Is there a distance threshold for friendships?

When I moved abroad the first time around (Amsterdam 2004), it felt like a European adventure. I had only been to Europe once before and for a measly three weeks, not nine months. My U.S. friends were keen to hear about my adventures and when I moved back Stateside less than a year later, I picked up where I left off. My world view had shifted slightly through my European experience (not to mention the Dutch husband I acquired in the process), but I had the same circle of friends and I even managed to get a better position at the company where I used to work.

This time around I am in Europe indefinitely. My husband is half way through a Master’s program in Theology, my son is speaking fluent Dutch, and despite a clear goal of eventually moving back to the U.S., I’m getting used to European life. We all are. And not just us three, but my U.S. friends have also realized that we’re here for an unknown period of time.

And as time goes by, you lose touch. People back home know they won’t run into me at a concert, in the aisles of the supermarket or out on the beach during a sunset walk. Unless I Prine someone, or someone Prine’s me, the spontaneity has been removed from our relationships.

I have taken on a digital sheen in their lives. And although we live in a digital world and have a digital footprint–whether it is posting photos and thoughts on Facebook, sending e-mails, writing blog posts or even skyping–it’s just not the same as being there in the flesh. My U.S. friends can’t ring me up for a walk, or ask me to help them drown their sorrows from their latest break up over cosmopolitan or celebrate a recent life event over a creamy Chardonnay at that cafe downtown. I’m not there for them like I used to be. And vice versa.

And although I defend Facebook and social media on a regular basis as a worthwhile expenditure of my time, I’m beginning to wonder. Sometimes I just feel, well, detached. And yes, when I see a beautiful sunset from Santa Barbara, or someone sipping a gorgeous wine at a resort overlooking the Pacific, I experience feelings of envy, just like this WorldCrunch  article suggests. I sometimes feel lonely when perusing Facebook, just as SLATE Magazine suggested I would.

Is there a threshold for which we no longer wish to invest in  long distance friendships? I know this is the case for dating. Years ago I dated a guy in Los Angeles, but after a few months time, I felt that it just wasn’t doable; he was geographically unavailable. In general, I’m not one for G.U. relationships. Yet I feel a desire to hold onto my friendships in the U.S. Why? Because these people are my people; part of my life experience; they helped form who I am in a way. We informed each other. But social media interactions can only go so far in maintaining that bond.

And to top that off, I have friends here. In the flesh. Ones who call me up and invite me out; ones I run into in the super market or the park, women in my book club who relate to me through literature, friends from church who bond with me in another way. If I need something here, in this physical life, they are my go to people.

There is a Dutch expression that goes something like this: een goede buur is beter dan een verre vriend. In other words, a good neighbor is better than a far away friend. I understand this from the practical Dutch perspective because despite their penchant for world travel, their orientation is very locally based. But I’m fairly certain this expression was developed before the digital age wound it’s roots into our daily lives.

I’m not the only one facing this quandary. What are your thoughts on friendships that span continents? Is there a distance threshold? And does digital social media isolate you, or bring you closer to your friends and family?

Published by kristininholland

I believe in living with integrity and in choosing a lifestyle that shows respect for our environment. Although continually attracted to the idea of imminent success with the publication of my two novels, I am also greatly drawn to living simply and living well: loving my family and friends, and being aware and present for those moments in life--a spontaneous hug from my son, a smile to a stranger, moments of insight--that define real connection and success with peace, love and happiness.

8 thoughts on “Is there a distance threshold for friendships?

  1. Hi Kristin!
    Very thought provoking and a great opportunity to say hello from (currently under red flag warning) southern Cal. I don’t think there’s a distance threshold for friendships. I hadn’t considered this much until I read your post. I believe that friendships endure regardless of distance apart or time between connections. The advent of a plethora of means of maintaining electronic snippets of communications, though not essential, seems a huge bonus to me. On the other hand, I’ve pretty much abandoned Facebook. I like that an old friend from the past will suddenly emerge there, so I watch for those moments to reach out and reconnect through other means. Kristininholland? Now that’s another matter altogether. Considering the subject at hand, I’m a bit abashed. You’ve been so generous by sharing your experiences and unique point of view, while I’ve read along and only posted my responses infrequently. Thank you Kristin for the gift of your unique perspective, beautiful writing, and window on life in a beautiful part of the world that I hope to visit again someday.

  2. Dear Doug,

    What an amazing response! That “time between connections” is also key I think. Because it implies there will be another connection. There are friends in Boston, for example, with whom I’ve lost contact. That was before Facebook. In fact, my goodness; I should try to find them again if last names haven’t changed! I’m so thankful to hear you appreciate my blog.

    Speaking of reconnecting, we’ll be in California for three weeks in July. Would be great to have some sort of gathering in SB where I can see you and a handful of others!
    Greetings to Nina.

  3. Hello there! I agree with Doug. I do not think there is a distance threshold for friendships. I had coffee yesterday with a friend here in Santa Barbara. First thing we did was reel back the memory scroll to the last time we saw each other. Try about 5 years ago. And we live a mile away from each other.

    July in Santa Barbara?!?!?!?!?! Look forward to having that glass of creamy chardonnay (on the deck of El Encanto, perhaps?) with you.

    xo Robin

      1. Well….not so sure about that, my friend. I happened to look at the comments this time. Do keep us posted! We are planning our Europe trip again for this summer. Unfortunately we will not be able to stretch the time so we can be in your neck of the woods. Flying into Graz and down to Italy. Do add us to your Dance Card. LOL to you!

  4. Yeah! Can’t wait to see you and Ezra this summer! Kids add a whole dimension to long-distance-ness. You have to see them in the flesh.

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