How to Maintain Your (Long-Distance) Female Friendships
by Bridget Chalifour
Over the years, I’ve acquired quite the collection of truly incredible female friends. I’ve mentioned them in articles before, because I’m obsessed with them. They range from a statistician, to an EMT and horse trainer, to fellow graduate students and scientists in the STEM field. We’ve shared all stages of life together, and I think this shared history is what makes us so close. We’ve seen each other through Girl Scouts, ballet lessons, high school graduation, college, boyfriends, girlfriends and every life stage in-between. They’re my rock, always—despite living on opposite ends of the country. Ranging from Nashville to Orlando to Boulder, we’re hundreds of miles and two time zones apart. So, how do we manage to still stay so close and involved in each other’s lives? I’ve compiled a few things I’ve learned through long-distance relationships of all kinds to make sure the Leslie Knope to your Ann Perkins doesn’t feel left out of all the cool happenings in your life.
Embrace the beauty of Snail Mail
There’s something intensely personal about receiving a handwritten letter rather than a text or email. Not only is this a relatively cheap option, it’s also fun if you can find a quirky note card and roll with it. (My personal favorite is exchanging Dolly Parton-themed gifts with my friend in Nashville). I’m always delighted to find fun mail mixed in with all the junk and bills, and it’s an easy way to brighten your friend’s day. When traveling, whether for work or leisure, my friends and I always find postcards to mail to each other as a reminder we’re thinking of them and wish they were there to share the adventure. Including a little memento like a sticker, keychain or ticket stub to swap with your friend is another tradition I’ve started and enjoy. I’ve collected so many postcards from one of my best friends I practically have a shrine to her. No shame though—it’s a terrific little room decoration and always make me think of her.
Pick up the phone
Using your cell phone for actual phone calls is underrated. Call when you have a funny story—or an angry rant. Call when you’re walking to the bus stop, or grocery shopping, or any normally mundane activity. I miss hearing my friends’ voices, and it’s comforting to talk for an hour or so when either one of us has had a tough week. We’ll vent out our road rage, strategize dessert recipes and plan how we’ll treat ourselves after our hard weeks of classes and work.
Support their hustle
I can always count on my long-distance friends to help me when it comes to school or work business. I value their opinions, whether that means sending them research grant drafts or asking how to reformat my C.V. One of the best parts of your support group is benefitting from each other’s strengths. That doesn’t have to end when you move far away from each other. My circle of friends has been in the midst of grant-writing “season,” and we’ve sent draft after draft of proposals, resumes and cover letters to each other. Checking in on how things are going for them professionally and remembering when their important presentations, deadlines, etc. are coming up is a good way to show them you’re invested in their wellbeing from far away. When I have a probability midterm, my biostatistician best friend never fails to send me a “biostat Ryan Gosling” meme for a little encouragement, and it makes me smile [Editor’s note: If you don’t understand these, don’t worry—neither did we.] As friends who have seen each other through the struggles of declaring a major all the way to presenting at our first conferences, we’re so invested in each other’s professional success that helping out along the way is a given.
Plan one-on-one time
While the internet can connect us through texts and email and your friends are only a phone call away, face-to-face bonding time is essential. If you can afford it, make time to see them wherever they’re located (or for a more equitable alternative, meet someplace fun that’s halfway between you). My friends and I usually share a Pinterest board to jointly plan our itinerary and hype ourselves up. When you do get together, make sure the time is meaningful, and try not to be distracted by work or school. I’ve recently decided to totally disconnect from my personal “my strange addiction” of checking email while I’m away from work, and it’s done wonders towards allowing me to engage with my friends.
You probably have tons of funny anecdotes you’ve been meaning to tell them that are just too long to text. When those stories happen, take note of them so you’re not stumped or forgetting in the moment. Whenever I’m back in my hometown, my best friend and I make a date simply to drive around town and catch up; it’s one of my favorite things about being home. Even just scrolling through your camera roll can elicit a wave of catching-up, identifying the big moments, new friends and amusing memories.
In many long-distance friendships, the closeness fades and people who were once so important to you become social media personalities whose pictures you scroll past without a thought. It has been so important to me to prevent this, and to prioritize the people who helped me get to where I am in life, instead of replacing them. I’ve managed to keep all my best friends in a very present place in my life, as well as incorporate and accept each other’s new female support systems. We’re lucky to live in an age where we can combine handwriting letters with tagging friends in memes to stay connected.
It’s totally possible to stay best friends with your support group, even when they’re far away—it just takes a little creativity and willpower.
Bridget graduated from the University of Florida with a B.S. in Environmental Science, and an unofficial degree in knitting and watching Netflix simultaneously. She begins studying for her PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder in August. In the meantime, she's keeping busy hiking, reading Darwin, and petting strangers dogs.