I started writing letters at the ripe old age of six. My best friend had moved out of town, and I was eager to keep in touch. I cannot remember what our correspondence was like back in those days; all I know is that we’re still in touch but have upgraded to using newer tech – that is, WhatsApp.
However, the same cannot be said for the majority of people I’ve tried to keep in touch with over the years through letters and emails. It’s been a long lesson in the consistency of others’ forgetfulness. Ninety percent of people don’t write back more than once.
It took time to wrap my mind around that one. Doesn’t everyone else have nightmares at least once a week about getting a huge pile of letters but not being able to read them? No? It’s just me?
Due to the highly mobile life that TCKs tend to lead, we leave people behind. A lot. As can be expected, we don’t like losing people we love, so we try to keep our friendships alive through some form of long-distance communication. But though we put in lots of effort, we end up frustrated when others don’t share our enthusiasm for pursuing this new form of relationship. What’s wrong with them? Nothing, really.
We’re the unusual ones.
There’s nothing wrong with that. And in honor of our unusualness, here are some tips for making communication a more fruitful experience for us and our long-distance friends.
1. Accept that friendships aren’t meant to be “long-distance.”
I know this sounds like bad news. In fact, younger me would never have accepted it.
I only had long-distance friends, and I wanted them to be real. Deep. Lasting. And don’t misunderstand me: I absolutely believe that friendships maintained – even formed – remotely are “real.” There are wonderful people I’ve met online who’ve texted me every day, engaged in deep conversations, pulled all-nighters with me, given me life advice, and helped me with job applications. And it is because I’ve had so many long-distance relationships that I believe friendship is not supposed to work this way. We were intended to be only in one place at a time.
Of course, we can make it work. But this requires two individuals willing to put in the time and effort. The problem comes in when it’s we who are ready to put in that energy and commitment, but the other person … just doesn’t seem to get it.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t keep trying. But it does mean that we need to be okay with the fact that we’re attempting to do a somewhat unnatural thing. It is in accepting that we are human – time-bound, place-bound, and finite – that we can hold our friendships more loosely, be more forgiving toward those who seem to forget us, and give ourselves permission to let some connections fade into history, without feeling guilty or resentful.
We aren’t omnipresent, as much as social media would like us to believe we are.
2. Be patient with others.
Real-life, face-to-face friendships take time to develop and maintain. So it’s only natural that long-distance relationships take double, triple, or quadruple that time. Not necessarily in quantity – but in distribution.
You can’t just bring them a cake on their birthday. You have to mail a card and wait two weeks for it to arrive. You can’t just drop by their house whenever you feel like it. You have to schedule a video call for a time when your time zones line up. You can’t just have a one-hour conversation at a coffee shop. You have to text back and forth over two weeks to convey the same volume of thoughts.
It can be discouraging, but have patience.
Don’t give up because your friend doesn’t text you first. Don’t give up yet because your conversations seem shallow. Don’t give up because they don’t seem to understand where you stand.
I started exchanging letters with a new friend a couple of years ago. For a long time, I felt as if we weren’t connecting. Our conversations didn’t include much depth, intellectual stimulation, or anything beyond the average life updates. I wondered if our friendship was going to stay stagnant … if it was better to just stop. But the breakthrough came. We were letter–writing, after all. It took two years for the conversation to hit the point where we found a topic we were both interested in discussing further.
With some people, you’ll bond right away. It feels amazing. But with others, it takes time. Persistence. Slow growth in the right direction. So don’t give up quickly, because, after all, love is patient.
3. Make room for different communication styles.
Some people (such as myself) like to write monstrously long messages – over letter, over email, and over text. Much to my cousin’s dismay – he, quite literally, writes one-liners. A handful of one-line texts at a time. Communicating with him can feel like it’s taking a year to have one conversation.
Making the extra effort to accommodate other people’s preferences in communication might seem silly at times. “What’s your favorite texting app?” “Can we try IG messaging instead?” “How about emails?” “Can we write letters?” I feel so weird, every single time, even though I’ve done it for years. I worry that I come off as pestering and clingy. I wonder if I will look like an indecisive app-hopper.
People who don’t do long-distance friendships as a way of life don’t even know that they might have a preferred long-distance communication style. But we know. Because we’ve done it, found our own preferred methods, and realized our preferred method just doesn’t work for everyone.
Some people like phone calls (my bestie); some, video calls (my older relatives); some, letters (a select few precious friends). You have to help them find what their style is so that keeping in touch will not be an uphill struggle for them. We can’t be everywhere at once. Bridging the time-and-space divide is hard work, but often very worthwhile.
Of course, you might find someone whose style is responding to texts every four months. Like my cousin. That will always be an uphill struggle.
4. Continue to ask and initiate.
I get it. We’re the ones who’ve been reaching out to the point of wondering, Why is it all on me? All the time? The idea of someone else constantly reaching out to you – it’s a pretty thought, isn’t it? I know some people like that, and they make me feel so good that I actually … do a terrible job responding. Ironic, I know.
If you’re weary of reaching out, I would recommend that you focus more on some of these other tips. But sometimes we aren’t weary – we’re just scared. Scared, because we feel like we’re setting ourselves up for rejection and disappointment; scared, because we’re afraid they’ll think we’re weird; scared, because it places a burden of responsibility on us.
It’s okay to feel scared. As long as you don’t let fear hold you back. Realize that it’s your fear speaking, not reality. If you are the kind of person who tends to avoid initiating, then this point is for you. Don’t be afraid to be the one to reach out.
Sometimes we’re afraid of seeming overly pushy or clingy. Of course, if you find that the other person really doesn’t reciprocate your interest, you do have to let go.
But often people are interested, just occupied with other things. In those situations, we have to be willing to put in a little bit of effort to stay connected. Initiating can go against the grain of our nature, but this is one area where we can draw from the example of our greatest Friend, who continues to pursue us even when we aren’t responsive.
When life gets busy and your circumstances change, the effort is proof that your friendship is real. And sometimes, you – as a TCK, as a highly mobile person, and maybe as the one who moved away – have to communicate to other people that you want to make that effort.
5. Remember that this is your current season.
When I was nine years old, an older friend wrote me these words that I still remember: “Jesus brought along the right friends for me in His time.”
In time. By nature, we tend to be impatient. We want things now. But life happens in seasons. Once you were a child, now you’re a student, soon you’ll be a working adult, someday you might be married, and when you’re 80 you’ll be retired and enjoying the fruits of your life’s labors.
I used to ask my mom, “Why aren’t you in touch with all your old friends anymore?”
We got married; we had kids; we moved. Other things became more important.
I hated it. How could anything become so important that you wouldn’t want to keep in touch with your friends? I’ve always been the person that errs on the side of constant initiating. If you’re like me, perhaps what you need to hear is that not all friends are forever.
But neither is your lonely season.
Being in a season is not about having no agenda, just letting life happen to you, or waiting for things to change. Far from it. In fact, it’s our duty to learn to recognize our seasons with God’s guidance. What has He called me to do in my life, now?
Is this meant to be my quiet season, where I focus on a few close friendships and grow my relationship with God? Is this a time when God wants me to step out of my comfort zone to befriend new people? Do I have to let go of old friendships that I am clinging to, perhaps out of desperation and misplaced identity?
A TCK childhood can feel like your lonely season. Maybe it is. Take it to God. This might be your time to learn to sit still and know that He is God. Or it might be your time to start reaching out to people around you. Both can be kind of uncomfortable.
If you’re in a place where all your meaningful connections are overseas, or if all your long-distance connections are fraying, remember that this is not forever. This is your current season. You’re here for a reason and, as Ecclesiastes says, God makes all things beautiful, in His time.
6. Know that you’re still loved, even if you feel forgotten.
It’s so easy to feel forgotten.
When your relatives are all celebrating Christmas without you. When your friends go to college and make new friends and seem to be moving on. When your relationships seem to be unraveling due to distance. You feel like if you could just be there, this would not be happening.
Many friends don’t keep in touch when you move, but that doesn’t mean your connection is severed. You’re in their hearts, cliché as it sounds. If they come to your side of the country, they’ll call you up and visit. If you go back, they’ll let you stay in their house. I had a preschool friend whom I connected with after 10 years of nothing, and it was as if not a thing had changed.
It blew my mind. I seriously figured she’d have moved on.
Feeling the loss of relationships is inevitable. And it’s okay. You might even find yourself to be a bit of a clingy person, due to your experiences. But know that most people still love you even if they don’t call or write.
They’re finite, that’s all.
As you practice the art of long-distance friendship, you’ll get better at it. Having your friends far away will always hurt a little, because relationships were primarily meant to be done in person, in physical presence. But as you keep pursuing relationships with others and God, you will find yourself learning to go about it more restfully. More graciously. More at peace in the love of God and others.
TCKs for Christ: Editor, Graphic Designer, & Social Media Manager
is TCKs for Christ’s graphic designer and resident avocado. She’s half European, half Asian, and currently lives in Canada. Enthusiastic about all literary and artistic things, she spends her time blogging, editing, drawing, and expanding her creative horizons. See her work on lisellie.carrd.co.
(She designed TCKs for Christ’s cool stamp logo.)