A few months ago, I dreamed that we broke up.
Not my husband and me, but with a friend.
We exchanged boxes of each other’s books and clothes, said goodbye, and she pulled out of my driveway. What stuck with me most about the dream was the feeling of deep sadness. When I woke up, I realized that’s essentially what had happened in real life, only at a much slower pace. We’d left the friendship to drift while going our own ways and getting busy with life lived far away from each other.
I know this about myself: I have a limited amount of relational energy. When I invest in someone, usually it’s deeply, and so at any one time I feel I have just enough for the people closest to me. The circle gets smaller if someone I know is in crisis, or I am personally going through emotional upheaval. Add that to moving yearly and meeting new friends each time, I can be terrible about keeping in touch.
I end up losing good friends, and I hate it.
Social media hasn’t helped me much in this regard. It lulls me into a false sense of contact; when a friend posts an update, I feel like we’ve interacted. We really haven’t, even if I’ve “liked” her photo.
I’ve been trying to be more intentional with my far-away friends, though, and I’ll share some of the things that have been helping me:
Use Voxer. A friend convinced me to download the Voxer app when we were moving to Slovakia, and honestly I didn’t do much with it at first. Once we’d been overseas for several months, she sent me a Voxer message, and my eyes literally filled with tears. There is just something so personal about hearing your friend’s voice. A text can’t replace that. Five minutes is all you need to start a conversation, and your friend can listen when her schedule allows her five minutes.
Send quick emails or texts. I can stretch out the email-writing process like a champion. If I’m going to sit down and actually write someone, I want it to be a meaningful exchange. As a result, that email I intended to send never gets finished, because I don’t have a lot of uninterrupted time to email. Now I remind myself that done is better than perfect. Just reach out! It may not be hilarious or earth-shattering or flawlessly articulated, but simply connecting is good.
Respond right away. If I don’t write back when I read the email or text, it might be several days (…or weeks…) until I remember to reply. Responding immediately means that I actually reply.
Post pictures of YOU. My favorite social media posts are pictures of my friends. I like to see their kids or the scenery they’re looking at, too. But I miss their faces. I love to see them hugging their children or hiking through the scenery, and so I’m trying to remember to include more pictures of myself when I post, too.
Keeping tabs on social media (while easy) is not a replacement for true contact. When you’re overseas, there are no weekly playdates or assurances you’ll see them at church or the school pickup line to help you stay in touch. Write your friend when she comes to mind. Send a quick text, post a funny video and tag her in it, or call if the time difference isn’t an issue. Play to your strengths.
Realize, though, that she may not be able to easily respond in kind. Keep trying. Like marriage, friendships go through seasons. You may be close for a year and then drift for a while. Sometimes you have a friend just for a season. But the lifelong ones are worth fighting for, so don’t let those friendships fizzle away to nothing.
After that dream, I emailed my friend and told her about it. I hesitated at first because it had been so long since we’d talked…but when I reached out, she assured me she didn’t want to break up, either. Whew.
How do you keep in touch with friends when you don’t get to see them often? How have your close friendships changed since moving abroad?