How to Strengthen the Bonds of a Long-Distance Friendship

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It's not easy when your cross-town friendship changes to more of a plane-ride-away situation. When you hit the gym together on the regular and have weekly girls' nights in, imagining what your relationship will look like when there are suddenly thousands of miles between you is potentially devastating. A long-distance friendship will change your relationship, but it doesn't have to end it.

“Social interaction is critical for our mental health and, with a long-distance friendship, we may find that it’s more challenging to find time to connect with the other person, which can contribute to feelings of loneliness or sadness,” says Anisha Patel-Dunn, DO, a therapist and chief medical officer of mental health provider LifeStance Health. “It’s normal during this transitional period to experience challenging emotions.”

So how do you maintain that know-me-better-than-I-know-myself level of connection when you're relegated to FaceTime instead of face time? According to Dr. Patel-Dunn, it requires that both friends schedule time to connect and nurture the relationship. While there will certainly be challenges that arise (more on that below), there are also positives of having a long-distance friendship. Keep reading to learn what they are, plus 8 simple ways to stay close with your bestie even when you're far apart.

Challenges of a long-distance friendship

Besides not being able to hang out in person with your best friend, one of the challenges of a long-distance friendship is having to rely more on text-based communication versus in-person conversatins, which Dr. Patel-Dunn says can often lead to feeling less connected. To remedy this, she suggests having a set day and time for a standing catch-up call.

Although social media can also be a way to stay up to date on what’s going on with your BFF, Dr. Patel-Dunn says it can also be a source of insecurity. Is my friend having more fun now that they moved away? Do they miss me? Are they making new friends faster than I am? “These are all questions that can fuel feelings of anxiety and resentment amongst friends,” she says. “If these are thoughts you’re experiencing, I’d encourage you to have an open and honest conversation with your friend and voice those concerns.”

Benefits of a long-distance friendship

While your friendship will definitely change, taking it long-distance doesn't have to mean the end of closeness. In fact, according to Irene S. Levine, PhD, professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine, distance can actually strengthen your friendship.

"Long-distance friends are more likely to spend concentrated periods of time with each other," Dr. Levine says. By spending more quality time together—read: not silently scrolling through social feeds at dinner—you may find that you appreciate your bestie even more.

And distance may even give you a mechanism to enforce boundaries in a way that can be difficult when you live close to each other, says Diane Barth, LCSW, a psychotherapist and author of the new book I Know How You Feel. "For instance, you have a dear friend who you don’t want to see all of the time, but it’s hard to say no when you live near one another," she says. "When you have a built-in physical distance, the boundaries are just a given."

8 ways to strengthen your long-distance friendship

1. Be prepared for challenges

Like previously mentioned, long-distance friendships do come with challenges. Even if you vow to talk every day, your friendship will inevitably change when spontaneous brunches—or spontaneous anything, for that matter—are out of reach. "Get-togethers can no longer be convenient; more likely, they'll need to be scheduled," says Dr. Levine. Which may mean requesting some PTO and booking a flight. So mentally preparing yourself for said challenges can make the transition a bit easier.

Another challenge faced by long-distance friends is the inability to rely on body language cues to communicate, Barth says. Without your go-to eyebrow raise to tip off your bestie to the fact that something's up, you're going to have to find a way to vocalize *all* your thoughts.

2. Make communication a priority

"There's less opportunity to share common experiences in person, so maintaining a long-distance friendship requires 'keeping in touch' with each other's lives," Dr. Levine explains. While you may not have time for an hour-long phone call every day, sending a few texts back and forth about goings-on at work is key to staying close.

It also leaves little room for being a "bad texter." If you have a hard time keeping up with incoming messages, or if the thought of a phone call makes you shudder, you'll need to explain this to your friend. Dr. Levine recommends discussing how you'll keep in touch to avoid any hurt feelings or confusion.

An unexpected upside to a long-distance friendship, according to Barth, is that you may end up having better and more intimate conversations. "People have told me that they have had some of their best conversations with friends when they were far away from one another," she says. "Somehow, talking on the phone or via FaceTime or Skype can allow for a kind of intimacy that doesn’t always happen when you’re face to face."

3. Embrace social media interactions

Don't be too quick to dismiss social media interactions as shallow: Your app of choice is an invaluable way to stay in each other's lives, says Barth. Sharing Insta stories and double-taps will give you a more interactive way to keep up with each other.

"Many women have told me that being able to see what their friends are doing adds to a sense of connection, especially when they don't have regular face to face contact," Barth says. So instead of just telling your bestie you went to yoga, share that Boomerang video of your crow-to-plank.

4. Commit to getting together IRL

Apps and unlimited data plans have made it easier than ever to stay in constant contact, but there's no substitute for seeing a loved one in the flesh.

"Friendships rarely last on old memories alone," says Dr. Levine, so it's important to make the time to see each other as often as your schedules (and wallets) allow. Whether you're jet-setting to a fitness retreat or simply visiting each others' homes, creating new memories together will help your friendship continue to develop.

5. Share the little details too

Just because your friend is miles away, that doesn’t mean you should skip on all the little seemingly unimportant details of your day-to-day life.

“People may hold back on talking about certain aspects of their everyday life because it feels boring, their friend doesn’t know a person in the story, or they’ve never been to the place where the story takes place, not realizing that this limits how much that long-distance friend knows about you,” Dr. Patel-Dunn says.

6. Find new ways to connect

One of the silver linings of living through a pandemic is that we’ve learned how to get creative and find ways to connect remotely. “If you typically call one another or text to communicate, think about switching it and sharing a meal over a video call, or scheduling a virtual game night with others,” Dr. Patel-Dunn says. “Making the time you can spend with one another fun (whether it’s in-person or not), is important to sustaining any relationship.”

7. Remember there's no right way to do it

The distance between you doesn't define your friendship, and there's no single way to maintain your closeness. Some friendships thrive with very little nurturing; others take more work. "This is true whether one is in close proximity or at a distance," Barth says.

Keeping apprised of each other's lives and being honest with each other about what's working in the friendship and what isn't is the key to keeping your bond strong, no matter how far away you are.

8. Be kind to yourself

One last reminder: Give yourself grace as you navigate a long-distance friendship. “Any type of long-distance relationship that relies on remote communication can get frustrating at times,” Dr. Patel-Dunn says. “Scheduling time to connect can get tough, conversation lulls can happen, and the lack of in-person social cues can lead to miscommunication. This is very normal, and I would encourage people not to assign a value judgment to these types of challenges.”

Yes, long-distance friendships require work on both parts in order to maintain them, but it’s well worth the effort.  “The quality of your friendships is worth much more than who is in your immediate vicinity,” Dr. Patel-Dunn says.”Investing in friendships that make you feel appreciated, loved, and seen is always worth keeping in your life, no matter the distance that separates you.”

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