Your long-distance friendships may have felt especially distant over the past year of the pandemic. Perhaps you were used to visiting your college roommates who live across the county a couple of times a year but haven’t seen them at all because of travel restrictions. With public health officials urging people to stay home, it may have even been hard to make plans with your pals who live in the same city.
When you can’t see each other IRL, maintaining friendships does take a little extra work (and you may not always have the energy). But putting in that effort — at least with your closest friends — can boost your mental and emotional health in an isolating time.
To that end, we asked people in long-distance friendships, as well as some friendship experts, to share their tips on how to stay connected across the miles.
1. They reminisce together.
That might mean scrolling through a photo album from a trip you took together or laughing about those crazy nights out in your 20s. Taking a walk down memory lane together has its benefits, said psychologist and friendship expert Marisa G. Franco.
“It’s linked to deepening relationships and can also help us relive the best parts of the relationship, even when we’re apart,” she said.
2. They make reconnecting a ritual.
Committing to catching up on a regular basis ensures that you make time for each other, no matter how busy life gets. Figure out a realistic cadence that works for your schedules, whether that’s once a week or once a month.
“Starting in the early days of quarantine, my best friends and I started doing a weekly Zoom catch-up call on Wednesday evenings, and now we meet up virtually once a month,” said Adam Smiley Poswolsky, author of the forthcoming book “Friendship in the Age of Loneliness.” “Even though my best friends and I spread out across the country, this has helped us stay in touch and have a recurring ritual to look forward to every month. Sometimes we even choose a common outfit or cocktail so we have a shared experience even though we’re far apart.”
3. They keep each other updated on their lives.
Between those longer, more in-depth phone calls or video chats, keep each other in the loop with shorter updates. Share the exciting stuff like the new apartment or a promotion at work, but try to be honest when things aren’t going well, too.
“We have a group of seven on a text and we each have a day of the week to provide an update,” reader Andrea Knapp said. “Of course, sometimes people skip their day and there are still the random texts, but it gives people a chance to jump in. I often find myself throughout the week thinking, ‘Oh, this would be good for my update day.’”
In addition to exchanging pics and texts, change things up by throwing in the occasional voice memo.
“Voice messages for asynchronous ‘hellos’ are so much more intimate than text messages,” said Ashley Simpo, a writer and content strategist.
4. They host virtual dinner parties.
When you can’t meet up for a meal in person, cooking together over video chat is a way to break bread across the miles.
“My friends and I usually designate one person as the ‘head chef’ of sorts, meaning they choose what to make and lead the rest of us through the process — everything from making a cocktail to sip while cooking to demonstrating how to properly julienne a carrot,” said Anne Marie Crosthwaite, editorial lead at the travel website Skyscanner. “We catch up between all of the instructions, and then when the meal is ready, we sit down and eat together.”
5. They send each other snail mail.
Technology is a godsend when it comes to maintaining long-distance friendships, but don’t forget about old-school forms of communication.
“The art of letter-writing is not dead!” said Alice Teacake, a former travel blogger who has an online coaching business. “I love popping a handwritten letter in the post to them, along with a printed-out photo, origami creation or piece of candy. It’s real. It’s genuine and it’s how I connect my heart to my friends’.”
“Whenever a friend I haven’t spoken to in a while pops in my head, I make a point of sending them a postcard to let them know I’m thinking about them.”
– Adam Smiley Poswolsky, author of “Friendship in the Age of Loneliness”
Poswolsky also likes to put pen to paper for his pals; he collects fun postcards from bookstores and shops he has visited so he always has a stack on hand.
“Whenever a friend I haven’t spoken to in a while pops in my head, I make a point of sending them a postcard to let them know I’m thinking about them,” he said. “You’d be surprised how rarely people receive handwritten postcards and letters ― it will make your friend’s day!”
6. They take online classes together.
If you’re craving new experiences amid the monotony of pandemic life, consider taking a digital class with your long-distance BFFs.
“Living on an island during a pandemic can feel isolated, so I’ve kept in touch with friends through virtual events and communities,” said travel blogger Jen Ruiz of Jen On A Jet Plane. “The Wanderful Women’s Travel Community, for instance, has held classes ranging from belly dancing to crepe-making.”
7. They hold virtual dance parties.
Going out for a night of dancing with your friends isn’t an option right now, but a living room dance party most certainly is.
“If someone asks me to do another online pub quiz, I might just crack,” Teacake said. “But an online dance party? Now that’s what I’m talking about! I’ve been a fan of the Just Dance Now app for years and love how alive and excited it makes me feel. You’ll not only be getting a workout but into a beautiful flow state where you can just let loose, relax and connect with your friends in a genuinely fun way.”
8. They create shared playlists for different moods and occasions.
Poswolsky and his friends have a few Spotify playlists that they each add new songs to from time to time.
“Each playlist is theme-based; there’s one for dancing, one for working out, one for getting work done, one for cooking dinner,” he said. “This helps us share new music with each other and feel each other’s presence, even though we’re far apart.”
9. They watch TV and movies together.
Sure, you’d rather be hanging out on the same couch, breaking down the basketball game or dissecting the latest episode of your favorite show in person. But until that’s feasible again, tuning into the same programs from your respective living rooms gives you something to bond over.
“I watch sports with my friend who lives on the opposite coast,” reader Amy Feld said. “We watch the same game and text back and forth — same for awards shows and other live TV that runs across time zones.”
Writer and podcast host Meryl Williams started doing regular movie nights with her group of friends when the pandemic first hit.
“We’d rent and stream the same movie and then make jokes about it over Gchat,” she said. “Logistics were a little tough at first, since the four of us span three time zones, but we’ve settled into a good routine. We’ve watched a movie together almost every weekend since we started on March 20. We did all Halloween movies in October and holiday rom-coms in December. We just watched ‘9 to 5’ because lately we’ve been going through a Lily Tomlin phase.”
10. They express their appreciation for each other.
From reducing stress to increasing happiness, the benefits of practicing gratitude have been well-established in research. Sharing your appreciation for the people in your life can also strengthen those relationships.
“A simple gratitude text in the evening to a few friends can work wonders,” Poswolsky said. “I’m also a big fan of the website Tribute, which makes it easy to create collaborative video montages for special occasions that you can give to your friends. These are perfect for birthdays, especially during the pandemic when we can’t celebrate together in person.”
Long-Distance Love is a HuffPost series all about long-distance relationships and how to make them work, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ll feature advice for romantic relationships and friendships alike, with tips on how to keep your connection strong despite the distance.