Long-distance friendships

We've discussed before how the methods by which we stay in touch are changing. But as a reader wrote to remind me recently, there's a smaller, simpler truth at play here.

Staying in touch, in whatever form, can just be hard.

I have a weekly, standing Skype date each Saturday with my Mum and Dad. But this past weekend I was cavorting around Los Angeles, so the call never happened. The weekend before that I was moving house and so we only talked a few minutes, with the aid of the Skype app on my iPhone.

Now, it is hard not to stay in touch with your parents.

I say this in reverence, not complaint, but if my Mum didn't hear from me, she'd find me. But even still, sometimes life gets in the way and the conversation, for a time, gets a bit sporadic.

With my good friends, when things get busy it can be harder still.

I haven't really properly touched base with a dear friend, Oliver, for a month or so. We've exchanged a few texts and emails, but nothing substantial. I've been meaning to write him for a couple of weeks now or set up a time for a Skype. But I haven't, because of both busy-ness and forgetfulness.

Being overseas, even with your family and oldest friends that you check in with the most, there are going to be times when the contact slides a little, alongside the times when you're in close, regular touch. That's just life.  

It is perhaps naïve, but when I moved abroad not knowing when I was going to move home, if ever, I resolved to myself that this didn't mean that my relationships with my close friends and family didn't have to slip. So far, it hasn't. 

I had a pretty clear idea of the people I didn't want to let slide. I think there are two important factors in making sure that this doesn't happen.

Maybe most simply, you have to truly value the contact. When I haven't spoken to my parents, sisters and friends as much as I like to, something kicks in internally to make sure I feel bad about it. I might call this feeling something like guilt, except I know that there's no bad feeling coming back toward me and the people at home are just busy, like me...

This feeling, I think, just comes from missing these people. It compels you genuinely to keep up this contact. Scheduling Skype dates, taking that time out at weird points of the day because of time differences, sitting down at your computer and tapping out a genuine, news-y, personal email is time consuming.

I also think a lot about how different relationships fall into different patterns. Staying in touch is hard: people are busy, they have different relationships with technology than you do sometimes and are not as good at expressing themselves in these formats.

A few of my closer friends I keep only sporadic contact with. I'll think about them and miss them but contact will be limited; a text here, an email there, with no expectation something will come back.

Dozens of factors play into this. But when we see each other, we'll still pick up right where we left off.   

I speak to my three sisters with markedly different frequency. One of my sisters is mysterious and we'll talk only on birthdays, Christmas and such. My other two sisters have busy jobs and children to boot and we'll talk every month or so.

I still think about all of three of them every day and miss them all insane amounts.

So a modicum of understanding is required. Some people aren't the staying in touch type and you can't take that personally. Others just really don't have the time. My sisters are each pros at Skype-ing while keeping tabs on the wellbeing of a small child.

Everyone gets busy. Part of the joy of maintaining friendships is that they survive the time. Have faith.

I always find it interesting how much technology influences all of this. Facebook means that you can passively keep up with people, or quickly reach out across the void. Even when I'm busy, I'm somehow on the site procrastinating 10 times a day.

iMessage allows me to send free texts to other iPhone users, such as Jon, an old friend. Because of this, we have a fairly free-flowing and running dialogue throughout the day, especially now that the NBA playoffs are on (this conversation only sometimes descends into long exchanges of emoji).

With the rise of Skype too, alongside Facebook, I think that the long email has diminished in frequency. I love the long email. My friend Lauren sent me a handwritten letter last year. It was amazing.

I feel good that coming up three years after I've moved away, I still feel close to all of the same people as when I left New Zealand.

I guess the years have show me that when a person is truly important it is easy to maintain your relationship, even on the other side of the world, in whatever guise that ends up taking.

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