By Eda Kamal, October 18 2023—
The definition of friendship used to be simpler — someone you met on the playground, or in the classroom, or perhaps your parent’s friend’s kid. In any case, a friend was someone who you wanted to spend time with, and in return, someone who wanted to spend time with you. As children, our friends were almost always tangible and we usually saw them on a regular basis. Today, it can be a bit more complicated to make, define, and keep friendships. Nowadays, technology has made it not only possible but common to create and maintain friendships across vast distances. As wondrous as it is to deeply know a person you would never have encountered without the magic of your phone, it also hurts to not be able to spend time in their presence every day.
I experienced my first long-distance friendship when I was six. She was my friend in Kindergarten, and at the end of that school year, her family moved to Australia — a place so far away it was almost mythical. We wrote letters to each other and sent them through snail mail. Having a pen pal was fun — until the responses stopped coming and we individually moved on with our lives. We reconnected as teens briefly through Skype, but that again faded away. It was not that either of us wanted the friendship to end, but distance, time and life got in the way. This can also happen with in-person close friendships. However, when you stop talking to a friend so far away, it is as if they cease to exist altogether. It can almost be labelled as grieving a connection that was never meant to last.
On another hand, connecting with strangers across the globe through shared interests is a truly unique phenomenon. The people I have met through games and fandoms will never know my real name, but they do know some of my darkest secrets — and I know theirs, despite blanking on what country they live in. I have helped these people through breakups, talked them through their darkest moments and worst choices, ranted to them over middle school drama and talked to them for hours upon hours about our shared interests. It is as if online friends know everything and nothing about you simultaneously. These relationships are beautiful and devastating in their own right, as you can never really keep track of where they go or what happens to them when it’s over.
An almost universal experience as a young adult is friendships changing after high school graduation as individuals choose different paths for the rest of their lives. A friendship going from close quarters to long distance is comparable to a Taylor Swift lyric — “I watch your life in pictures like I used to watch you sleep”. Spectating the life of someone who used to be attached to your hip is painful. Watching them pose with newfound friends on Instagram will make you happy they are thriving but sad you’re not involved. Open communication and acceptance will make this more manageable. Friends come and go, but it’s incredibly important to put in at least some effort to keep them when everyone involved truly values one another. My father has not seen his best friends in decades, they are on completely different continents doing completely different things. They still talk regularly in a group chat called “Good Old Days”. I can only aspire.
I’m not sure which of these categories of long-distance friendship my closest friend and I would fall into. We have seen each other only three times over two years even though we have spoken every day since we met. We met through online volunteering for an organization based in Calgary, but she lives over a hundred kilometres away in middle-of-nowhere Alberta. Every difficulty and pitfall of maintaining long-distance friendships I have described has, while definitely noticeable, not come between our connections. I tell this person every detail of my life and every passing thought in exchange for the cutest cat pictures. It isn’t awkward being around her in person, either — while we’ve only spent a handful of hours in each other’s physical presence, it is so easy to laugh and fill every moment with fun. She is still in high school, so we are able to cheer on each other’s very different accomplishments and give each other advice from our unique perspectives.
My best friend is living proof that the closest bonds can span great distances. Perhaps the best people are just a bit too far away, and all you need to do is invest genuine effort into cultivating those relationships. With the right people, it comes as naturally as breathing. Whether we someday end up across the street from one another, or there is an extra zero added on to the number of kilometres that separates us, I know we will revel in the Good Old Days like my dad does now. As naive as it is, I hope this one finally lasts forever.
This article is a part of our Voices section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.