Making friends is notoriously difficult in adulthood, which might be why it’s so disheartening when a close friend moves away.
In Los Angeles, even just a move across town from ― say, the Valley to West Hollywood ― can cause friends to wonder if their friendship will survive, said Caroline Madden, a marriage and family therapist in Burbank, California.
“Oh, my gosh, a best friend moving away can be more painful than a breakup with a boyfriend,” Madden said. “Let’s face it, this happens with a move to a different neighborhood in L.A.”
Alena Gerst, a psychotherapist in New York City, also hears about the issue from clients ― and she’s dealt with it herself in her personal life.
“I moved far away from my best friends, and living in NYC, I’ve seen so many friends move away as we all began to have children,” she said. “As we get older, people relocate for jobs, partners, to be closer to family or simply a change of scenery.”
Usually, the friendship will naturally reconfigure itself, but it takes some effort on behalf of both parties.
“You can stay close, but obviously communication is primarily through text and occasional phone calls and visits,” she said. “Sometimes, unfortunately, the friendship will naturally drift apart when you don’t have that more regular person-to-person contact.”
How do you ensure that you and your friend don’t drift? Below, Gerst and other therapists share their advice for staying close despite physical distance.
Tell your friend explicitly that you want to continue the friendship.
Chances are if you’re feeling uneasy about this upheaval, your friend is, too. But it can’t hurt to remind them that you want to stay close and maintain your friendship in spite of the geographic divide, Gerst said.
“Find ways to agree on the best way to do this,” Gerst said. “Are you both good and reliable text communicators? Do you prefer to talk on the phone once a week or more? Can you commit to scheduling one or two trips a year to visit each other? Map it out in advance.”
Don’t communicate strictly through text or social media.
These days, texting is the default mode of communication. It’s just so much easier; carving out time for a phone call is damn near impossible when you both have busy schedules and families.
But texts alone aren’t likely to cut it if you’re trying to remain close with a long-distance pal, said Amy Rollo, a psychotherapist in Houston.
“One thing I notice often is people are replacing phone calls with social media communication or texts,” she said. “These things are great to supplement a relationship, but the relationship needs phone calls and more to keep the connection.”
Pick up the phone, set a date to visit and keep the person updated with your daily life, Rollo said.
And when your friend’s birthday rolls around, pull out all the stops: Don’t just throw up an old pic on your Instagram story (though, by all means, do that, too).
“Be the first one to call them on their birthday,” Madden said. “Real friends pick up the phone and sing happy birthday off tune.”
Don’t be jealous of their newer friendships.
Inevitably, your friend is going to make new friends in their new hometown. (They’re good people, that’s why you befriended them in the first place!) Try your hardest not to feel an unfriendly case of FOMO.
“If they talk about meeting new friends, be happy for them that they are finding a sense of community where they’re now living,” Madden said. “Again, don’t act or seem jealous. Be supportive.”
And, obviously, don’t be petty or bitter when you do meet your friend’s new hometown BFF. (There’s room for both of you in your friend’s life. As Mindy Kaling’s character says on “The Mindy Project,” “Best friend isn’t a person. It’s a tier.”)
“If you fly out and meet these people, don’t get competitive about how much better you know the mutual friend than they do ― that’s weird and boorish,” Madden said. “Look for things you have in common with your BFF’s new friends.”
Look at it this way: Your friend has good taste in friends; this is an opportunity to expand your own friend circle.
Be honest if you suck at texting.
Are you one of those people who lag like crazy when responding to texts? Your friend probably already knows this, but hey, can’t hurt to remind them that any slow response isn’t indicative of how you feel about them.
“Be honest about what each of you can expect,” Gerst said. “If you’re a bad texter, don’t pretend otherwise!”
Still invite them to everything.
Yes, there are miles and miles separating you and your pal, but don’t stop making overtures to invite them to things.
“Something that hurts friends a lot is when you begin to plan things ― like a girls’ trip, for instance ― and don’t include them,” Madden said. “A simple email saying that you understand due to the travel or expense or whatever that they might not be able to go, but you wanted to invite them anyway goes a long way. It shows that your BFF isn’t out of sight, out of mind.”
Plan annual trips.
Weekly girls’ night may not be an option, so compensate by planning out some big hangout dates, Rollo said.
“Have a weekend girls’ trip or guys’ trip that becomes a tradition each year,” she said. “Maybe you go somewhere fun like Napa or Vegas each year, and you use the distance away as an opportunity to start a new fun trip tradition.”
Remind yourself that your bond is unshakeable.
When you do plan to see each other in person, try not to fret too much about whether it will be awkward. Long-term, unbreakable friendships are a lot like riding a bike: Once you learn how to enjoy the company of your friend, it’s easy to fall back into step when you hang out IRL again.
“The best friendships are those that feel like you didn’t skip a beat when there has been space between visits,” Rollo said. “Once you start talking, it is like you never stopped.”
The best-case scenario is having a friendship that is mutual, trusting and reliable, in spite of the distance, Gerst said.
“You just have to have a plan in place for expectations,” she said. “I have lived far away from my two best friends for more than 20 years. We three text each other almost daily. And if one of us does call, we know we need to return the call right away because it’s probably something serious. We keep each other a priority.”