Stay In Touch
“See you soon!”
“We’ll come visit!”
“We can do Zoom calls every Sunday!”
“I’ll text you every night.”
These are the declarations of friends and family. Saying goodbye without saying goodbye. Letting go with the best intentions, mostly knowing that life and contact as friends will never really be the same once distance is a reality. As my family has now officially left the San Francisco Bay Area, we are confronting this very dilemma. How do we honor our word to never say goodbye while being 3,000 miles away? How do we actually stay in touch with each other despite the distance?
You know I’ve been through this before. Seven years ago, we left our entire network of family and friends to move to California. It was heartbreaking for me, hugging friends for what I felt would be the last time. I wanted to stay connected but I knew even then that it is easier said than done. Life moves on. Friends that you used to speak with on a daily basis are just not there experiencing the same things you are any longer. Talking regularly gets hard across time zones. I have never been bitter or upset about the lost connections. I have definitely been a little saddened by it.
There are some friendships that persisted despite the distance. Looking at how will help me continue those behaviors for this new set of friends I had to hug goodbye last week. How do we do it? How do we stay in touch? The answers are fairly straightforward and obvious:
Phone calls actually do the trick. I, personally, am a terrible phone caller. I used to have a job in a public school and my phone rang off the hook, each call representing something else that I had to do. Once away from my job I promised myself that I had earned a break from the telephone, a commitment I have kept for the past 12 years. Thankfully, I have friends who call me just the same. Phone calls, even short ones taken during car rides, keep people connected and in touch. I will do better. I will pick up the phone.
Even easier than a phone call is texting. Texting pictures, forwarding funny articles or the latest meme about a story you want to share - it feels good to receive that from someone far away. My older sister will often send the latest YouTube video that she has seen, just to share it with me. It never fails to make me feel like I was being thought about so many miles away. Texting just to say hello. Texting to coordinate a good time for a longer conversation. Sometimes I can’t believe how long time has gone by without just sending a text to a friend that I am thinking about. I get it. Life gets - busy. But if we want to stay in touch, we have to put forth just a little effort.
I’m an old soul. I cross-stitch with the quilt on my lap - need I say more? I own stationery and I write letters. That continues to be a very decent way to stay in touch with people I love and miss. I understand this just doesn’t work for everybody. It does take significantly more time and commitment, but the enjoyment of receiving a thoughtful letter or note in the mailbox from someone far away is priceless. Typed letters are perfectly acceptable, too.
Scheduling and booking a visit keeps all parties committed to getting together. Collectively, it is nice to have something to look forward to and if the months in between the visit are too busy to speak on a regular basis, at least the coming visit is waiting, ready for you to catch up on all things big and small. When I get together with my sister-in-law after several months apart, we actually each generate a “list” of things we want to be sure to talk about. So much happens in a life - it is so nice to finally be able to share it.
I think this time I”m going to try staying connected by starting a book club, or a movie club, or a supper club. Video calls make this super-easy these days. I do worry that it will be hard to coordinate but I am willing to try. If I invite 8 friends and only 5 can do it, I will happily connect with those five, connecting with the others when I can.
I have to remind myself that staying in touch takes two. It requires both parties to reach out. And I also have to remind myself that if one party doesn’t end up reaching out, it doesn’t mean we are no longer friends. Strong friendships can absolutely survive the distance and the missed connections over time. I think quality, not quantity matters here. And friendships evolve. Distance can make the heart grow fonder while also meaning that friends are not together as often as they would like. But we are still in touch. We are still meaningful to one another. We are still, through it all - friends.