Long-distance friendships

Colonial Williamsburg writing desk, Nov 2004

A writing desk at Colonial Williamsburg reminds us that long-distance friendships,
always precious, once required even more time and patience.  November 2004

“There is magic in long-distance friendships. They let you relate to other human beings in a way that goes beyond being physically together and is often more profound.”
—  widely attributed Diana Cortes, about whom I could find no reliable information

One of the silver linings to the sorrow of having to leave friends every time we uproot and move, is the chance to have and maintain long-distance friendships.  It’s a skill not everyone has, and that’s okay.  But for those of us who enjoy such relationships (and it may be bound up, to a great extent, with a love of reading and writing), keeping in touch over years and distances can create a bond unlike those we share with local friends or co-workers, with whom we share only spoken exchanges.

There’s something deliberate and intentional about maintaining ties that go beyond physical proximity.  There has to be something extra to bridge the gap created by the miles.  Often it’s a shared faith, a life challenge we have in common, a compatible philosophy of life, or a deep interest in one or more activities or topics.  Sometimes, if we are really fortunate, it’s all of the above and more.

Today, time constraints are as great a challenge to friendship as distance.  I have dear friends who live relatively close by, yet we still stay in touch mainly by email or online.  The reality of our daily obligations makes it hard to carve out a chunk of time long enough to enable a good old face-to-face visit as often as we’d like.  I think blogging and Facebook and other social media have become popular because people value relationships and long for a way to maintain them despite the busyness of life.

I know that a lot of what happens on social media can be superficial, but it need not be.  Our online interactions can be a cozy salon rather than a vacuous cocktail party, as long as we stay authentic and don’t use it as a platform to impress, propagandize or vent (though a bit of all that happens even in genuine conversations).  I’m deeply grateful for this added venue for maintaining ties that cross geographic boundaries, even as I am determined not to abandon the good old-fashioned “snail mail” card or letter, or the face-to-face visit whenever we can manage one.

Do you have long-distance friends who are a daily comfort to you?  Why not take a moment today to drop a note, card or email to one of them, and let them know you are thinking of them?

One year ago today:

Stronger than a fortified city

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

4 Comments

  1. Elena

    Thank you for another beautiful and thought-provoking post, Julia. I wish I had the patience to comment every time I am touched by your words!
    I moved in 2003 and then in 2008 and I haven’t been so good at maintaining friendships, after both moves. Now my interactions with far away friends are not regular, let alone frequent. I want to change this and I need to remind that, as you have written in the caption, friendship needs time.
    My friends are not into writing letters but then I am grateful to other social media (for me it’s mostly whatsapp, I may comment to a story, in addition to simply sending messages).
    I write letters to people I have met online and related to this aspect, I liked one of your comments to the original post of 2014, when you write: “Sometimes I chide myself that I am wasting too much time, but then I think it’s like a hobby, and if I enjoy it and don’t spent TOO much time on the details, is it really a waste?”
    I, too, have wondered if I waste to much time with letters (I do waste time with details, as choosing the stationery takes me forever) but it is one thing that I enjoy, too, and it is so enriching!

    • Elena, thank you for your thoughtful comment. These are difficult questions indeed, ones I’ve struggled with over and over. After many years, I have come to have some general guidelines that have helped me:

      1. RECIPROCITY – do the people with whom I make an attempt to stay in touch, reciprocate by making equal effort to stay in touch with me? In other words, am I always the one making the overtures? One problem with this blog is that it’s so one-sided for most of those who read it. I have to accept that it will never be a truly reciprocal exchange for most, and factor that into my decision about how much time to spend on it. And with letters, phone calls, etc…I no longer continue if I’m the one who is always initiating contact.
      2. ENJOYMENT – does this bring joy to my day? Like you, I find that taking time to make cards, choose nice stationery, stamps, pens to use, etc. is a wonderful hobby that does bring me joy. Because it takes time, I try to focus my effort on those who appreciate it and/or need it. In the second category would be elderly friends (of my parents’ generation) who often are forgotten. For them, reciprocity is not a consideration. But for others, it is, in the sense that I want to spend my time and energy on people who will value it, and respond. Perhaps 10-20% of those I’ve corresponded with fit that category, so my focus is now on those people.
      3. DIGITAL vs. FACE to FACE – I am learning that there needs to be a balance between digital social contacts, and real-life ones. There is a difference, for me, in communicating with those who are at least interested in face-to-face time spent together, vs. those who want everything to remain just online. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but (especially for those of us who live alone) it becomes quite unrewarding when one spends all one’s time only in the digital world. For me, it’s crazy-making. So as much as I value my online contacts, I feel the need to supplement them with real time interactions. Sometimes these real-time interactions grow out of initially “meeting” someone online (such as my friend Jena who lives in Alaska; she “met” me here, but we’ve managed to have face to face time together three times so far, and hope for more 🙂 ) and sometimes they are nearby neighbors and friends with whom, in our busy lives, we must make it a priority to get together. Those who are not into long distance communication, or nearby people who are unwilling to prioritize regular occasions to get together, I have reluctantly learned to see fondly as a part of my past, and perhaps a recipient of the yearly Christmas card exchange, if they continue to show interest in that.

      I realize this is a controversial opinion, but in general, I think that communicating EXCLUSIVELY via text or Facebook or other social media (including blogs) is soulless and does not provide us with what we need. It’s an easy practice to slide into when one lives alone, but I think it should be continually monitored and corrected as needed. Real relationships take far more effort than clicking “like” or a text that says “R U OK?”

      Just my opinions, for what they are worth! (Not meant to be bossy advice.) Thanks so much for being here!

      • Elena

        Thank you for the feedback, Julia, I agree with everything and I particularly like what you write about “real life” vs on line interaction.
        We are in a “red zone” these weeks and I go to the office about once a week; this very morning I had a few words with a colleague abot the topic of interactions, we considered that face to face chat is definitely richer than messages and email because of the non verbal part of communication, which, some say, adds to 90% and more of the conveyed message.
        He told me that these days he is scheduling telephone calls with various people, which is the next best thing after meeting in person and I suppose I could do the same thing.

        • It’s hard to know quite what to do, isn’t it? Communicating via Zoom or Teams or other face-to-face programs can be a bit better, since we can see faces, and phone calls do give us a voice to listen to, but none of it can replace in-person exchanges. I worry sometimes that Covid has only accelerated an already relentless evolution of humans into something closer to machines; people already were beginning to seem more heartless and locked in their own worlds, noses in their phones even when physically with friends and family. But I suppose there is nothing to be done about it other than to be aware of it and try not to slip into it. And of course, living alone since Jeff’s death has probably made me feel the problem is much worse in general that it actually is for most people. Or so we can hope.

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