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Life Kit: How to keep long-distance friendships strong

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, HOST:

If you've moved recently or ever, chances are you've known how it feels to leave some good friends behind. These days, long-distance friendships are a reality for many people. And even though the distance can be challenging, with a little planning and creativity, there are ways for friends to remain close. Kavitha George spoke to some experts for NPR's Life Kit to get some tips to help far-flung friends stay connected.

KAVITHA GEORGE, BYLINE: We've all heard that saying - friends are the family you choose. Choose is the key word there. When your friend is nearby, that choice is usually pretty convenient because hanging out isn't that hard to do. But when you and your friend live far apart, that choice has to be a lot more intentional.

MARISSA G FRANCO: You know, it requires effort. I think sometimes we think about friendship as this - just this place of, you know, good vibes only and it should be easy. But like any sort of relationship, you have to be putting effort into the friendship.

GEORGE: Marissa G. Franco is a psychologist and friendship expert. Whether you've just moved away from your friend or you've been apart for years, Franco says long-distance friendships require a reciprocal commitment. So that's our first takeaway. Be explicit and intentional about maintaining your friendship from afar.

FRANCO: So that means reaching out. That means finding time to hang out. That means showing your friend you value them. All those things are really - all the things you would think about as important for a romantic relationship, really, like, that's one thing I've learned from studying friendship, that there's not really hard lines. Relationships are relationships.

GEORGE: One thing to keep in mind as you're navigating that commitment? It sounds obvious, but assume your friends like you. It can be easy to get in your head about your relationship and withdraw when you think things are off. When you start with the baseline assumption that people like you, Franco says, you actually become more likable. The next takeaway? Use common interests to stay connected and then use vulnerability to deepen that connection. Send a recipe you just tried out if you both love cooking. Or catch up on the phone every time an episode of your favorite show comes out. This shared interest is called an anchor, and it doesn't really matter what it is, as long as it helps you initiate a connection.

FRANCO: And what the anchor does is it also generates exclusivity. And that's something that builds our friendships when we have memories, experiences, inside jokes that we share with one person that we don't have with other people.

GEORGE: And then to build on your bond from afar, Franco says, the key is vulnerability. Your ability to show vulnerability is a big predictor of whether you'll stay close over time.

FRANCO: Because, you know, as much as I can say, it's important to check in and reach out. There are certain behaviors that you can use to check in that pack more punch.

GEORGE: Follow up with things your friend mentioned on your last call and ask questions that show you're invested in them. Ask how their mom is doing or how their kid is adjusting to daycare. And finally, remember that separation is hard, and conflict is a natural, healthy part of any relationship. Franco says dealing with issues openly and empathically can actually bring you and your friend closer together. And that's our last takeaway. Don't sweep conflicts under the rug. One common issue long-distance friends face is with reciprocity. That's when one friend feels like they're putting more into the relationship than the other. The natural reaction is to back away, but instead, try reaching out first.

FRANCO: Maybe you could just say, like, I would love to hear from you more. Like, what would that be like for you? Is that something that you would be willing to do? If the friendship's going to end anyway, then what do you really have to lose? Like, you might as well just have this conversation and see if they'd be willing.

GEORGE: And when phone calls won't cut it, think about a visit. These tips will take you a long way, but sometimes you just need to hug your friend, you know. For NPR News, I'm Kavitha George.

KURTZLEBEN: For more tips and advice, go to npr.org/lifekit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kavitha George