Long distance friendship is hard. Some days, you can really feel those miles between you, and let’s face it, we’re all busy so it’s hard to keep up any solid WhatsApp exchanges.
I moved almost 10,000 miles away from my home in Sydney, Australia, so I’m pretty experienced in long-distance friendship maintenance. My best friends and I live in London, Melbourne, LA, New York and New Orleans. We successfully manage our friendships online and with the occasional boozy trip to the Mediterranean, but mostly it’s about solidarity, loyalty and love.
I also just wrote an entire book about friendship, called The Friendship Cure. So, let me and a couple of other experts tell you where you’re going wrong and when it’s time to call it quits with a buddy.
Here you have them: the signs your long-distance friendship is doomed.
Catching Up Feels Like A Chore
You’re dreading getting in touch and chatting to them is starting to feel like a chore or an obligation. Catching up with your friend, even over Facetime, should be a source of joy – or at the very least, relief and comfort.
If you’re actively not looking forward to talking to them on a regular basis, something’s up
If you’re actively not looking forward to talking to them on a regular basis, something’s up.
Get candid with yourself and ask: Is it worth keeping this person in your life? Or has distance, time and age made it not enjoyable anymore?
Some friendships are always combative, but if yours has usually been pretty harmonious and all of a sudden you’re having all these arguments with one another, stop to ask yourself if you’re even compatible anymore.
Some friendships have an expiration date and it’s brave to be able to call that.
It’s Gotten Superficial
If your entire friendship consists of Facebook likes, watching each other’s Instagram stories and occasionally favoriting each other’s tweets, then you may not be connecting in a meaningful way anymore.
When your friendship becomes tenuous like this, or entirely dependent on social media, it can still be a nice presence in your life but it’s probably not a profound one.
It is possible to use social media to connect properly when you’re too far away to catch up in person, but you have to be strategic about it, proactive and diligent.
When your friendship becomes tenuously social media dependent, it can still be a nice presence in your life but it’s probably not a profound one.
Try and see each other’s faces every now and then, have a proper conversation, opt for Facetime and make a point of pushing past small talk to really find out what’s going on in their life.
Things Are Awkward Between You
They feel like a stranger. “It’s easy to feel connected initially with fun and excitement, fueled by instability that can feel addictive, but over time and with distance and maturity, these friendships die and you don’t know that person actually,” says psychologist Dr Perpetua Neo, who specializes in helping people out of toxic relationships.
“The intimacy that was once buzzing has been replaced by an awkward atmosphere.”
If this is the case, you either need to do something major to get things back the way they were – a vacation together, a really great long phone call – or you need to call it a day.
You’re Censoring Yourself
If you’re nervous or scared about how they’ll react when you tell them something, so you start keeping things from them, this is not conducive to good friendship. Friends need to be emotionally transparent with one another, so if there’s sudden secrecy or a reticence on your part to open up, this could be a sign you’ve drifted or you’ve found a reason not to trust them.
Long distance relationships of any kind have inherent stressors and are more difficult to maintain.
If you want to save the friendship, then it’s time to tell them: “Transparency is key,” says psychologist and chair of the European Psychiatric Association Section of Epidemiology and Social Psychiatry Dr Robert Stewart.
“Long distance relationships of any kind have inherent stressors and are more difficult to maintain. But with both parties acknowledging these difficulties and discussing them openly, they can be moved through more smoothly.”
Your Lives Have Changed
“Perhaps they no longer contribute to your life — your lives have diverged and you both have no desire nor volition to bridge that gap with respect and honesty,” says Dr Neo.
“Perhaps you’ve outgrown them — maybe they’re a friend who is toxic in a fundamentally asymmetrical relationship where distance provides you with the lens of clarity, or a friend whose irresponsible behavior no longer looks fun and charming to you anymore.”
They Put You Down
It doesn’t matter if someone lives ages away from you, they can still hurt you. If someone is behaving in a toxic way, manipulating you, controlling you, taunting you or making you feel small, then they do not deserve to be in your life and you should extricate yourself from that friendship as cleanly and safely as possible.
If someone is being nasty, you may like to stop contact with them, which is thankfully easier to do with some physical distance between you. Try and minimize the drama, get the support of people you trust and stay strong if they try and push you back into a friendship that’s detrimental to you.
One Of You Is Dating Someone New
According to an Oxford university study by evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, we lose an average of two friends every time we get into a romantic relationship.
We do tend to prioritize romantic love over friendship but you have to ask, if you or your friend drops the other person when they fall in love, how important is your friendship?
To save your long distance friendship, be really careful about how much time you spend with a new partner and actively make space for your mates in your life.
You’re Not Putting In Extra Effort
“The most common mistakes are assuming that long distance friendships will possess the same dynamics as a close friendship,” says Dr Stewart. “A literally close friendship will mean more exposure to that person, their idiosyncratic body language and non-verbal cues, whereas a long distance relationship means more verbal but less overall communication, so things will naturally be different. My best advice is to learn to communicate more explicitly to avoid misunderstandings.”
Obviously this will be by phone, text, email or social media, in between visits, so you have to really practice being candid and open on those platforms.
You Struggle To Fit Them In
If we really care about a person, we make space for them in our lives. Even when we’re busy with work, family, partners, kids, the gym, etc. So if you’re finding it really difficult to actually talk to this person and you have no real motivation to change that behavior, it could be that you just don’t care for them like you once did.
If you insist that you really do care, then show it. “Be organized and dependable,” says Dr Stewart. “It’s very easy to get distracted by day to day life and find ourselves regularly rescheduling contact, so book in specific times using different methods of communicating, and stick to these. Your relationship will need these interactions to survive, thus prioritize them as best possible.”
You’re Expecting Things To Stay The Same
“It’s doomed if either of you are doggedly keeping the other party as the old you, expecting you to act like the person you used to at that point in time when you left the country, while they have changed into other people. This is also a big problem people who move back to their old countries of residence face. Moving transforms you as a person.”
If you want to keep this person in your life, you need to understand that big life changes like moving cities or countries can change a person’s outlook on the world, so maybe try and get to know the new them and see if you still get on.
If being proactive with contact, getting emotionally vulnerable, letting someone grow and trying to salvage the friendship doesn’t work out for you, then it’s time to let that friend go. Try and end it with kindness, let them go gently and wish them the best.
It will hurt though; the ends of things always do. “It’s a form of grief,” says Dr Neo. “The friendship has died and we need to mourn it.”
Give yourself time to feel the pain of it ending and learn to heal, just as you would with a romantic break-up.
Recognizing that will help. “Our primal brain doesn’t cope well with friendships ending,” says Dr Stewart. “We only really separated from people thousands of years ago when someone died, so losing a friend can be traumatic. Even if we decide it is the best and most sensible option, we may understand this rationally, but emotionally we can struggle to let go. It’s not uncommon to go through somewhat lighter stages of grief.”
So give yourself time to feel the pain of it ending and learn to heal, just as you would with a romantic break-up.
My advice, as someone who’s been through it, is to give yourself permission to feel awful, to feel wounded and to feel tender. Do whatever usually works for you: listen to sad music, eat ice cream, get into a new fitness regime, talk to your other friends or your partner, go to therapy, have a few drinks, watch Netflix to distract you.
Then make yourself a pact to prioritize the friendships you do have in your life, because they need work and they’re worth their weight in gold.