Thursday, September 4, 2014

5 Ways to Be More Than Just a Proximity Friend

I have a confession. I am a proximity friend. I am better at maintaining my relationships with friends that are close enough to me, physically, that I can drive to them or they to me within the hour. I think as we begin to settle into our adulthood, we really all are much better at being proximity friends to our pals (likely for the obvious psychological reasons).

This is a topic I discuss a lot with my sister. She's amazing at keeping in touch with people, no matter where on the planet they are. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area now, but still keeps consistent "check in" dates with girlfriends currently living in Seattle, the UK, even South Korea. And after seeing a related post last week from Joy at 3 Chairs, it prompted me to talk with my sis about the best ways to stay in touch with friends living far away.

Admitting that I am a better proximity friend isn't to say that I don't adore my long distance friends with all of my being -- I'm just terrible at keeping in touch with them.

I know this happens to you, too. The longer you go without reaching out, the worse you feel. This prompts the inevitable, self-imposed guilt-trip at the thought of reaching out after so long, etc etc etc... it just never ends, and we become content in our misery and guilt, thinking our friend must now, obviously, hate us.

But they don't. Because most likely, they're in the exact same boat. We all want to be better at long distance friendships - and then make it a habit to maintain them. So here are 5 Ways to Be More Than Just a Proximity Friend:

1.  Be the First to Reach Out
I know what you're thinking. They haven't messaged me, you say, so why should I message them? Because the ice needs to be broken, that's why. And it may be up to you to break it. This is going under the assumption that this friend really is a person you actually want in your life, rather than someone you say you care for just to appease anyone who asks.

Pride has no place in your friendship. Shake off that feeling that if they cared, they'd come to you first. Avoid passive-aggression. Good habits are only developed after constant repetition, and those initial attempts are gonna take some work. But it's worth it. And there are basic tools you can use to push you in that direction.

2.  Utilize Social Media
We really are a lucky bunch. There are so many ways to keep in touch with people. And while it seems obvious, I know you didn't end up posting that comment on your friend's Facebook you thought about last week. Or "like" that Instagram picture of the morning hike they took the other day. And you could have.

Literally the easiest way in the world to remind your friends you're thinking about them is to post comments on their 'Wall', or that cute video of a puppy that looks just a little bit like their dog. It takes 5 seconds, but it could very well be the start of an actual conversation. In those moments you think about commenting to them, actually do it.

3.  Schedule the Time
We already do this. We do it with our co-workers, we do it with our significant others. We do it with our girlfriend that lives down the hall! We make dates with all the proximity people in our lives -- what makes our long-distance friends so different? Skype dates, FaceTime dates, G-Chat sessions... All of these are step-ups from #2, and they are a long-distance friendship's best asset.

And depending on your time zone, you may have to actually schedule the time. That's what calendar alerts are for, right? Step 1 is to figure out your buddy's down time (just an hour a week, maybe), and always know your own. Step 2 (and sub-advice): Don't be a flake. If a time and date is set for your weekly chat, treat it like a corporate meeting and show up for it. Don't be that friend that can't honor their commitments.

4.  Send Reminders You're Thinking of Them
I have a friend in New York that I rarely hear from. I love her, and she's loves me, but scheduling that time is always tough. Last year, she randomly sent her friends on the other coast a little "thinking of you" box. Nothing crazy - a pair of earrings, a bag of coffee. Something that said, "I saw these and thought of you."

And guess what? We called her to thank her. Texted, left a message, whatever. It was a such a lovely idea -- one that I, personally, want to make a habit to do, once a year, for all my out of town girlfriends. It's an amazing feeling to get snail mail (we all love this - we feel so special!), and an even better feeling to get something from a friend for absolutely no reason. At this age, we know everyone's address (for baby announcements, wedding invites, etc.) -- why not use that information for something a little less official, and a lot more personal?

5.  Plan Temporary Proximity 
In the end, we know it's not enough to just follow the steps above and know your friendship is A-OK. At some point, you need to hang out face to face. Planning weekend trips or vacations in the proximity of your friend's stomping grounds is an absolute must - once in awhile. You have a built in guide for the area and someone to tell you all about where the locals prefer to go.

This one goes both ways, though. You don't want to be the only one making the effort and footing the bill for travel. But if you're in D.C. for business and you know your friend lives in Georgetown - call them. Tell them you're in town and you have a free hour. Available or not, they'll remember that you tried, and they're also more likely to call you to meet for a drink when they're visiting your 'hood in Portland.

6.  Don't Get Jealous of Their Proximity Friends
This one is hard. Like, really hard. Probably the hardest advice of all to follow. Especially when you see your friend posting all their fun outings with their 'Proximity Bestie' on Facebook and Instagram, it's not difficult to feel a pang of sadness and think "Looks like they don't need me as their friend anymore..."

But you know this isn't true. Of course it's not. And as adults, we must come to terms with what being a long distance vs proximity friend means, and how all friends have positives and negatives to offer. Sure, it hurts not always being there for the good stuff. But they're not always around for your good stuff either. It goes both ways. Jealousy of friends' friends can only lead to negativity and resentment. Which will surely prevent you following all those helpful steps above. Am I right, or am I right?
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So tell me, what do you do to reach out to your LD friends? Or are you like me and still trying to get better at it? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

And for a more comedic discussion on "what it's like to make and be friends as grown-ups.", check out the weekly podcast that my friends are doing titled "Hey, Buddy!" It will certainly bring all the 'lols'. I promise.

(Canvas painting illustrations courtesy Vanessa Van Meerhaeghe)


  1. This is definitely an important topic, and something I think people take for granted as they get older. For me, I am almost better at being a long distance friend than I am at being a proximity friend. I lived far away from my best friends for so long, I never found it difficult to do any of these things -- except #6, of course, which is an infantile thing that I fall victim to, constantly, with proximity friends AND long distance friends.

    Now that I'm living closer to my best friends, I'm trying to remember how to be a great proximity friend and remember that it's important to carve out more time for people. (I'm so used to just an hour or so a week -- if I'm lucky -- and heavily relying on social media to connect.) It goes both ways -- we adapt to our circumstances and it can take a bit of concerted effort to get out of those ruts.

    Great advice, Kim! #4 is one that I constantly think about doing, but am usually too forgetful to get to the post office, or too cheap to pay for postage. Gotta fix that!

    That all being said, I'm very excited about my Skype date with Kait in South Korea on Friday (her Saturday)! :D


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