“Look at us,” said Ecky on one of her texts to me, “We’re miles away apart but here we are, talking about crushed chili!”.
I laughed when reading her text but realised how bizarrely true it was, that despite being separated by oceans and 10-hour time difference, not to mention two totally opposite climates (she is fully wrapped up in warm clothes for Australian winter while I am enjoying ‘Scottish summer’), we still manage to maintain our friendship. I just counted the text messages between us and just in the past two days we have sent texts to each other for 50 times and talked about practically everything.
There is not much difference from what we used to do when we were both still in Indonesia. We still chat and text a lot, keep up with daily gossip and tell each other about everything. Just like what I have been doing with my other friends as well.
Although the majority of my friends still spread out across Indonesia, it seems like more and more of them are scattered around the world nowadays. Even those whom I have met in Aberdeen, due to the nature of their postings, would not stay for a long time. Last year one went back to the Netherlands, and this year two of my Indonesian friends are going far far away. As a result, many of my friends now are long-distance friends. And apparently I am not alone. It is reported that 90% individuals who participate in a survey done by Rohfling (1995) has at least one close long-distance friend.
There are several papers which discuss the long-distance friendship concept, but I think maintaining the friendship would be the most important key in this. Facebook and other social network websites, emails and text messages become important factors in our friendships. Just by looking at Facebook I’d know whose birthday is today or what they have been up to so I can keep up with the gossip. Emails are exchanged regularly to say hi and share more personal news. Text messages are sent often just tell others what we are doing or feeling.
But of course it is not enough. There are other ways to be done in order to maintain our friendships rather than just keeping the communication open at all time. After googling around, I have found so many ideas, like watching the same movies at the same time so we can discuss it together, or keep sending postcards regularly (this will be hard, Indonesians don’t do cards!), or simply by talking on the phone (might be a very small window if you have 10-hour time difference). But to my opinion, these two below suggestions are the best way to maintain the long-distance friendships:
Plan a gathering. Yes, it would be terribly expensive especially if one lives here and the others live on the other side of the world, but if we have time and enough resource, we should put an extra effort to do it. Everytime I go back to Indonesia I make sure I will meet all my good friends and they also will try hard to set their precious time see me in between their busy schedules, although this means I would gain weight due to never ending luncheons and dinner appointments. Jeany and Yolanda decided to fly to Jakarta on my last days of holiday to spend a few days with me. It is not as easy as you think even though they both live in Indonesia as it takes 2-hour fly for Jeany and even more for Yolanda. I was also beyond ecstatic when three of my girlfriends decided to travel to Europe and decided make a stop in Aberdeen. As Aberdeen is not a normal tourist destination, they could have easily asked me to meet them in more desirable cities like London or Amsterdam, but they did make an effort to see where I live and how I live my life here. And just recently Melly who has been living 5-hour-plane-away from Jakarta just went over met the girls – which of course made me green with envy. Everyone makes an effort to see each other, which means a lot!
Remember special occasions. Just because we are miles apart, it doesn’t mean we can’t send gifts on birthdays or other special occasions to each other. We need to keep ourselves involved and share their happiness. I normally arrange birthday gifts for my friends back in Jakarta, and nothing makes me happier when they tell me how delightful the cake is or how surprised they are when they receive the gift. Perhaps if the special occasion is planned long enough, we even could make a visit. A friend invites us for her baby’s christening party next month and we are grateful to be able to be there. I extended my holiday to be able to attend Ecky’s wedding. And this October, fingers crossed, looks like I would be able to make a surprise visit for someone’s special occasion too!
And the most important thing, of course, is commitment. Any kind of friendship, with or without the presence of geography factor can only work if both (or all) parties commit to make it work – as I have written about it many moons a go. People instantly think that a geographically-close friendship is already hard enough to maintain, so there will be a smaller chance to maintain a long-distance friendship. But a study by Johnson, Becker, Craig, Hilchrist, and Haigh shows that over eighty percent of the long distance friends reported their commitment levels were currently rising rather than falling. These findings provide evidence that proximity and frequent face-to-face contact are not requirements for committed friendships and that this relationship may not be as vulnerable to a lack of proximity as is often portrayed.
I am blessed to have close friends even though we are miles apart. And I have the highest hope that with everything we have done, do, and will be doing, we will be friends for life.