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How to Maintain Long-Distance Friendships

Ever play a version of poker called “Pass the Trash?” Players choose cards to discard, passing them to the player on the left. This shouldn’t be your strategy as you move through life, discarding friends and replacing them with temporary new ones.

Back in 2013, The New York Times reported the average American knows about 600 people. They fit in silos. If you are a Millennial in the accounting field, you likely have silos for college and grad school, possibly military service, neighbors from your first job in a different city, your gym buddies today plus extended family and in-laws. Some you see regularly. This article addresses those long-distance relationships.

Why bother?

Let’s say you lived in another city for a couple of years, then changed coasts. Why keep in touch? You’ve invested emotional capital. You trust these people. Your career related relocation is the only reason they are out of the picture. Why bother? You might move back. Their careers are progressing too. You have connections and they do, too. All this involves possibilities, especially on a professional level.

Make the effort

If you believe the hype, everyone has abandoned every other channel of communication and keeps in touch only via social media. However, NPR did a recent program explaining group gym classes (spinning, etc.) are popular because face-to-face human contact decreases when a Millennials use social media as a communication tool.  They still feel a need and seek out personal contact.

  • LinkedIn — It’s an obvious choice. It’s professional. But is it personal enough? It appears people post regularly, yet you can setup a monthly program and load it ahead of time to post article links, etc. on a schedule. LinkedIn may not be perfect, but it’s a good start.
  • Facebook — It’s social, yet it has a drawback. If you are having a great time in England, sending real-time posts of photos screams: “I’m not home, rob my house.” Your friends won’t break in, but what about the people they tell about last night’s pub crawl in Camden Town?
  • Christmas cards — Wow. We’ve gone from high tech to low tech. Two billion are sent in the US each year. Meanwhile, 205 billion emails are sent. People rarely receive snail mail that’s personal anymore. Now it stands out. What’s the business connection? When I left being a financial advisor and entered management, I kept in touch with clients who had become friends. Occasionally they would say: “If you ever handle clients again, I’m coming right back.” It was an unexpected insurance policy.
  • Travel — A financial advisor in Northern California sends vacation postcards to friends, including those with potential for future business. It’s not intrusive. He picked up a corporate retirement plan because the executive friend said: “You stayed in front of me.”
  • Emails — Every time we cross the Atlantic (Queen Mary 2) we add at least one couple as new friends. We keep a Hotmail folder “Cunard Friends." About once a quarter we send a low key email about our everyday life in New Hope. This keeps a network of worldwide contacts alive.
  • The Victor Returns — When you head back that way, give friends notice and suggest getting together for drinks. They may not be available, but you made the effort.
  • Open Door Policy — Now up the stakes. Let them know you will put them up for a night or two if they come to your city. They may never accept, but you made the effort.

Pros and cons

Lots of this will seem like a waste of time. People don’t respond or keep in touch. They don’t send Christmas cards. Persevere. Your cost is virtually zero. Now here are the pros: You want help or need a contact in an industry. You pick up the phone and call. In my experience their voice is warm and inviting. They are thrilled to hear from you. They appreciate the effort you made, they wish they did more themselves. “Now please tell me what I can do to help…”

Image: iStock/marinovicphotography