Friends go off to college. Roommates move in with their partners. Best friends take jobs in different countries. A whole globe finds itself in a global pandemic. There are countless reasons we find ourselves in long-distance friendships, but the desire to stay connected is a shared experience.
A friendship flourishes most with emotional intimacy, roaring belly laughs, and quality time as with a romantic relationship. Adult relationships can be challenging to cultivate and maintain, and distance only adds to the burden. I experienced a sense of disconnect after graduating from college.
Today, I do my best to stay connected with loved ones. Some friends and I exchange emails (it's the closest we'll get to snail mail) about life; another friend and I exchange baked goods during the winter months. I even have a religious friend about sending my husband and my postcards — even from simple, ordinary places. The latest is hanging on our fridge. These are the moments I get to collect and hold onto, especially when a Facetime call or texting doesn't suffice.
If you're battling the long-distance blues this winter, consider one of the following ways to show up for your crew.
Create and send themed care packages
When I first went off to college in 2009, I was grief-stricken with a sense of homesickness. I didn't know anyone on campus as an out-of-state student, and nothing felt like home. A few weeks into my studies, I received a care package from my mom. It was filled with small treats like my favorite sour candy and little surprises from the Target $1 section. Every box was complete with a note expressing how much she missed me and how great it would be when we saw each other again. It's nearly one decade later, and it's still one of my favorite memories.
Consider exchanging care packages with your best friend or close-knit group to adapt this to friendships this season. There can be a low budget (this should be fun, not stressful!), and you can curate the box around a theme like "childhood sweets" or "self-care." It's an added boost of cheer, especially if your friends' love languages include gifts.
Sisterhood of the traveling scarf
When I was in kindergarten, we had a classroom teddy bear. Each Friday, one lucky student would get to take the bear home for the weekend. When they returned the following Monday, the student had to write in a shared journal about their adventures with the bear. (If you're curious, I remember treating the bear to a weekend of pizza and cartoon marathons.) Not only do I remember the weekend, I remember reading the other journal entries - learning where the bear had traveled. I think the experience left such a significant impact on me because it astounded me that this inanimate object could be the common denominator between me and a classroom of students.
Without noticing, we grow out of sharing and 'show and tell' as we get older — unless, of course, it's for social media. But how many of us can recount the last time we shared something both tangible and sentimental with our friends? To get in on the fun, coordinate an item — it could be a scarf, a camera, a toy dinosaur, or something more personal — to send to your friend. Instruct the friend to play to "go on an adventure" with said item and report back with pictures, a note, or a special FaceTime session.
Have a virtual bake-off or wine tasting
When the pandemic began, so did many people's love affair with baked goods and drinking before 5 pm. Why not enjoy it with your long-distance loved ones?
I recently attended a virtual wine tasting where we were all tasked with finding a couple of wines (or beers) we hadn't yet tried. To get *extra* fancy, we paired them with complimentary food and caught up with one another via Zoom. It's not exactly Napa, but the fellowship was less about finding the perfect table blend and more about feeling like we were around a table again.
Similarly, a virtual bake-off could be just the event to curb your British Bake-off appetite while we wait for the next season. Alternatively, a competition-free option is just as sweet. Former Bon Appetit chef and cookbook author Claire Saffitz bonded with a virtual empanadas lesson with her former BA colleague, Gaby. Perhaps your best friend has a family recipe they'd love to share.
Create a collaborative playlist for the season
Few things can bring people together (even when at a distance), like food and music. It's interesting and telling to see what lyrics are hitting your friends in the feels and discover new artists in the process. Coordinate a collaborative playlist amongst your friends and encourage everyone to add songs they're currently loving and listening to on repeat. My husband does this with his college friends, and I've seen it make a huge difference in how connected he feels to them.
Start a virtual book club
Last year, I joined a virtual book club after a girlfriend was inspired to read more Black women authors and started her collective. The group was small and intimate, which allowed us to talk freely about emotional topics. But we didn't just talk about the book and our interruptions. We spent the beginning and end catching up with one another and staying in touch throughout the month via email. For us, the book club felt like something to look forward to, especially in the absence of trips and traveling due to lockdown.
Try a long-term challenge together
One of the more challenging aspects of a long-distance friendship is the lack of proximity. This has emotional shortcomings — feeling like you're not as close as you once were — but it can also present missed opportunities for bonding. A great way to stay in touch is to share a goal or take on a fun challenge with one another.
When working at a tech start-up, we did quarterly fitness challenges. It was a way to stay updated with colleagues in neighboring offices — and some added motivation to hit the gym. Plus, everyone in the challenge was working toward a cash prize. If fitness challenges aren't right for you, consider a "cooking at home" challenge, a "no spend" challenge, or a "try one thing that scares each day" challenge.
Do an outdoor city scavenger hunt
Do you remember geocaching? If you need a refresher, it's a bit like a 21-century treasure hunt. Parks Canada explains, "The goal of the [geocaching] is to find hidden containers known as caches or geocaches using a portable satellite navigation device called a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver." Get a group together and challenge each other to hunt for "treasure" alongside one another.
One adaptation of geocaching is doing a city scavenger hunt. Similar to the scavenger hunts played at bachelorette parties and baby showers, the goal is to share some laughs, get out of your comfort zone, and have a funny story to tell by the end of the night. Assign one friend to make the list of "must-do activities." Examples could include, "Find a street food vendor," "Go for a stroll at a nearby park," or "Take a picture in front of the best coffee shop in town."
Virtual escape room
By now, we've all sat through some virtual happy hour or Zoom party. But how many of us have completed a virtual escape room? Like its in-person counterpart, virtual escape rooms are an excellent option for friends looking for an adrenaline rush. The quirky, unexpected option will allow you and your bestie to communicate under pressure, get outside your comfort zones, and maybe get a little spooked in the process if you choose a haunted room.