A Free Clinic on Overseas Friendship

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When Mel and I said goodbye to each other last year, there was sobbing and actual breath catching.  And in the months that followed we grieved as we let go of being basically roommates to being on the exact opposite side of the world.

So, although our whole family was greatly anticipating a visit from Mel & Nyla, you can imagine that there was also some trepidation, on my part, about saying goodbye all over again.  We spent a perfect 11 days together and then found ourselves at the Dubai airport parting ways a second time.  Much to our surprise, not a tear was shed.  Our hugs were long and tight and we unwillingly pried ourselves away from each other, but grief did not overwhelm us.  What changed, do you suppose, from 14 months ago?  Some would guess that it must be because we’ve grown apart and the loss wasn’t as deep with this farewell.  Nope.  Just the opposite actually.  We have become closer and more committed than ever this year.  We’ve become masters of the long distance friendship- LDF.  We even had a practice year in 2008 when Mel & Jeff moved to Calgary.  We tested some theories and learned some lessons.  And now that we’re in the LDF big leagues, we know what it takes to stay truly connected without being physically present in each others daily lives.  The big difference between last year’s goodbye and this year’s goodbye is that we know we can do this.  We know what it looks like.  We know what it takes.  We don’t like it, but doggone it, we’re professionals!
Jen & Mel-17
So, whether you are a fellow professional LDF’er, an amateur looking to improve your game, or a rookie about to embark on this journey, here are my top tips for mastering significant friendships from afar.

1. Share the daily details

This is possibly the most important tip of this class, folks.  Write this one down and highlight it because it will be on the test.  Friendship is found in the details.  Mel and I have been texting basically every 12 hours for the last 14 months.  Every morning when I wake up I see what she has told me over the course of her day and I see if she’s online for actual real time texting.  I message her throughout my day while she’s sleeping and when my phone starts to light up every evening, I know she’s awake.  And it’s not just Mel.  I have a handful of dear friends who do the same and have invested in our friendship by staying committed to keeping me in the loop in their lives.  Skype calls are also awesome for this, but since arranging regular Skype dates is difficult with a huge time change, different weekend days, and life schedules, another method needs to be found for the sharing of daily details.

2. Be honest about what’s going on in your heart

Our decision to move overseas affected those who were closest to us.  Our best moments of connectedness came when they shared their hurts and disappointments and feelings of loss about our absence.  Also, we’ve felt alienated, at times, by things people back home have said or done and it was most healing when we confessed that honestly, instead of avoiding it.  There are also people and things we’ve really come to love in our new country, and even though it felt like betrayal, we had to share that honestly too.  Because as hard as it is for all of us, life moves on.  People back home carry on without us and we forge new paths here without them.  This doesn’t have to mean the end of the significant relationships we left behind.  But if we avoid talking about those things and both rejoicing and lamenting over them, we will eventually build up walls of resentment and disappointment that make truly loving and trusting too hard.

3. Make the effort all the time

The moment you notice that there is something going on in your life and it feels like too much effort to explain it to your LDF, you’ve hit the danger zone.  What you choose in that moment will either make or break your relationship.  If this is a friendship that matters to you for the long haul, choose to take the time and write the long message.  Conversely, when you feel like there’s nothing much going on in your life and nothing seems important enough to mention, you’ve hit the other side of the danger zone.  Remember that part about friendship being in the details?  When Mel and I were together every day, face to face, I’d mention things like the engine repair light coming on in our car, the plants I was thinking of buying for the deck, and the TV show I stayed up too late watching.  I do the same thing now, even though some of the details are different. Making the effort every day to share the small details and the big issues on our heart not only keeps us connected in that moment, but it prevents the unfortunate issue of having nothing to talk about because we’ve totally lost touch with what’s been happening with each other from day to day.  It’s definitely an investment of time and mental energy, but for those you love most, it’s worth it.
Jen & Mel-10
4. If at all possible, show up

This last one is hard, because I have a lot of dear friends and family who I know love me and are committed to investing in our relationship, but simply cannot show up in person.  I get that.  I totally do.  In fact, I didn’t show up for Mel when she lived in Calgary for a year, and that trip would have been a lot easier than the one she just made for me!  (This is one of the “failing to show up” incidents in my life that I still regret.)  But nevertheless, when going to visit is possible, it is the single most life-giving thing an LDF could receive.  Because at the end of the day, the things I want most from my friends are love and understanding.  Nothing creates true understanding better than coming in person to see what our life is really like in this new culture.  And nothing really says ‘I love you’ better than taking the plunge, making the sacrifices, booking the ticket, and showing up.

Mel and I don’t know what the future holds for us, although we have our hopes.  But I love that we have not allowed the uncertainty of what’s ahead to deter us from committing to each other now.  I am so grateful for friends who have stuck with me through this journey, sending me texts and emails, making Skype dates, and generally not giving up on what we have.  It’s no small matter to have people who love you and care about you enough to make that kind of consistent effort, even when it’s hard.

So few people can realistically come and share in our life here, but for the few who do, the memories and bonds it creates are immeasurable.  These are some of the best photo moments from Mel & Nyla’s visit, although, naturally, my favourite moments occurred off-camera and I’ll treasure them for a long time.

20151009_0640Our first girls group shot after their arrival.  We visited the tombs and scaled the rocks at Jebel Hafeet.

20151012_0622At the luxurious Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi.  Abby took this photo.  She hasn’t quite mastered focusing yet..

20151018_0595Our happy place on Jumeirah Beach in Dubai.

20151018_0593The girls at the Dubai Mall Fountains.  Mel & I hope we’re modeling some good friendship principles for these two beauties.

Jen & MelMy favorite shot from our photo shoot.  Two hot 40 year old mama’s making friendship a life priority.

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