A note on long-distance friendships 

Photo by: Laiana Farias

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships. Whether it be the ones I’ve (subconsciously) distanced myself from or the ones that still leave their daily imprint or the new ones that have wiggled their way into my life, I’ve been reflecting on the significance of friendships. I’ve always considered myself quite a social person, thus I place a lot of importance on the relationships I value most. Recently, however, I have experienced how people can come in and out of your life, leaving different marks that vary greatly in impact. The start of the year brought a few key moments that made me think of the quality of the friendships I have and how incredibly fortunate I am to have certain people in my life. Thinking about how strangers can become family and how close friends can become strangers has made me really contemplate the meaning of friendships. Those that are truly meaningful aren’t always the ones you see on a day-to-day basis. Consequently, I recently deliberated quite a bit about my long-distance friendships and how much they mean to me. 

The thing about long-distance friendships is that they are experienced by so many, but not very well talked about. I’ve read several articles about how to maintain these types of friendships, and they are all written in the style of an explanatory what-to-do saying the same things: you will grow apart and not talk every day but you should catch up when schedules match and know they will always be there for you. Although these are all valid and realistic points, they don’t quite express the challenges and the everlasting longing for their presence. I feel like these articles all miss the key point: a personal empathetic connection with the reader that shows they also feel that pain. Personally, my experience with my long-distance friendships feels less like trying to remain active in each other’s lives and more like coping with a missing part of your life whilst acknowledging that it is there.

I believe that my newfound interest in analyzing long-distance friendships was triggered by two key events that happened relatively close to each other. Firstly, my roommate, who became one of my best friends since I moved to Amsterdam, accepted a wonderful job opportunity that required her to move out of the country temporarily. Consequently, I had to adapt both to no longer seeing her every day and to living with a completely different person. Although luckily I get along quite well with my new roommate, it still feels strange to see someone else in her room. Secondly, I recently reconnected with a close friend of mine from my hometown back in Brazil. Even though we used to text back and forth sporadically since we last saw each other in 2020, this time it felt like a hard-to-define kind of different. Perhaps more intense (possibly as a result of my staying awake until ungodly hours to talk to him) but it also felt like there was more of a connection, the continuous conversation being a strong reminder of what it feels like to have him around. Although these two events are quite different in essence and each triggers a unique kind of longing, they are similar in impact. To me, it boils down to feeling like even though you built the puzzle of friendship together, there is a missing piece that fell somewhere and you can both see it but neither one of you can quite reach it.

Considering that I have moved frequently throughout my life, I was able to develop meaningful relationships along the way. Given the fact that I’m a rather emotional person, it has been a challenging process learning how to cope with the absence of my loved ones. I have found that the more I experience it the better I can manage it, but it certainly doesn’t become effortless. Although it is significantly easier when you are the one moving, as you can occupy your mind with new experiences, there is always a part of you that will wish you could share these new adventures with the people you love. Likewise, there is always a part of you that will wish you were with them when you hear about their new experiences. Although moving to Amsterdam has provided me with remarkable experiences, moving away from my family was possibly one of the scariest decisions I have ever made. Of course, eventually you grow used to it, but that doesn’t dissipate the feeling of longing and it doesn’t mean that the pit in my stomach isn’t there when my little sister calls me to say she went to the movies and wishes I could have been there with her.

Photo by: Laiana Farias

Perhaps the reason why this particular type of distant connection is not extensively discussed is that although it is such an emotionally-dense connection, you can truly feel it in your skin. There are very few ways of accurately describing emotions that can be felt physically because words simply don’t convey such deep emotional states. It is truly challenging to describe how a chain reaction of hormones can make you feel so intensely, where your stomach turns or your body shivers or you feel embraced by a warm blanket or you become so overwhelmed by tenderness or passion or a wild rush of adrenaline. How can you describe something that makes your heart literally ache? It becomes substantially harder when you consider that some languages just don’t have the words to communicate certain feelings. For instance, there is no exact (or equally meaningful) translation of the Portuguese word saudade in English. The closest description I have found of the translation came from a video by @ewistone on TikTok, who defined it as “a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one cares for and/or loves,” which I believe captures the essence of the word quite well. Nevertheless, since there is no direct translation for the word, it makes it infinitely harder to express the feeling in English. 

I believe you are made of and shaped by every experience and every person you meet. Consequently, I believe that you leave a piece of yourself with every meaningful connection that you build, which is replaced by an equal piece of the other person. Perhaps the reason why we long for those not physically close to us is that we feel their piece in us in spite of their absence. Nevertheless, it can be quite comforting to know they’re still there with us regardless of where we are. The thing about the missing puzzle piece is that you can make do with a provisional one. You can use your life experiences that remind you of that person to create a piece that can replace the original for the time being. Several provisional pieces can take their place as you see or experience multiple events that remind you of them, and you can collect each one to share them with the person when you next talk to or see each other. So it doesn’t really matter whether you cut out a do-it-yourself piece or frame the puzzle whilst it remains incomplete – it is a way to still look back at your memories in spite of the empty spot. Essentially, it serves as a beautiful reminder of the connections you are able to forge and the capacity for love you have. The way I see it, eventually the original piece will be within reach, regardless of how long it takes for you to reach it. Even if the puzzle is only temporarily complete, it is always worth having the piece placed where it belongs – and the person close to you again.

Written by Laiana Farias


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