The Stars You Don’t See: How to Handle Long-Distance Friendships

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Friends are like stars. Only because you can’t always see them, it doesn’t mean they’re not there.

When moving abroad, going to travel for a long time or becoming a so-called “digital nomad”, people worry a lot about how to keep the relationship with their boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife going. But what in my opinion is not talked about sufficiently are the long-distance friendships that result from this lifestyle. Keeping these going requires a completely different approach, as friendships work differently than romantic relationships. Cultivating long-distance friendships is easier and harder at the same time and also requires some of your time and effort – but the rewards of a well-working long-distance friendship are overwhelmingly awesome.

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

A study revealed that friendships develop when people see each other without having to make any efforts for a while – at school, at work, in the neighborhood, through a common hobby. Once a friendship arose, people are willing to make efforts to see that friend. Even when that means travelling around half the globe to reunite for a while. Still, when you leave a place where you lived and your friends there, what usually happens is that you quickly separate the wheat from the chaff. You will notice for which friends you are happy to take some time to stay in touch and to meet them once in a while, even when seeing them means going on quite a journey. And you will notice which friends are willing to do to the same for you.

Reading that, you might consider it as sad that it is unavoidable to lose a few friends when you leave a place where you lived. But my Brazilian friend that I shared a flat with when I lived in Spain summarized the advantage of this pretty well: “When you get older, you get busier, and due to a lack of time you will get rid of all friends of yours that are not awesome motherfuckers. And all your friends that actually are awesome motherfuckers will do the same. So when your remaining friends will introduce you to friends of theirs, you can be sure that these friends will be awesome motherfuckers as well. So, at a certain point of your life, you will be surrounded by awesome motherfuckers only!” Wise word, love you, man!

Friends all over the World: The Global Home

Knowing awesome motherfuckers all over the world is thus a common result of travelling, living abroad and moving to new places. And although it is sad to leave people you love behind, it also brings the big advantage of having the opportunity to visit. Either they stay in the place you met them, so they remain as connection to this place, or they have moved (back) to another place and provide the opportunity to explore a new city or country, not through a tourist’s perspective, but through the perspective of someone who actually lives there. Depending on how deep your friendship is and on your friend’s housing situation you might even have a place to stay for free. So instead of being sad that your friends don’t live in the same street anymore as it used to be when you were kids, you should seize the advantage of having friends everywhere, cultivate the friendship and explore the world by visiting them. But be careful: Make sure to show your friends that you actually care about them and don’t only use them as a home abroad. Try to text and skype regularly and maybe bring them a nice present when you go to visit. And don’t forget to return the favor: Invite them to visit you at yours!

Being fragmented

Once again I have to quote the wise Brazilian already quoted above. He used his semester abroad in Spain to travel all over Europe because to him, being from a much bigger continent, Europe seemed incredibly small. When he came back from a trip to France, Germany and Poland, we were sitting in our flat in Seville with some friends, having pasta, wine and brigadeiro (sticky Brazilian chocolate pudding) and he told us about all the lovely people he had met on his travels. “Every time I meet someone and we talk a lot and we have a great time together, I feel like leaving a piece of me in this person”, he claimed, slightly melancholic, “like I will also leave a piece of me in you guys, when I go back to Brazil and you go back to your countries. Like this, I am fragmented all over the world!” This conversation had a touch of sadness because we were all about leave Spain after our semester abroad. But thinking about it twice, being fragmented is not necessarily a bad thing. Of course we leave a piece of ourselves in everyone that means or meant something to us. But these people also leave a piece of themselves in us. So this makes us fragmented, but also colorful patchworks and much more beautiful and interesting then a person that stayed in one piece can ever be.

Friends are like Stars

According to a German saying “Friends are like stars. Only because you can’t always see them, it doesn’t mean they’re not there.” Keeping this in mind is extremely helpful to keep long-distance friendships going because communication in friendships usually works differently than communication in romantic relationships. In a romantic relationship people need a constant confirmation to know that they are still the special loved one to their partner. That’s why couples in long-distance relationships usually communicate daily or at least several times a week. Long-distance friendships work differently. Although I do have a friend that I text with almost daily, I also have friends I might not hear from for months, and yet I know that they are still my friends, that I would be there for them if they needed me and they would do the same for me. There are friends from my hometown that I only text with when we’re around for Christmas, but when we meet we’re having fun like in the old days. There are friends from college that I skype with only once in a while, but when we have a meetup of our little group somewhere, we spend long nights drinking wine, talking and jamming on the guitar together, like we would have never been separated. That’s why you shouldn’t judge a friendship by the amount of time you communicate with each other or meet up, but by the quality of the time you spend together. And when this is real quality time, you know that these friends are your stars. They’re always there, even if you don’t see them.

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