If you heard my best friend Petra and I talk — or dig into our rich archive of emails — you'd think we’ve known each other our entire lives. But the truth is that we met when I emailed her, asking her if she, as a newly graduated journalist, would like to contribute to a Dutch lifestyle website I was setting up.
That was five years ago, before I decided to go live out of my backpack. I've spent the past three years travelling around the world, and am currently residing in Toronto, while Petra is based in Meppel, a city in the Netherlands.
Since we’ve known each other, we’ve probably seen one another face-to-face about seven times (one meeting being her wedding!). We first met in Meppel, and have since arranged trips to various places around the world.
Despite our short time knowing each other, my days feel empty when I haven’t spoken to Petra. Whether it's for some much-needed advice (Help, I’m stuck at Narita Airport and have got no idea how to get to point B!), a boost of motivation (It’s about time you send out this idea, it’s gonna knock that editor’s socks off!) or just a random chat about anything, our friendship sparkles. And I think it's because of how we make an effort to stay connected, even though we're (geographically) far apart.
So … how do you keep your friendship sparkling, even when you barely meet up in real life? Here are some tips that have worked for us:
1. Write letters.
It feels good to take the time to sit down and write. Writing letters can (will!) make you feel closer to your friend. Don’t let distractions get in your way, just grab your prettiest piece of stationery and jazz things up with stickers, pictures, scented ink and funky ribbons. Add a bar of her favorite chocolate and you’re good to go!
2. Use all technology available to you.
It seems people now interact more through social media than they do in real life! It’s a downer, because nothing is better than having a proper chat over a warm cup of tea, but when living far apart: have fun sending each other silly, short, and sweet messages using WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Talk about all the small and big things you’d share if you saw your friend every day. Good morning! Anything exciting happen today? Did you read about…?
And don't forget Skype, which makes people jump right into your living room. Alas, you can't hug the other person, but Skype is the next best thing.
3. Get psyched up about future meetings and trips together.
Petra and I do this all the time, probably too often for our own good. We look for cheap flights online, check out fancy hotels that are way above our budget, or dream about visiting book fairs (and walking away with a pile of business cards in our pockets) and running on unfamiliar beaches. Sometimes we do manage to see each other; most often we just have fun sharing excitement about all the world has to offer.
4. Create your own traditions.
Watch your favorite show together, each in your own living room, while texting or Skyping and trading real-time comments. Our favorite is a Dutch real-life match-making series, about shy farmers meeting their possible spouse-to-be — hilarious! Take your friend on a shopping spree and send her pictures of clothes you try on: yay or nay? Call her every morning while you wait for your oatmeal (not) to get burned.
5. Don’t be afraid to "fight."
Tell your truth. Give feedback that might not be most welcome at first. Life is for learning, and good friends can (gently) help you acquire some important lessons. And if you're on the receiving end of some blunt feedback, don’t be afraid to take your time and think things over, instead of responding right away. The point is that you want to grow together, in life and as friends.
6. Stay curious.
You don’t even understand or know yourself completely, so you definitely won't know everything about your friend. Ever. There's always more to explore, even if what you find doesn’t always resonate. Keep on seeing your friend as the beautiful being that she is, without projecting your own views onto her.
When I decided to dive deep into the world of health and wellness, my unsolicited advice (I was very eager to share all that I had just learned) wasn’t always received as enthusiastically as I’d hoped. What I now understand is that your interests might not always align, and that's fine. Show your support and interest, when you can. Our friendship works so much better when I don’t wear my nutritionist-cape, and we just share our experiences as they arise.
7. Surprise your friend!
Send her a voucher for a massage, or the book she loved as a child. Follow-up on that appointment at the ob-gyn yesterday (Is it a boy or a girl?), congratulate her on her lover’s promotion, and on her birthday, send fun mementos that remind you of your friendship.
8. Know that you can be good friends, even if you're far apart.
Call her when you feel sad; ask for advice; share the good, the bad, and the ugly; and do get on that airplane, train or ship when needed. At the end of the day, (whatever time zone you’re in), you are as close or distant as you allow yourselves to be.