Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman are the patron saints of friendship. Though they live on separate coasts, the pair co-host Call Your Girlfriend, a podcast dedicated to long-distance besties everywhere. Once a week, Sow and Friedman hop on the phone for a conversation not unlike one you’d have with your smartest, most insightful friend, discussing everything from Love Is Blind to the worst bosses they’ve ever had.
At its heart, Call Your Girlfriend is a celebration of a specific kind of all-encompassing friendship — one that carries just as much weight as any romantic relationship. Sow and Friedman call this, “big friendship,” which is also the title of their forthcoming book, out this July. In the past decade, the pair have weathered cross-country moves, life-threatening health scares, fights, and one incredibly tense weekend at a Northern California spa. Through it all, they’ve continued to opt into their friendship and do the work to preserve this big, special relationship.
Now that coronavirus social distancing measures have upended our social lives, it can be difficult to find meaningful ways to connect with the friends we’re used to seeing face-to-face. Bustle asked Sow and Friedman the best strategies for maintaining relationships now that every friendship has become long-distance. Below, the pair break down the do’s and don’t of big friendship in the time of coronavirus.
Prioritize the people you love
Aminatou Sow: There’s this thing of people being like, “I’m going to have all this free time to call people now!” But it’s like no, you still have to work. The pandemic doesn’t mean you have these 15 extra hours in a day. You have the same amount of time and on top of that you have existential dread, plague fatigue, and you’re still supposed to keep up with people.
I think the people who are really stressed out right now are starting to understand that you cannot be super close to everyone that you know. It’s like, I have 24 Beyoncé hours in the day, there’s 100 people I love, and the world is falling apart. This time has shown me which are the friends that I’m invested in and really want to keep in touch with everyday. The ones where it doesn’t feel like a chore.
Don’t feel bad for opting out of a Zoom call
Ann Friedman: Every time I do a large group Zoom or FaceTime, it ends up feeling very stressful and actually kind of sad. Every other month I have dinner with a small group of friends and this time we decided to do it as a virtual hangout instead. I normally leave those dinners feeling so connected to these women in my life. But when we did it on Zoom, it really felt more like a work call — and not a good work call. More like, “Oh, is it my turn to talk right now?” After that, I set a rule for myself that unless there’s a really important reason, I’m only going to do one-on-one virtual hangouts.
Sow: I refuse to connect with someone who’s my friend over Zoom. I’m like, “I will call you on the phone or FaceTime you, we have mechanisms for this.” Just using the technology of work for friendship is really stressful, because everything becomes some sort of corporate event, which I don’t like. It’s just not realistic that you have to video call every single person. We used to just pick up the phone and call someone, it’s fine.
Be there for friends in ways big and small
Friedman: It’s really hard to separate feeling socially overwhelmed in this moment from the fact that this is a really stressful moment overall. [Normally], I feel good when I get off a call with someone that I’m really close to, but it’s also exhausting because I’m worrying about them. I’m thinking about the mechanics of their day-to-day. How are they coping living alone? Or being a full-time caretaker for their kids? Or caring for someone who is sick? When you’re in intimate relationships with people, you’re emotionally wound up with them and it’s an emotional time, so it’s really hard to connect with someone without being reminded of that or feeling that intensity and stress.
But there is a way to indicate to someone that you are still there for them and show that you still want to know how they’re faring in this moment. You can send a text message about something mundane that’s happening in your world that’s not a huge treatise on your emotional state. Where it’s like, “Hey I’m still here let me be a point of human connection and love for you right now.” It’s just the accumulation of all the little things that really makes the difference.
Sow: I love a voice memo. That is truly my ideal check in. I have a friend who always records herself doing a video and that also makes me super, super happy. Or doing the thing where you just send a link about a thing you want to wear or a thing you want your friend to wear is something I also really appreciate.
Be open to changing your actions
Friedman: “The stretch” is our metaphor for the growth and change that is required of both parties if some circumstance changes in your friendship. Right now, when most of us cannot see our friends, that is a stretch. We’re in an indefinite period [without] face-to-face contact with people we’re very close to, and being able to talk openly about what that might mean for your friendship is really important to actually stretching [it]. It’s about bending towards each other and not letting it really harm your friendship or break it.
Sow: With coronavirus, if you know someone who is sick and your behavior hasn’t changed around staying at home, that is a direct correlation [to] how you care about your friends. Your behavior should change. On a larger level, you need to really think about all of the systems that enable your friend to heal or not to heal. How is that knowledge translating to your political actions? What is that doing to your life? When people have conversations about this — whether you are the friend who is sick or you are the friend who is not sick — there’s a moment that the illness has changed both of you and I think that conversation is part of moving forward in your community as well.
Embrace the surprising perks of long distance friendship
Friedman: You are required to put things in words in a way that you are not if you’re spending a ton of time in person. Typing “ugh” to your friend in a text message can mean one million things. If you were in person, you could maybe get a sense of their body language or hear a story about their day and interpret the thing they’re talking about. But there’s something about being long distance where you know you’re not going to get that touchpoint so sometimes you need to ask people how they’re doing more directly. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for growth when you have to be more explicit about what you’re thinking or going through.
Sow: My world would be so much smaller if everyone I knew were the people around me. Your world can expand out as far as your people are is something that’s really transformative. To know that there’s someone far away who thinks about you will keep me going for the rest of my life.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Big Friendship is now available for pre-order wherever books are sold.