When I graduated from college, I thought physical distance would be the biggest challenge I’d face in my friendships. My college friends had scattered all over, while many of my high school friends, myself included, also never moved “home.”
As time progressed, though, I realized the biggest challenge wasn’t being geographically strewn across the globe. Instead, it was that we were all over the map on major life events and milestones, too.
For example, I attended a few friends’ weddings just months after graduation. At that point, I could barely commit to an apartment, let alone a lifelong partner. Then, within a few years, some of my closest friends were completing business or law school, while I was still wavering on what my “dream job” even was. Later, after I became a mom before many in my friend group, I started to fear that my pile of new responsibilities would scare my friends away. Each of these lifestyles changes spread us thinner and made it harder for us to find time for things we used to do together.
It’s been messy along the way, but I’ve always taken pride in keeping my friendships strong. If you find yourself facing similar challenges, these five ideas can help keep your friends close even when you’re out-of-sync in both miles apart and milestones.
Try new things together
You may be in totally different places in life, but there are likely skills neither of you have fully mastered. For instance, during a friend’s bachelorette weekend, a group of us took a cooking class. In that moment, it didn’t matter that we weren’t on the same page personally or professionally because we were too busy laughing through many, many mistakes and making new memories together.
There are ways to try new things together when you’re physically far apart, too. When some long-distance friends and I were all working to get in better shape, we used Fitbit challenges to start a friendly competition each week. To complement this, we set up a private Facebook group where we could swap tips and push each other toward our goals.
Make time to do things — just the two of you
New life phases often mean new people, too – friends, roommates, significant others. While you want the important people in your life to meet, set aside time to connect with just your close friend (or friends) without everyone else around, too. This gives you a chance for quality time together to talk about things you may not want to discuss with those you don’t know well. If you live close and see each other frequently, try to make sure that you’re connecting one-on-one at least once a month. If traveling is required to see each other, aim to dedicate half of each visit to just the two of you.
Plan a destination weekend
It doesn’t have to be extravagant, but exploring somewhere new or kicking back to soak in the sun does wonders for reconnecting with friends. Just being away from home and your laptop can free your mind and let you focus on your friendship. If you’re flexible, there are ways to do this for a reasonable cost. My friends and I have had great luck scouting out Groupons or scoring great Airbnbs for much cheaper than a hotel.
Schedule your next meet up
It can feel weird to formally schedule time with a friend the way you would a business lunch, but sometimes getting it on the calendar is the hardest part. With everyone juggling multiple priorities, planning a concrete date, time, and location makes it a firm commitment. When you’re wrapping up each time, rather than saying, “Let’s do this again soon!” schedule your next meetup before you go your separate ways and lose track of time.
Go the extra mile for the small things
Instead of a simple Facebook post, put a little extra effort toward things like birthdays. Set a reminder on your phone for a week or two in advance. Then, take some time to pick out a meaningful card and send them some old school snail mail to let them know you’re thinking of them even when your lives are crazy.
I’ve been blessed with dynamic, driven, and, quite honestly, overcommitted friends, and I don’t see any of us slowing down any time soon. So, while it’s not a perfect formula, the five tips above have helped remind me of the importance of being intentional about my friendships and helped many of them stay on track even though we’re running in opposite directions.