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When Friends Move Away

One of the more difficult challenges a friendship can face is when one friend moves away. I personally experienced the difficulties that such a move causes when I moved away from a city where I had friendships of twenty years duration.  I discovered some hard facts about the effect of such a move. 

Fact: The burden for continued contact falls on the friend who leaves.  With the exception of a few calls made to me right after I moved, most of my friends assumed that I would be the one calling, writing or E-mailing. There is a logical reason for this.  When I left town I did not disrupt my friends’ usual social routine.  Yes, they initially missed me, but only one small cog had fallen out of their social machine and so, from their perspective, the machine was working just fine. On the other hand, having moved to a new area where I knew very few people, I initially felt lost.  I thought often about the friends I had left behind and missed them very much.  I called to maintain contact with my old friends, but the number of calls I made far exceeded the calls that came back to me.  Life continued as usual for my old friends and they had adjusted to my absence. 

Fact: Friends sometimes resent the person who moves away, interpreting it as a personal rejection.  They may not be consciously aware of their resentment, but the reaction is not uncommon. I discovered this when the wife of one of my friends described his reaction after I’d informed him I was moving. He said, “I feel like I was slapped in the face.”  When I asked her how she interpreted his remark, she said: “I think he feels abandoned by you.” 

Fact: Some friends do not know how to maintain a long distance friendship.  Ralph, one of my patients, told me that after he moved away from his hometown, his then closest friend, Stan, called him only twice over a five year period.  Surprisingly, Stan’s wife, during a visit with Ralph and his spouse while on a business trip in their area, told them Stan still considered Ralph to be his closest friend.  

Ralph, while telling me the story, was perplexed.  He said: “I don’t get it.  I have called and E-mailed Stan numerous times and never get anything more than a lukewarm reception on the phone or a cursory email response.  When I’ve suggested ski trips or visits, he has consistently put off making any commitments. When I have shared joys or fears with him by E-mail, he has not responded.  How can he believe that we are still close friends?  He has made little or no effort to stay in touch for five years. Best friend? I think he’s living in a dream world.” After discussing with Ralph his specific history of relating to Stan, it became clear that Ralph had been the one to initiate almost all of their socializing.  Once Ralph left, Stan did not know how to reach out and do the things necessary to keep the friendship alive.  Further, since Ralph was no longer living in town, the geographical distance acted as a kind of inertia builder in Stan. Ralph finally realized that his friendship with Stan was over and made a conscious decision to let go of it.  He said, after making this choice, “It’s a sad state of affairs.  I miss the guy.  We shared a strong intellectual bond. I miss talking with him. We had even re-built an automobile together and we had great talks during that project.” 

As you can see, long distance friendships can suffer if both people do not make an effort to maintain an ongoing connection.  While it is not easy to do,it can achieved if the friendship is highly valued and both make a conscious decision to stay in touch on a regular basis.

Do you have a question or comment for me? Feel free to post it by clicking on the comments link below.

Comments

Comment from Laura
Time: October 8, 2009, 12:28 pm

I sure enjoyed your article. I agree that it is very difficult to keep a long distance relationship going, especially if only one person is actually making the effort.

I find this also to be true when family moves away. In the very beginning when the person moves away from where they lived for a long while, the contact is almost daily. As the weeks and months go by, the person that moved has started a new life and seems to forget and not give the old one priority. The phone calls get less and the conversations become short and unimportant. What does this really mean? Maybe our lives are just too busy, that we seem to forget what was once very important and now no longer is. We know that both family members love each other but act in a different way when one moves away. Like you said, it is difficult for some to know how to make a long distance relationship work even if it is family.

Comment from Misty
Time: October 8, 2009, 3:11 pm

Speaking as one who has a number of long distance friends, I see wisdom in what you have written, fortunately I and my friends have been able to navigate these waters. Nice to clarify this information for others.. Good job!

Comment from Ron Levy
Time: October 9, 2009, 11:38 am

I read your article. The situation is familiar. I never left this area but I have a number of friends who were fed up with the pace of the North Eastern US and migrated elsewhere. I correspond via e-mail with friends all over Florida, Georgia, California, Washington, Arizona, and even Colorado (if you’ve ever heard of that state). I also stay in touch with some of my friends via amateur radio, a hobby I’ve enjoyed for almost 60 years. As you so accurately stated, you can maintain a friendship over a long distance but it has to be a mutual thing. Both parties have to participate. It may not be the same as the friendship they enjoyed while interacting on a personal level but they can be friends, nevertheless.

Comment from Chris
Time: October 10, 2009, 8:45 am

I’ve been amazed at how comforting it is to use Skype (it’s a free internet networking tool that allows you to be in face to face contact with friends and relatives – your computer needs to be equipped with a camera and lots of them are – or you can purchase an attachment for a nominal amount – around $40). It feels as if I’m sitting across the table from the person. My sister and brothers each live in different states and all but one ‘hold out’ now has Skype. It’s made a huge difference – seems to shorten the distance and soften the feeling of not being part of each other’s life. I wonder how much of that can be attributed to the fact that you can see where they live and vice versa.

Comment from dan
Time: July 21, 2011, 6:56 am

an interesting piece.
however, my overriding concern when it comes to friendships is RECIPROCATION.
i feel that if i am the one thats making all the running, it means one of two things:

1. the other guy is indifferent to my friendship and is not really bothered one way or the other about keeping it going.

2. on some level or other, he is contemptuous of my friendship and feels that because he is in the power position of not needing the affirmation that my friendship can provide….he can easily get away with not having to make any effort towards maintaining the friendship

i have often wondered how many amongst the ranks of eleanor rigsby’s ‘all the lonely people’….are lonely because they have isolated themselves, due to not having learned early on, how to set up and sustain reciprocal and nourishing friendships, that allow them to feel they are one amongst equals, in their interactions with friends.

Comment from dan
Time: July 23, 2011, 6:27 am

hi,
ive sent you a couple of questions, and posted a couple of reposnses to your articles…..none of which i can find yet.
of course you might just be being lazy…..but for a friendship doctor, you dont seem very friendly.

dan

Comment from Dr. Carducci
Time: June 12, 2012, 5:45 am

Hi Dan
I’ve been struggling with medical problems and have not been able to keep on with the correspondence on the site. I can see how it comes across as unfriendly. My apologies.

Comment from Sanora
Time: September 16, 2014, 10:51 pm

Spot on with this write-up, I seriously believe this
web site needs a lot more attention. I’ll probably be back again to see more, thanks for the info!

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