Ali: Some thoughts on long-distance best friends, FaceTime, and family dinners

My best friend and I have been best friends for 11 years. From ages eight to 18, I saw my best friend at least once a week.

Think about that. I’m only 19, so I’ve spent more than half my life being best friends with the same person – Val. We wrote a contract in elementary school proclaiming that we had to be best friends forever and the contract would never be void, no matter what (then we threw it under her bed – it might still be there now).

In elementary school we spent lunch together every day and had playdates on the weekends – to this day, her home phone number is one of the five or six phone numbers I have memorized, purely from the amount of times I dialed it before we got cell phones. I’ve gone on vacation with her family, and she’s come on vacation with mine. Our families hold joint “family dinners”, where her parents and my parents and her and I can all get together on a Saturday night and have dinner and play board games because we really are one big family: we’re practically sisters.

My best friend is a year older than I am (she’ll turn 21 in March, and I’ll turn 20 in May), so she graduated high school a year earlier than me. It wasn’t that bad, though – she goes to college 45 minutes from our hometown and comes home every weekend. I saw her all the time throughout my senior year. 

Then I graduated high school.

And left for college.

And moved 700 miles away from home.

I think you can see where this is going.

See, when we were in high school, Val and I weren’t constantly texting each other. If something important was going on, sure, but otherwise we didn’t text a lot. We didn’t mind it, because we saw each other all the time. But when we knew I was leaving home (leaving the entire state, and leaving the Midwest, no less), we said we would call each other every weekend to catch up.

We didn’t.

We talked once a month, maybe twice. We texted sporadically throughout the week. At first, this really freaked me out. I made new friends in college and they made me happy, but I was so afraid to go home and find out that my best friend wasn’t my best friend anymore. What if we didn’t gel like we used to? What if we didn’t get along anymore? What if she found new friends who went to school with her and were always around to go to Target or get coffee together when I was 700 miles away?

Everyone else I knew who had friends back home talked to them constantly. They texted every hour and talked every weekend and planned trips to visit each other. I felt like I was doing something wrong.

I should have known better. 

When I went home for Thanksgiving break, our families held a joint Thanksgiving dinner. I got to tell them all about how great Boston was, and how much fun I was having. But I also got to tell her just how much I missed her. And she missed me too, which was such a relief. She missed me too. We were still best friends.

The next few weeks before winter break flew by, and then I was home for over a month. And we were hanging out on weekends again, just like we used to. We were having movie nights and getting lunch and going shopping together, just like nothing was different.

During my spring semester, we still only talked once or twice a month. But our phone calls started getting longer, sitting and doing homework while we chatted or eating dinner “together”. We would talk for an hour and a half at least.

When I went home for summer break, we went to a concert together, and it didn’t feel like old times anymore. It felt special, because we were together for the first time in months. The next week, we went to the beach, and it wasn’t the same. We swam for a little bit longer, soaked up the sun and talked about school for a little bit longer.

We planned a road trip to Toronto together, a five-hour drive both ways and a shared hotel room where we spent 72 straight hours together. When we had to leave, we wished we had booked a longer trip and stayed for the whole week. We weren’t bored of spending time together because there was always something new to talk about.

What I realized through all of this was that it didn’t matter that we didn’t text every day, or FaceTime once a week. What mattered was that I sent her a postcard from the MFA, and she sent me one back from Detroit, and that when I got my nose pierced I called her that night because I couldn’t wait to show her. She sent me pictures of my dog when she went to my house to have family dinners, because me being gone didn’t mean Saturday family dinners were over. 

I stopped comparing our friendship to other long-distance best friends and started focusing on the little things. Our families are having a joint Thanksgiving again this year, and I might come stay the night in her fancy college apartment while I’m home for winter break. We’re planning another summer road trip. She might even come to Boston and visit, if she ever gets over her fear of flying. We still do all the things we used to do together, but they mean so much more now because we can’t do them every weekend. We hug each other a little tighter and a little longer now. 

If you’re worried about losing your friends when you move away from them to go to college, don’t be. You’ll find ways to connect, even when you don’t talk like you used to. The ways you communicate and keep up with each other might not seem conventional, but don’t sweat it, because no one knows your friendship better than you. My biggest fear when I left home was that I would lose my best friend. What I could have never imagined was that our friendship would grow even stronger, 700 miles apart.

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