Long Distance Lives: How to Maintain Relationships When You're Not with the People You Love
5 pm: "OH MY GOSH. Have to tell you something!"
Text messages like this: we receive and send them on a daily basis, don't we?
Whatever it is that happens in our lives, we want to tell our friends and family about it. Not tomorrow or next week, but ideally the moment it happens or right afterwards. Thanks to smart phones, unlimited calls and messages, that should not be a problem, right? So, why is she not answering? She is always on her phone.
2 am: “What happened??”
Seriously? 2 am? Of course, I am having my beauty sleep right now.
That’s what you get when you live 5000+ miles away from home with a 7 hour time difference. Now she has to wait ‘til I wake up.
I already moved five times this year and have lived in three different countries. Every time, you start from zero; you meet new people and try to make friends. I have to admit, I feel at home pretty fast. This time it took me a day (thanks to my amazing hosts). However, while building new friendships, you also have to take care of your loved ones at home. That is the hard part.
So here is what I do to maintain relationships with my friends and family back home:
1. Let them be a part of your life.
Your boss just told you that your presentation was impressive? Tell your best friend. You just went to Starbucks and ordered the first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the year, just like you always did with Laura? Send her a picture.
2. Tell them when you think about them.
You see a picture, you listen to a song, and it reminds you of one of your friends? It is so easy. One short message "Think about you. Miss you." Try it. You will receive the nicest answer.
3. Set your alarm once in a while.
It’s annoying sometimes. You worked all week and just want to relax this weekend. However, your loved ones at home really want to talk to you before they go to a party tonight, so you have to get up at 7:30 am. Thank you, time difference! (I always prepare them: “I will not take a shower before and might have breakfast while we are chatting.”)
4. Don’t stress yourself out!
Enjoy your travels and your new experiences. Hang out with new people and new friends that you make. There is no specific schedule you need to follow to maintain a relationship. You will find out what works best for you. Is it a call every week? Every three weeks? Skype? Text messages? A Facebook post? A blog entry? You don’t have to text or call your real friends on a daily basis; they will understand, and they don’t have that much time either.
It sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? But I have to admit, it’s not. The more you travel and the more time you spend away from home, the more parties and birthdays and life events you will miss. And you will notice pretty fast who your real friends are.
Last week, I spent a night in a hostel in Tampa, waiting for a friend to pick me up for Thanksgiving. I was texting my best friend in Germany and we ended up having a spontaneous two hour long Skype call, talking about our boyfriends (issues – of course –) and laughing our butts off.
And right now, I am writing this blog entry while I am in Fort Myers, visiting my host dad’s family for Thanksgiving (I spent a year in the U.S. in 2010 - maybe worth another post). We have not seen each other for more than 18 months and have hardly had contact, but once I stepped out of the car, it felt like I had never left (“You’re family, Viv - you are always welcome”).
7 am: "I came home to a dozen 5 feet tall roses my boyfriend sent me from Germany."
Yes, that happened.
It’s a struggle. Maintaining relationships, I mean. But it is totally worth it.