Moving away from Athens (and then around Europe) has taught me a lot about friendship. Here I’m sharing my tips for keeping the (friendship) flame alive:
Firstly, you have to accept that your relationship is not going to work in the same way that it did in the past. This is not necessarily bad; it’s about the essence of life – change is the only constant. The way you communicate, share, bond and spend time together will inevitably differ and you need to come to terms with it. There are no impromptu sleepovers or coffee dates. It will take months until you manage to meet their new boyfriend or their new group of friends in person. Sometimes weeks might pass by without any communication. Brunch and drinks locations are carefully chosen and added to the to-do list that will have to wait until you find yourselves in the same time zone again. Which brings me to the second point:
Discover What Works for You
The realisation that I no longer had all the time in the world to talk to my best friend struck when we both started working. Somewhere between my 9-6 and her either inhumanly early or painfully late shifts, finding time to even message each other became increasingly challenging. Texting until well into the night stopped being an option and lengthy Skype sessions often require precise time-planning expertise. Instead of giving up daily communication, we’ve allowed it to slip within the cracks of our everyday life and blend seamlessly with our habits: we exchange selfies and voice messages, share Facebook and Instagram posts, have impromptu calls and check on each other at spontaneous, insignificant moments. [This has kept me from going bollocks every time London tube service is slow.] Devoting big, concrete chunks of time to communicating with my friends back home is tricky and ends up making me feel guilty when I’m not able to stick to it. On the other hand, carving out small periods of time here and there feels more doable.
Moreover, when moving abroad (or around), I noticed that the same communication recipe does not work with all people: with some friends I will chat every second day for brief instances whereas with other we will only catch up in person or once in awhile over the phone. I love messaging my friends when I find something online that might interest them, see something on my way to work or listen to a familiar song while queuing for coffee that might remind me of them or of our time together. Some friends set the communication “tempo” themselves: they might take a day to reply but they will send a lengthy message when they get the chance.
… when you actually meet! I feel that we’ve all fallen into the trap of getting absorbed into our mobile devices while hanging out with friends. More often than not, we can look around (and up from our screens) and notice that the overwhelming majority of the people surrounding us is buried into theirs as well. Reaching out for my smartphones and checking for notifications and messages has become an almost instinctive move for me but deep down I know that it can be terribly annoying to the person I’m talking with so I try to keep it to a minimum when hanging out with friends in Athens. Another thing to consider about being present is listening for the sake of listening rather than simply waiting for our turn to reply. Becoming a good listener takes time and effort but it is an invaluable skill both in personal and professional life.
Go the Extra Mile
Since this is a post about long distance friendships, this suggestion is rather metaphorical. Unless, of course, you can afford flying back-and-forth at a whim. Then go for it. Personally, I love to send birthday and Christmas cards or the occasional 5-page handwritten letter. I bring back souvenirs from my trips even if it’s something very small like a fridge magnet. A couple times I got so excited with a book that I mailed it to a friend immediately after I finished reading it because I felt that they needed to share the reading experience (and I desperately wanted to discuss the book with them afterwards). Another way is meeting with friends when travelling. Friends and acquaintances always reach out to me when visiting London either – meeting old friends against a completely new and different background can be a quite surreal experience! I also have my travelbae, a friend with whom we meet in a different city every time so it’s like killing two birds with one stone: we get to both explore a new place and catch up with each other.
Missing my dearest ones (as always),