3 Ways to Stay Friends, Even When You're Far Apart

Have you ever referred to someone as the kind of person who drops his or her friends once they’re in a relationship? I have, and I’ve also unintentionally been that girl. And I have to be the bearer of bad news and tell you that as the years pass, you could potentially fall into this category as well as your life, your priorities, and your relationships change.

It may sound crazy to think that there could come a time when you aren’t eating dinner every night with your best friend, or meeting up every weekend, or you only talk on the phone for a few minutes rather than for hours. But just because your life is changing, and with it, the dynamic of your friendship, it doesn’t mean your bond is any less strong. It just means that where before you didn’t have to be mindful of maintaining your friendships, now you do.

Before getting into some ways to maintain friendships, let's talk about what kinds of relationships you want to keep and what we know about the relationship between friendships and our overall health. Healthy friendships are those where you feel loved, supported, celebrated, and accepted. They are uppers, not downers. After you get off the phone or finish coffee with a friend, you should feel better than when you first sat down. If you leave a conversation feeling negative and exhausted, it’s possible that the friendship doesn't deserve your investment.

Identifying healthy and unhealthy friendships is important so that you know where to spend your energy. We want to carve out time for those people who enliven and inspire us, who we can call crying and end up laughing with by the end of the conversation.

In his book, Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without, wellness writer Tom Rath reports that if your best friend eats healthily, you are five times more likely to eat healthy as well, and if you have a best friend at work, you’re seven times more likely to feel engaged in your job. Friendships play an important role in our lives, which means we want to make sure we keep tending to them.

Take a Yearly Retreat

My friendships are not the same as they used to be. Most of my friends live far away from me, in all parts of the world. Not only are time zones different, but so are our schedules and lives. So a group of us make it a priority to go on a girl’s trip once a year. One year it was Miami, another year it was Germany. Every year we pick a place, throw out date, and all it takes is one person to send an e-mail saying they booked a flight for everyone else to jump on board.

Some are pregnant, while others are already mothers. Some are married and some aren’t. Regardless, we make the time, because if we didn’t, who knows the next time we’d all get together. Our latest trip was out to Colorado before one of our friends has her first baby. We were there for the baby shower, and what most of the other women kept saying was how nice it was that we do this, that we all take time out of our lives to make our friendships a priority.

These trips not only show our respect for each other and our friendship, but they also are a form of self-care. There’s nothing better than a weekend away with your best friends filled with conversation and laughter. I see these trips as a way for me to relax and recharge. I always come home feeling vibrant and alive.

Tip: It’s important for one person to book their ticket to get the group rolling, so if you see everyone teetering, be the first person to do it. Also, you don’t have to get fancy. You can stay at someone’s place, or go camping. The point isn’t necessarily to be entertained, just to hang out and spend quality time with each other.

Schedule Phone Dates

Sometimes I’ll be in the middle of writing or editing and my phone rings. I look at it and don’t pick up. I’m in the middle of working, and I know myself well enough to recognize that I can’t say hello and be totally present on the phone with someone if my mind is already involved in another task. Although that’s good for my productivity, often I forget to call my friends back.

That's why I schedule phone dates. I’m setting aside time to be completely present on the phone with my friends. I put them in my calendar, like I would yoga or martial arts or a class I’m taking, because I see the time I spend on the phone with my friends as a time that fills me up and inspires me. By blocking off this time in advance, I know that there’s nothing that can sidetrack me for the hour.

Tip: You can set up the call as a standing time. With some of my friends it’s monthly, every other week with others. I know it sounds kind of strange to schedule your friends, but if you want to keep them in your life, you have to write them into it.

Try Monthly MeetUps

In college my friends and I created an event called "Women and Wine." Once a month on Friday nights we would go over to a friend's place and bring wine and food. We’d sit around the table talking, drinking, laughing, until the bottles were empty. These kinds of rituals are wonderful to continue if you can.

When I first moved to D.C., my boyfriend’s friends already had a version of this tradition going. The difference is that it happens one Sunday a month, they call it "Supper Club," and there are themes. One month was "Magnet Mayhem," where we all made magnets. Another was called "Pajama Jammy Jam," where we all came in our pajamas. Another was "Favorites from the 80’s," where we watched Troop Beverly Hills. Sometimes there are even themed outfit requirements. The idea is to create a night out of the ordinary for a group of friends to get together. My sister has a monthly meet up with her friends as well; they call it "Wives with Lives."

Tip: Doing activities together is a great way to connect with each other, especially if it’s been a long time since you’ve all hung out. Finding ways to create shared experiences now is what will keep things fresh in the friendship.

What you may be getting from the above ideas is that you have to make time for your friendships if you want them to continue to thrive. As our lives change, it’s important that we keep hold of what makes us feel good, and cultivate the relationships that continue to serve us.

Image: Eugenio Marongiu/Fotolia