How to Maintain Long Distance Friendships After College

In college, friendship is king.

At least it was for me as I was immersed in the campus ministry world of a minimum of 3 planned social activities every week. There were retreats and small groups and girls’ nights and no lack of chances to get to know people. In that process, I found my people.
All my bridesmaids at my wedding had been my friends since my freshman year or theirs. We had done a whole lot of life together – from living as roommates to starting nonprofits.

Then comes life after graduation.

People graduate or move on from college at different times. You find different home churches or have different work schedules. You start having a bedtime and a morning routine so staying out past 10pm becomes a minor miracle.
Then, no matter if you are the one staying or going, someone moves. It might be across a state, across a country, or across the world. You’re left navigating different struggles that just weren’t there when you could easily meet up at your favorite local coffee shop or bump into each other on campus.
This season is one I’m in right now. One of my best friends and her husband moved even deeper into North Dakota a few months ago. Another best friend is getting married and moving to Florida to become tan and follow a career opportunity for her future husband. My own brother moved last year to Poland so that his lovely Polish wife could finish her education.

Even though Caleb and I have camped out in our college town and made it our home, that’s just not the reality for everyone we love.

Yes, we are still investing in new friendships (youth and young adult ministry life means that we’re never without new friends), but we also want to find ways to stay connected to the select few friends we feel are friends for life.
The change is emotional and personal and the tips I’m sharing with you aren’t going to solve all your problems. Just the other night, I cried on my way home from ice cream with my friend who is moving to Florida because I realized it might be the last deep one-on-one hangout we’d have before she moves. It’s messy, guys! But it’s so freaking worth it.

Here’s how I’m navigating long-distance friendships after college.

Realize What Friendships were just for a season (and that’s okay)

Not all people who you like are meant to be people who stick around for forever. That’s perfectly normal and there’s nothing wrong with letting some friendships just naturally drift apart. There are some amazing people I’ve been close to because of a shared goal or situation and have deeply impacted my life, but they aren’t my friends for life. There are seasons and knowing what people to not invest in is just as important as knowing which ones you will invest in. You have limited time and energy. You can’t be best friends for life with everyone. You have to pick your people and not feel guilty about the ones that aren’t “lifers.”

Set Expectations for the friendships your prioritize

If you are in this category with someone, I sincerely hope you are close enough to have open, raw, vulnerable, and hard conversations. I hope you are able to look them in the eyes (or over facetime) and say, “how can I love you in this season of our lives? What do you need?” It might not look like daily texts or weekly calls, but if one of you expects that and the other can’t give it, then that can lead to some resentment and pain. You have to be able to come up with a plan, no matter how informal and organic, that sets you up for a successful friendship.
I definitely do friendships in a way where I can go months without talking to someone I love and then pick back up right where we left off next time we see each other. I think this is a gift about my personality. However, I’ve let that gift become a crutch in the past. It’s great to pick up where you left off, but it’s also great to spend real energy nurturing relationships. You need to find what that looks like for you and your individual friendships.

Get Creative

For me, getting creative looks like prioritizing my friends who live across the state whenever they are in town and be the first to volunteer to host them in our apartment. It looks like playing games over facebook video chat for double dates with my brother and his wife. It looks like writing notes and underlining passages in books that I’ll send back and forth with my friend moving to Florida. You have permission to get creative. Find your own thing.

Do the Work

Friendships, like marriage, are work. Really fun, beautiful, and worthwhile work, but you still have to put in the time and energy into this thing. Don’t be afraid to send the first text, video request, email, or GIF. If you need it, schedule time in your life to check in on friendships. Move things in your schedule to make space when a phone call is requested. You have to do your part in having a healthy relationship.

Remember to have Grace

I’m so thankful for the friends who showed me grace in the craziness of post-college life. I had an insanely busy internship, my parents separated and went through a nasty divorce, I met my future husband, it was my first year full-time in business, and I was a part of launching new ministries. It was chaos. One of the things I’m the most thankful for? Friends who understood, followed up, and gave me space when I needed it. Now, I’m learning to give my friends grace as they figure out new lives in new cities, sometimes with new life-long relationships as well.

As you walk through the highs and lows of friendships, especially as you navigate life after college or marriage or moving, this is my little prayer for you:
May you learn the art of being present in a moment. May you not wish away the season, expecting things to change instead of letting yourself change. May you find the kindred spirits, the ones worth fighting for and fighting with. May you listen well, reach out boldly, and release the ones you love to chase after the life they are meant to live. In all these things, may your heart stay soft and open to friendship, to love, and to change.

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@OliviaAlnes

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