Why Long Distance Friendships Are So Hard

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 

I am a lucky woman to have lots of friends. There’s my BFF, the one who’s godson to my middle child. I’m godmother to her oldest. When I was sick, I could show up at her house, kids in tow, and collapse on a bed while she parented. I’ve cleaned her toilet and jabbed her with a diabetes needle while she cried because she was in so much pain from her pregnancy. Her husband was out of town, and I was the only one she trusted to do it.

There’s Rebecca. God love my sweet, quiet Rebecca, who always leaves me feeling better about the universe, leaves me feeling special somehow because she picked me. She taught my sons to identify plants, and they will still point at those spiked vines and say, “Mama, smilax!” She could always see my house messy.

These are my nearby friends, the ones who live close enough to see everyday — or at least once a week.

Then there are my long-distance friends.

There’s Sai. Our sons are the same age, and I can see them on the floor playing trains, a blond head bent next to a curly brown one. We would snarf cake and doughnuts and fries. There’s Sam, who would cajole me into spending way too much at Sephora and then we’d sit back and laugh while our middle sons tried to out-sulk each other, then sprayed each other down with the hose. Amber, whose twins are around my kids’ ages, who I suspect would make me laugh and laugh and laugh. There’s Kim. Julie. Jim. Courtney.

All of them are wonderful. All of them have a special place in my heart.

But for all that, they are not here. We communicate via Facebook and text messages. They are not part of my daily, in-person life. They do not see my son’s adorable outfits. They cannot tell if I’ve gotten new glasses again and harass me about it. I do not know what cars they drive. They do not know that I get up and pad through the yard every morning, watering my garden and inspecting my baby plants.

And that fucking sucks.

More than all this not-knowing, there are the missed chances of helping. My friend Amanda lives here in town. She’s mom to my middle son’s BFF. When we head to the lake, I say, “Hey, do you want me to pick you up a drink on the way?” Amanda, on her end, always makes sure she has extra snacks for my kids. And every time she hands my littlest some grapes, I get that little glow. Every time she texts me and says, “Hey, the Goodwill just put out a bajillion new books, you should come see,” every time we go to Target and our kids act like rabid jackals and we pretend not to know them — there is friendship there, a kind of renewal of vows.

I don’t get that with my long-distance friends.

Instead, I see their posts and photos. I try to post about my regular life, about my son keeping toads, about hunting for tadpoles, but it’s not the same. They can’t bring their kids over to see the toads, and they can’t come with us to look for tadpoles. There’s a gap in shared experience there that no amount of talking, no amount of sameness, will ever be able to breach.

I want them here. I want them here so badly. We can visit each other, of course. But visits are not everyday life. Visits are not helping out when your friend is sick, taking her kids and leaving her when she can’t get out of bed. They are not, “Oh my gosh, I have nothing for lunch, want to order from that Jamaican place up the road from you?” They are not, “Come over, my parents are divorcing.” They are not, “Come over, my husband’s out of town and I’m lonely. The kids can riot while we eat ice cream and use up my facial masks.”

In other words, they are not present.

I love them. But they are not here. When I shut my laptop or turn off my phone, they disappear.

And that sucks most of all.

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