time and effort to preserve these relationships.
[Amy Clifford resides in Birmingham, AL, where she spends her days working as a special investigator for an insurance company. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, writing, and creating Polaroid image and emulsion transfers.]
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