Long distance: those two words alone conjure up a myriad of largely negative connotations - difficulty, frustration, and ultimately break-up. When applied to romantic relationships, it's said that they never work; when left to friendships, there's an ounce more optimism, but the vision is still seen as grim.
In my life, I can say that the vast majority of close friendships I've maintained have been those founded upon long distance. As an Italian-born Brit, I go back to my native land around twice a year, and it has been those bonds I have formed with people who live thousands of miles from me that have lasted the longest - fourteen years in one instance. Close friendships I've made at school (some of which have had a long-distance element as well, since I went boarding at age thirteen) have rarely survived except in a few specific instances, with the majority having been relegated to sending birthday messages on Facebook, vowing to catch up, and then never speaking again for a whole year.
Of course, there's no denying long-distance friendships are far from perfect. You often miss your friends abroad, wish they could share in life experiences with you, and find that getting together for even short periods of time can be cumbersome and costly. Nonetheless, based on my experiences with these types of bonds, I want to make the case for why we should be less prejudiced towards them, and how they can prove to be easier to maintain than we think.
1. When you're always far apart, nothing can come between you
When a friendship is founded upon the assumption of distance, your relationship is planned around this kind of existence. You know that you live far away from each other, and as such you acknowledge that it will be materially impossible to try and spend every living moment together. Rather, you more or less safely acknowledge that the friendship exists, ready to take off every time you manage to meet up again. Most of all, you know that nothing can come between you - jobs, romantic relationships, children, moving, and so on. Since you already live far apart, there's no need to worry about the potential of something breaking up the bond you share. This is quite unlike close-distance friendships, where outside variables can provide a risk to your relationship.
2. Distance creates new experiences to talk about
Every time I meet up with my Italian friends, we end up spending days, even weeks, talking non-stop about everything that has happened to us since we last spoke. Given that we live two separate existences, we end up having a lot of new and exciting experiences to tell each other, creating engrossing conversations that seem endless. With close distance, as many of these said life moments are shared, there can be, frankly, fewer interesting things to talk about.
3. Vicinity can be stifling
Need space, anyone? Constant vicinity to a specific person can reap a mutual sense of boredom or even annoyance. A key difference between friendships and romantic relationships, aside from an element of physical attraction, is the fact that there is a much greater need for individual space in the former. If two or more friends become overly attached, there is a risk of creating an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship leading to jealousy and petty arguments. Long distance clearly eliminates this element, not always in a positive way of course, but it ensures that there is rarely the risk of two parties simply becoming bored sick of each other.
4. Your bond is founded on genuine affection, as opposed to convenience
More often than we like to admit, friendships we make at school, work, or other environments, are simply bonds of convenience. You happened to be at the same place, at the same time, and all you needed in order to cosy up to each other were a few mutual interests. The moment that this environment is taken out of the equation, you're both left finding other people to talk and relate to. Worse even, there is the risk of becoming friends with people who are simply using you for their own purposes, whatever these may be. Of course, this is not the case for all close-distance friendships by any means, but the point is these issues are largely inexistent in long-distance bonds. Since there is nothing "convenient" about your relationship, you know that what you have is based on a genuine mutual affection, as opposed to mere circumstance.
Ultimately, in a society where relationships are increasingly treated as commodities as opposed to sources of genuine platonic affection, there is a certain purity I've always found within long-distance friendships. This can be seen in close-distance bonds by all means as well, and I hold some such friends very dear, but I think it is time to eliminate the fear surrounding long distance. Are these relationships perfect? Never, like nothing in life. Nonetheless, they can be deeply fulfilling, and may prove easier to maintain than the friendships we have at home.