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January 12, 2014

Everything I Know About Long-Distance Relationships I Learned from My Best Friend. ~ Susan McKellep

I snap a pic of my morning coffee and send it to Missy with the message, “Out of creamer, so I used a spoonful of vanilla ice cream. Dooo iiiiiit!!!”

Missy and I have been best friends for 50 years. I have no pre-Missy memories. We literally played in the playpen together. Missy was one, I was two and our big sisters figured out that we kept each other entertained if we were together.

Our families moved us around when we were little and then I moved away for good at 19, so our friendship has been long-distance for the past 30-plus years. And yet, despite the fact that we’ve never lived closer together than 500 miles in all that time, I consider our relationship as one of my very closest. In fact, I literally forget that she lives 500 miles away because she is such a daily part of, and so present in, my life.

That didn’t just happen, though. We made it happen. And in doing so, we’ve learned a few things about maintaining long-distance relationships. Ours is a friendship, but these things apply to any personal long-distance relationship, be it friends, family, or romantic.

The most obvious and basic fundamental to making any long-distance relationship work is for both parties to want it and commit to working at it.

Over the years there have been periods when I wasn’t as dedicated to staying in touch as Missy was. I was lucky; she never gave up or decided it was too much work. But I wouldn’t recommend long-term slacking in any relationship that matters.

The other component is simple: communicate often.

With modern technology at our fingertips (or purse or pocket) at all times, staying in touch has never been easier and it’s really just a matter of doing it. Missy and I communicate almost every day, usually by text, sometimes via Facebook chat and the occasional email. We talk on the phone once or twice a week and there’s Skype for when we really need to see each other’s faces.

High tech isn’t the only way to communicate, of course. There’s still good ol’ snail mail. Seeing an envelope in your mailbox with the familiar handwriting of a loved one is a delight that never gets old. Besides the old standby, the birthday card, there are lots of other things you can drop in an envelope with a note to say “I’m thinking of you.” A magazine article, a tea bag, a photo you’ve printed, a feather, or a pressed flower or leaf are just a few things that can be mailed for the price of a first class stamp.

Of course nothing is a substitute for real ‘face time.’

So plan in-person visits as often as possible. Missy and I see each other about twice a year—not nearly as often as we’d like—but all the little, daily details we share keep us present. Yes, much of the minutiae we share is exactly that: the trivial details of everyday life.

But those little things are how we spend our moments and moments are how we spend our days and ultimately our lives.

In addition to the random I-ran-out-of-coffee-creamer-this-morning messages, I might email several pictures of my bedroom with the question, “Where am I going to put my new dresser?” She sends me progress pics of the socks she’s knitting and screenshots of the gibberish her three-year-old granddaughter texted from Mommy’s phone. Then, when it’s time for those hard calls—the ones about a diagnosis, the ending of a marriage, the loss of a job—or the wonderful calls—about new grandbabies, surprise visits, promotions—those events are seen and understood within the context of our whole lives.

Because that’s what we share: our whole lives.

And in doing so, we’ve managed to close the gap that distance put between us and forge a bond that doesn’t require proximity to create presence.

Love elephant and want to go steady?

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Assistant Editor: Christina Lorenzo / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: flickr cc/Tom Bell

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