Long distance friendship
Natalie Weber | Friday, May 15, 2020
Last spring, the clock app on my phone was filled with time zones from different cities.
Indianapolis. Denver. Paris. Dublin. Toledo. Jerusalem. Perth.
The cities didn’t always perfectly match the locations of my friends. But they gave me a general sense of their time zones as we studied abroad in different continents.
The clocks served a practical purpose: They told me when my friends were awake and helped me coordinate communication, especially with other Observer editors. But they also helped me maintain a sense of connection with my college friends as this semester was the longest amount of time we had ever spent apart.
As my friends returned to the United States, I deleted the clocks, one by one.
It’s hard to conceptualize the physical distance between my college friends and me right now, as COVID-19 has rendered almost all friendships “long distance” for the time being. The couple of friends I have in Mexico feel as close as my high school best friend who lives just 15 minutes away.
As my friends and I have adjusted to this new reality, we’ve had virtual poetry nights and e-coffees, planned Zoom game nights and watched movies together using Netflix Party. Fortunately, our time zones are more or less within an hour or two of each other, making coordination much easier.
Now, instead of dining hall dinners, we have a weekly video call. In place of late-night chats with my roommate, she sends me the eyes emoji from time to time along with a funny story — an allusion to the expression she would get on her face whenever she wanted to share something she knew would make me laugh.
Of course, I miss being able to just go down a flight of stairs to see one of my best friends, and the companionable presence of a friend as we studied together on a futon at midnight. But having only been apart two months, it still feels as though we’re on summer break, and we’ll all see each other again soon.
In some ways, I feel like I’ve already learned how to navigate long-distance friendships, a result of the semi-nomadic lifestyle that many college students live as they hop between cities for summer jobs. I’ve had a couple of long-distance romantic relationships too, and moving around, I feel like I’ve learned how to stay in contact and how to say goodbye.
I’ve still kept in touch with friends from high school, even as a few of them spent time overseas on missions with the Mormon church, and we didn’t get to see each other during Christmas or the summer. This past Christmas break was the first time we had all been in the same location in over two years. I know if I ever need to talk, I can still reach out to them.
I’ve also spent summers in Washington D.C., Denver and Houston. While we don’t keep in touch as much, sometimes my host families and I will still text and send Christmas cards. There are inevitably people from these cities, friends and co-workers, who I may never see again in person. But we still follow each other on social media, and it feels more like a soft goodbye, rather than a hard, concrete end to knowing each other.
As much as I’ve appreciated continued long-distance friendships, however, I’ve missed their physical, embodied presence. This lack is something I’ve felt keenly as many have during the pandemic. It’s not just that I don’t get to hug my friends — it’s knowing we can’t cook together, or missing the sound of my friends whistling mindlessly as we walked and the scents of the air fresheners that my friends used in their dorm rooms.
I also miss the immediacy of friendship on campus — being able to knock on a friend’s door in my dorm or just walk a few minutes across campus to see each other. Now, I’m not sure when I’ll be able to see my college friends face-to-face again or if we’ll ever live in the same place.
I remember a conversation with a professor, who mentioned that just because the time you spent with someone was short, doesn’t mean it wasn’t meaningful. As we move on to the next phase in our lives, my friends’ and I’s presence in each other’s lives will change, and we will too. That doesn’t mean our four years together were any less valuable.
We will still have phone calls and letters and reunions from time to time. I don’t feel the need to add new clocks again to my phone, as we’ll all be in similar time zones. Maybe a few of us will eventually end up living close to each other. But in the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to the day we are able to reunite in person, and I can see how much they’ve grown.
Natalie Weber is graduating from Notre Dame with a major in English and minors in journalism and computing. A native of western Colorado, she will be moving to Florida this summer, where she will be interning with the Tampa Bay Times.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.