Communication Professor Discusses Long Distance Friendships

Relationships, in any capacity, require a certain amount of maintenance in order to stay afloat. The largest component of this maintenance is communication. Without open and healthy communication, relationships are susceptible to failure. This communication becomes increasingly important when a relationship becomes long distance. While many assume the term “long distance relationship” only applies to romantic relationships, almost all of us are involved in long distance friendships, which require maintenance of their own.

As we grow older, our friendships are bound to change. The days where your childhood best friend lives down the block become the days where that same friend lives across the country. And, while long distance communication has gotten easier with technology, there is still a certain degree of effort required in order to keep the foundation of a relationship solid. Dr. Aimee Miller-Ott, a communication professor at Illinois State University, sees the increase in technology both a pro and con for relationship maintenance. “We can Skype, Facetime, Facebook message, almost to the point of living in real time with them over a distance. So, that may help keep some relationships closer than they could have been before,” said Dr. Miller-Ott. However, she notes that with recent research she’s conducted on cellphone usage, technology may be a good thing for long distance relationships, but can hurt proximal, or “in-person,” relationships. Even when spending time with others in the same space, it has become normal for a person’s attention to be divided between the in-person interaction and technology use. As a result, face-to-face communication suffers with technology due to distraction. In addition, people are always up-to-date with what others are doing, so there is not much left to talk about face-to-face.

And, while everyone is constantly being updated on what their friends are doing through social media, it is still important to make that effort to engage with the content. One may be aware of what is new with their long distance friend due to seeing posts on Facebook. However, actually reaching out to that friend via message or phone call to talk about the post is the maintenance that will keep the relationship going. Dr. Miller-Ott suggests that setting expectations for communication with out-of-town friends from the beginning of the long distance relationship will help in the long run. “I have many long distance friends and we talked via texting or email once a month and that is okay with us and we expect that because we all have families and are busy but still feel close,” said Dr. Miller-Ott. She explains that if a person wishes for more communication, but does not explain that from the get-go, that can negatively impact the relationship.

In the end, the most important item to keep in mind with maintaining long distance friendships is engaging in proactive communication. By properly utilizing technologies, setting expectations, and making any and all relationships a priority, staying in contact with friends should be a pleasant experience.

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