Guide to maintaining friendships from afar

Non-lame ideas to keep your long-distance friendships alive

Long-distance friendships are tough. As humans, we thrive on face-to-face connection and interaction, but we’ve all been somewhat deprived of that in 2020 thanks to the pandemic. But don’t give up hope: Even while we’re physically distanced from some of our besties, there’s no reason you can’t close that gap with just a little bit of effort. 

Even better news? Now may be the perfect time to rekindle friendships that may have faded out over the past couple of years. We’re all living in a weird time, which means any sort of outreach – even the unexpected kind – is more likely to be embraced (and deeply appreciated). 

Now, as we face a potentially winter-long quarantine, we wanted to share some tips about how to keep in touch with your friends, whether they’re near or far. We get how hard it is to not be able to hang out with  friends and family right now, even the ones who live nearby. Luckily, we have the benefit of 2020 technology that allows us 24/7 virtual access to each other. 

If you think we’re just going to suggest another *cough* [boring] Zoom happy hour, think again. We put together some creative, fun, and easy-to-organize ideas to keep your long-distance friendships strong throughout the next few months. Read on for our suggestions!

Low-effort Ideas: Memes, music, & strategic phone calls

1. TikTok duets

Not that most of us are using this TikTok feature for actual musical duets, but it’s a fun and hilarious way to parody your favorite videos or perform your own interpretation of the WAP dance and share it with your friends. You may even end up becoming friends with the original video’s creator. 

Need a refresher? TikTok duets basically lets you record your own video in a split screen, i.e. next to, the original video. You hit record and do your thing while the original video plays simultaneously. To get started, open a video, hit the share button, and then tap the duets icon. 

2. Memes, GIFs, & social media shares

If staying in touch via small talk feels a little too overwhelming right now (or exhausting, considering the lack of new or exciting stories to share with your besties), focus on the low-effort and hilarious tradition of sharing memes. 

Whether you send memes in the group chat or share IG reels in a group DM, this might just be the easiest way to stay connected to your long-distance – or physically distanced – friends without having to wrack your brain for a funny opener. 

Sum up your current mood with a GIF, share some cute puppies or kittens, spend an hour on TikTok and dare your friends to learn a dance with you, or go with a value-add by sharing a too-good-to-miss sale or giveaway post to one of your group’s fave brands. 

3. Collaborative Spotify playlists

We could all use some uplifting tunes right now, whether for studying, working, working out, or jamming out in the car. If you’re sick of your Spotify daily mixes and self-curated playlists, why not get your friends together to create a collaborative one? Spotify makes this easy with their shared playlists feature. 

Come up with a fun playlist name and a theme, add a few songs to get it started, and share the link in your group chat. Even if you don’t all have the same taste in music, your friends’ additions might be a pleasant surprise. Plus, it’s a great way to infuse some humor with the occasional *unexpected* Lonely Island track or Lil Wayne throwback. 

4. Good old-fashioned phone calls

If this idea makes you cringe with anxiety, we get it. Phone calls can feel a little bit formal at times – but the gesture might be exactly what your long-distance friendship needs to keep things moving. 

If you’re wondering why we’re not suggesting FaceTime or Zoom video call, it’s because standard, audio-only phone calls are just simpler. You don’t have to worry about greasy quarantine hair or whether the bags under your eyes have gotten even darker – plus, you can multitask. 

Dial up your friend during a long drive, while folding laundry, or while you bleach your mustache if you please. It’ll make those menial tasks feel a lot more fun!

Middle-effort ideas: Virtual game night & workout classes

1. Virtual trivia night

If you got tired of Zoom happy hours back in, like, April, we hear you. The conversation topics aren’t nearly as plentiful with everyone shut indoors (read: no going out, travel, or dating stories to share). 

Here’s a solution: Make small talk irrelevant with a Zoom trivia night or game night. Invest in a deck of The Office, Schitt’s Creek, or Parks and Rec-themed trivia and make a night of it – or play Heads Up! or Uno or Codenames over FaceTime. Libations optional, but highly encouraged. 

2. Netflix party (a.k.a. Teleparty)

This is a fun plug-in for Chrome that allows you to watch Netflix shows or movies with friends. When you and your friend(s) enter a Netflix Party room, the show syncs across your devices so you’re always watching and pausing at the same time. A chat window lives on the side of your screen so everyone can comment on the goings-on. 

Bonus: There’s no video, just chat, so you don’t have to awkwardly stare at each other while also trying to watch the movie. 

3. Livestream workout classes

If you and your gym buddy have been in a long-distance friendship since the beginning of quarantine, you might feel like you’ve lost some of your usual fitspo. While you could make do with joint workouts over Zoom, why not up the ante with a livestream fitness class offered by one of your favorite local studios?

If you have fitness-enthusiast friends who live in a different city, this is also a great way to try out a different type of class at a studio you wouldn’t normally have access to. If you usually stick to yoga, try out a pilates, HIIT, or boot camp class to change things up. Even though you won’t be sweating it out in the same space, you’ll be able to bond over the mutual torture and post-workout soreness.

Higher-effort ideas: Letters, care packages, virtual book club

1. Handwritten letters

A handwritten letter feels more personal and exciting to receive than an email, text, or Snapchat. It doesn’t have to be super formal – just a fun way to say hi and creatively de-stress at the same time. 

Pick up some plain greeting cards online or at the drugstore, then break out that set of gel pens you haven’t touched since middle school. Use stickers or washi tape for extra emphasis. Or paint a watercolor of your dog (even if it ends up looking like a faceless blob, your friend will have something to laugh about). Send postcards to friends at random or set up a circular letter exchange with your group chat. 

2. Care package exchange

Here’s another great way to support the post office! Since sending packages to multiple people can get expensive and, frankly, exhausting, try a care package exchange. Enlist some interested friends and randomly assign each person to someone else (kinda like a quarantine Secret Santa). 

Set a reasonable spending limit and pick a theme (or leave it open to whatever). Some ideas of stuff to send: snacks, face masks, skincare products, homemade cookies, ugly holiday sweaters, books, craft supplies, Flex® products, or whatever random trinkets catch your eye during an online shopping spree. Long-distance friendships are way more fun with surprise gifts.

3. Virtual book club

Feel like your friend group could use a conversation starter to get everyone’s attention off the news? Now might just be the perfect time to tackle that stack of books you’ve been meaning to read – and what better way to get motivated than to do it as a group. 

You can each read a few chapters a week, or a book a month, or whatever timeline makes sense for you. Then, set up a Zoom hangout to discuss your impressions or talk about some of the important themes. You’ll get to know each other better and learn something new at the same time.

Love to read but can’t convince your friends to get on board? Browse Facebook for local book clubs – most of them have gone virtual during the pandemic, and you’ll get to meet some interesting new people without the intimidation factor of an in-person gathering. 

Long distance friendships: A few other things to keep in mind

It’s okay if you don’t like video calls. Plenty of us find video calls stressful – or we’re just plain sick of them after spending hours on work-related conference calls each day. Plus, after a while, it might start to feel a little unnatural with your friends.

Think about it: when you hang with your friends in real life, do you sit across from them, staring at each others’ faces for an hour without moving? Probably not. So give yourself permission to say no if this particular technological advance isn’t your thing. (And if it is your thing, be understanding of your friends who aren’t into it.)

We’re all handling the pandemic differently. Some folks find comfort in frequent phone or video calls, while others aren’t up for it. Try not to take it personally if certain friends decline to join you in any of the ideas I suggested above. 

Many people are understandably struggling with depression and anxiety in this unprecedented time. Always offer support, but meet people where they’re at. If you have a friend who you know has been having an especially tough time, consider sending a simple card or small care package as a reminder that they’re loved. 

Be realistic about what you can accomplish. Though you may want to jump in feet first and try every single thing we listed, it’s probably not gonna work out that way. Virtual hangouts can be draining, and you don’t have to create the perfect long-distance friendships overnight. 

Start with one suggestion and see how it works for you. Go easy on yourself if something sounded awesome in theory, but in practice it wasn’t for you. Kindness (to yourself and others) is key to getting through this quarantine with your mental health intact!

Remember: this pandemic isn’t forever. When you talk to friends, reminisce about past hangs, and fantasize about all the cool things you’re going to do together once it’s safe (future travel plans, anyone?). We’re all in this same eerie and bewildering situation together – so let’s do our best to lift each other up.

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