How to Long-Distance Friendship

Reunions with long-distance friends can be few and far between, so how do you make the best use of time when you’re finally together? In this episode of Cultivating Goodness, my sister Ansa and our best friend Heide Blackert approached this topic from our personal experience.

With the Blackert family being versed in theater and acting and my siblings and I being into videography and film production, a favorite pastime of ours has become producing. Our first get-together we reproduced The Phantom of the Opera, our second Les Miserables, and our third an ongoing series called Secrets.

Our visits typically span 1-3 days every 1-3 years, so there’s a desire to make the most of our time, first of all, to film whatever is on the production calendar, but also to relax and partake in other activities. How have we gone about that the 13 years our families have been gathering?

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#1 — Have a Plan…

With our long-distance friends, we have to have a plan to accomplish as much as we do. You want to make sure you and your friend(s) are all on the same page and have enough of a path so you’re not wandering around. Like how we film episodes for Secrets: here’s the big picture, here’s the start point of the scene, here’s the endpoint, fill in the middle, go.

To use our latest reunion as an example…

  • Blackert family arrives at the airport
  • Bring them home
  • Dinner
  • Film Girl Talk episodes
  • Color
  • Talk about Friday
  • Film Secrets 01×03
  • Clean
  • Pack
  • Enjoy each other’s company
  • Head out

Making a checklist is first of all how you can make the most use of time. You don’t want it to be like “we have to stick to this” because then it can be like differing desires, like what James talks about.

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.”

-James 4:1-2a

You want different things. I want this, you want this, and we start butting heads because we’re not communicating about what we want differently, so you don’t want to be legalistically sticking to that schedule.

#2— …But Leave Room for Spontaneity

Having an improv structure to Secrets makes bonding so much easier because we’re not like, “You have to do this.” We’re making it flexible so the actors have free space to deliver the scene and bond as friends.

Years after filming episode one of Secrets, Ansa and I still quote the show. Our favorite lines, of course, are the ones that occurred in the spur of the moment. Sometimes the best memories you end up making are the ones you never planned.

“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

-Dr. Seuss

When you’re thinking through getting together with long-distance friends, have a plan so you can make the best use of your time, but don’t stick to it in a way that everyone starts butting heads. In the end, it’s the random “let’s go run out the door and get ice cream right now” moments that end up being the best memories.

#3 — Be Creative

One of my favorite books is 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You by Tony Reinke, an excellent synopsis of many of the technology points I am passionate about. His chapter “We Feed on the Produced” also speaks beautifully to creation.

“Our souls have been raised to new life in order to brag of Christ,” Reinke writes, “and as we speak, our joy expands and overflows, and we become creators and artists. Art is spontaneous. Art is doxology. Art is the reflection of God’s beauty into the world. This why we exist!”

As human beings made in the image of God, reflecting His creativity by creating together is one of the most wonderful things we can do. For Haydn, Heide, Ansa and me, that’s film production. Others enjoy video games or hiking.

Another thing we did during the Blackert’s visit was color. Heide and Ansa have a coloring book they’re working on filling together and I’m working through the Lost Ocean book by Johanna Basford so I can start on her Enchanted Forest one.

As a means of repurposing, I typically turn my coloring pages into envelopes and cards. However, the Johanna Basford books are so intricate and durable that I’m keeping mine as picture books. Because of that, when others color with me, I have them sign the page they worked on so—when I flip through the book—I can remember the good times we had coloring.

#4 — Have Quality Face Time

Another big thing that helps make the most of your time is spending quality time face-to-face, meaning not on phones because phones can distract us from a lot of things. Of course, phones are important and they’re wonderful devices, but they can also take away from a lot of things. Being able to have real-time with people is what makes relationships.

“Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.”

-2 John 1:12

There’s something about that. I’m texting you, but I would much rather be in person so our joy may be complete, so when you’re finally able to be together, make the most of that.

You can bond by watching a movie together or video clips that are saved on your phone. Like how I’m bonding with my long-distance friends by creating media, you can bond with yours by watching media, but I would challenge you to not make that the entirety of your visit.

Don’t spend the entire trip playing video games, watching movies, showing little video clips, and definitely not texting other people (unless it’s your parents). Spend your time with the people who are present and try to get as much eye contact as possible.

#5 — Have Deep Talks

Besides doing activities together, having deep talks is something that really affects you. One of my siblings and Heide’s key memories from our 2020 reunion was a three-hour heart-to-heart they had with my Dad, which Heide fondly recalled several times during our latest get-together.

Each person you will ever encounter is like a book. They have a lifelong story to tell. Since long-distance friends often don’t get to talk very often, whenever you can be one-on-one, pour your heart out. One of the most beautiful things is to sit down with someone who wants to listen to your story, and vice versa.

Being able to open up is powerful, so take advantage of the community you have with your long-distance friends while it’s there to be grasped.

#6 — Keep in Touch When You’re Apart

Don’t have so much pride that you neglect to reach out. A friendship is two-sided, you both have to put in the effort. The odds are that they do want to hear from you. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to text someone like, “Hey, I’ve been thinking of you. Can we talk?”

If you don’t want to lose touch, make the effort not to lose touch. Don’t just let it happen. If you really love that person and really miss them, do whatever it takes to talk to that person. Video chat, write letters, or whatever your way is to keep in touch.

FaceTime is an excellent way to stay in touch even though initiating calls can be awkward. “Do they have time? What’s my schedule? What’s their schedule?” Once you start talking, however, it’s really hard to stop.

Heide and Ansa are also penpals, so they consistently write letters to one another, which I love because the art of writing letters is something that needs to come back in our culture. They are much more personal than writing emails, take more time, and you get to see the other’s handwriting.

In regards to writing letters, it’s alright if you’re not able to respond right away. The person likely won’t care because they’re probably busy, too. The point is that you are going to write back.

As long as you reply within a week or two, a delay won’t matter. It could even be content for your correspondence. In that way, you can let your pen pal peak into your life and, by writing back, show that keeping up with them is important to you.

“The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart.”

-Elizabeth Foley

#7 — Make the Most of the Moment

The thing about beauty is that the end is inevitably coming, so just live in the present and enjoy the moment while it’s there to be beheld. Don’t feel like you have to make memories because you only have x amount of time. Release yourself to be free and enjoy the moments while they last.

“They part focussed on when they’ll see each other again, not the duration of the others absence.”

-Tristen Thomas, A Million Things

When you’re together, don’t think about when your time is going to end. Live in the present with them. If you spend your time trying to make memories in fear of the coming end to your visit, you’ll only wake up to find things back the way they were before you reunited.

Fear and sadness over something that hasn’t happened yet will only prevent you from having joy in the present, so live in the moment. Don’t think about the future right now. That will deal with itself. Just be with your people now.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

-Matthew 6:34

#8 — Be Yourself

You may only have a short time with your long-distance friends, so don’t waste a minute of it being someone besides yourself. It doesn’t matter what you may be insecure about, friends will love you for who you are, so make sure who they’re loving is who you are.

Simultaneously, true friends will also be beautiful people who refuse to settle for who you are but push you to be the best you can be. They will bring out your truest self and give you comfort naturally. You will be able to be yourself around them.

As my sister said in the Girl Talk linked at the beginning of this article, “At the end of the day, she loves me for who I am and I have to be okay with that. I need to be okay with who I am and if people like someone I’m not or love someone I’m not, then that’s way sadder than not being who I am. I just need to be myself.”

“It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.”

-Marilyn Monroe

By being yourself, you’ll be able to reflect on your reunion with long-distance friends happy and confident. You will be able to cherish the memories made knowing you were yourself. This can allow you and your friends to better relate, and you can be confident that they know you for who you are.

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