Airports have come to mean an awful lot to me. College was the impetus for a stage in which highs and lows were marked by arrivals and departures. Before we were married, my husband and I lived on opposite ends of the country. After graduating, I moved back to the West Coast and left most of my closest friends behind. Either way, I missed someone.
Most of us experience long-distance friendships or relationships when we hit our twenties. We’ve grown up, moved out, and find ourselves past the days when loved ones shared our neighborhood. Our tribe becomes scattered across states and time zones as we collect relationships with each new life experience.
Sometimes people are surprised by how warmly my husband Davis and I describe the long-distance experience. Let me be frank: it sucks. But distance – whether between friends, family, or significant others – creates a specific type of growth you just can’t find elsewhere. Distance hands us gifts like choice, intentionality, and the will to fight for people who matter.
A huge part of me wishes all my closest people lived next door (I’m a prime candidate for communal living). But another part is grateful for how faraway friendships blossom into the space left between us. I’m glad I’ve learned to write lengthy emails, read a book over the phone, and pay for an overpriced but always-worth-it plane ticket. Distance between you and those you love is both painful and a certainty in our mobile generation. Until I find a way to successfully trick everyone I love into moving to the same city, I’m choosing to appreciate the benefits of loving them over many miles.
Here are a few of the gifts distance brings:
People told Davis and I that distance would break us. What it did was generate the perspective to view our relationship from afar, with all its cracks and triumphs. The time zones in between us showed more clearly than ever the pivotal role he played in my life – and so, we kept fighting for each other. This isn’t everyone’s story; often distance provides the vantage point to see an unhealthy friendship or relationship for what it is. The gift of perspective shows us the wisdom in either choice.
Being removed from your community feels isolating. It’s also inevitable if you move, change jobs, go to school, or travel. The silver lining in this isolation is a chance to look freshly at your own life. What are you learning? What questions do you want to pursue? What kind of woman do you want to grow into? Living away from close friends means space to get to know yourself in a closer, more thoughtful way. And individual discoveries and growth make for richer shared relationships.
With communication as a lifeline, you come to appreciate your loved ones and their intricacies in a new way. I know my closest friends, now dispersed across the country, more deeply than I did when we shared a tiny apartment. Our conversations look different than they used to – namely, they take place over the phone instead of daily activities – but they also include a fresh layer of honesty. I appreciate these friendships more than ever now that our time together is limited. Appreciation is a natural side effect of absence, and appreciation teaches us to communicate honestly and care for each other well.
The most powerful benefit of distance is choice. Without spontaneous interactions to determine who your friends are, relational upkeep requires choice. You actively decide who to pursue, and in some ways, these active choices mean more than a casual friendship ever could. Though social media makes it easy to feel like you’re keeping up with friends, commenting on photos only goes so far. We show love by picking up the phone, turning on Skype, or driving to meet somewhere in the middle. May we choose to hold tight the relationships that mean the most, even if they’re states, countries or continents away.
What surprising benefits have you experienced from investing in relationships over the distance?
Image via Marlena Pearl Photography