How To Maintain Meaningful Connections Despite Distance
The screen pulses slowly with the light of a new message. I answer in short because I’m only on break from seminar. Connection is everything since my boyfriend and I drove my loaded SUV 1,200 miles from New Orleans to Baltimore. After three days on the road and one week settling in, he hopped a plane to go back home, where everyone else I cared about was. Many people leave their town to gain a fresh start or simply to forget, but my self-inflicted extraction has a shelf life: until I pry that Master’s degree from my institution’s proverbial hands. So what happens when you take a leave of absence from your familiar life? How do you not only maintain connection, but also continue to grow with the people you love and the things you hope to return to?
The first line of recourse is tech, tech, tech. Great balls of fire, where would I be without the transportive properties of Skype or the superficial satisfaction of Snapchat? Making the time to send a text or take a call becomes tedious, and, yes, inconvenient. You should recognize that this inconvenience exists for those that you love; it can be hassle for them, too. So don’t try to schedule communication time. It’s awful and unnatural. Allow your relationships to stay organic as they can be. Let’s say you were thinking about your friend because you just saw her latest Instagram post--give her a ring, right then and there. Be in the moment and make the phone call without texting to see if the other person is busy. Indulging in spontaneity lends a joyfulness to your actions. This will also ward off some of the guilt about not fitting in a call or FaceTime in between grocery shopping and your Netflix binge. Those small pieces of normalcy are important for feeling comfortable in your new space, and you shouldn’t alter routines because you feel obligated to Skype your mom every other night at 7:15 sharp. The truth is that she probably has other things to do, too. Don’t force it.
The fear of missing out reigns hard when you think about the birthdays, soccer games, dinners with your girlfriends, and other moments you’re "losing out" on. However, you and those you’re connecting with can each find a new appreciation of the banal experiences we so often take for granted. When your family relays back to you the time they spent at your grandfather's birthday celebration or a weekend at the beach, you can smile, too. Remembering when you once shared those moments with them helps you to cherish their new experiences, despite your absence. When my boyfriend describes his niece’s soccer match to me or floods my inbox with videos of scurrying four year olds, he’s sharing important, treasurable moments with me every time he hits send. And I'm able to share my own new experiences in return.
Now that you’ve planted yourself somewhere new, you’ve made friends, and established something resembling new roots, don’t be scared to introduce your new life to your familiar one. Know that you don’t have to give up an “old life” as if it no longer influences you. It does. I had one of my recent Mid-Atlantic friends meet my parents and my dog via Skype. Try using photographs and descriptive language when telling those “campfire stories” about home so your new acquaintances feel included and engaged. We’re a visual culture (even more so thanks to social media), so use it to your advantage. It’s up to you to choose to integrate the lives you’ve created for yourself.
Connective resources are plenty and some oft forgotten. Oh yeah, I’m talking about good ol’ snail mail. Keep a stock of cheap stationary (pick up packs in the $1 section of Target--you get more for your money!) People love getting mail. Like, we really love getting mail. Find some trinket from Amazon that reminds you of an inside joke and send it straight to the ones you love. Know your best friend loves this one holy grail of mascara? Order and ship it right to her. Surprises delivered to their doorstep--what could be better? And guess what? People mail you back! I’ve received at least 10 letters and packages from family and friends in the few months I’ve been away. The truth is that you can be just as thoughtful 1000 miles away as you were before.
When it comes down to getting the most out of your long-distance life, love is love. That human connection, deep down in the soul, can traverse any time zone or mile marker. Try to be authentically you. Don’t promise those back home the things that you know you can’t deliver. Practice acting on a thought when it strikes, and always honor the life you’re making by respecting the life you've already made.