The Cost of Long-distance Friendships

Those sundaes aren't free.

Those sundaes still aren’t free.

I’m going to spend this New Year’s Eve surrounded by friends.

In Portland.

And then, a month later, I’m going on the JoCo Cruise, the one that I can’t ever stop talking about, the one that I bought a ticket for at the last minute because I couldn’t not be on that boat with all my friends.

The cost of maintaining these friendships adds up, and it’s an unexpected cost of adulthood; I think I’d assumed my friends would live down the block from me, the way my parents’ friends lived down the block from them, or at least they’d live in the same city.

Instead, many of us are spread out, and hopping from Seattle to Portland, Vancouver, or Los Angeles becomes a normalized kind of behavior. Going to Portland for a NYE event isn’t seen as a weird thing; it might have been weirder if I hadn’t decided to go. But I am trying to figure out how much it’s going to cost me, and, like adults do, jamming it into the budget and hoping it’ll fit instead of seeing if there’s enough room before I book the tickets.

“Don’t you have friends in Seattle?” you might ask. Of course I do. We play board games or we watch Peter Pan LIVE! or we play more board games.

But when you start looking at the conditions required to build a close friendship, you keep turning over the same phrase: “repeated, unplanned interactions.”

I can’t do that very well with the people I know in Seattle, because none of us live closer than a 15-minute drive or a 40-minute bus ride. (I’m going to a holiday party this weekend and it will take me 90 minutes to get there, door-to-door.)

But I can do that on Twitter. The repeated, unplanned interaction model is designed perfectly for friendships that begin in person and then move online as everyone goes back to their home cities.

I wrote a piece for BoingBoing today: The Year We All Wore Kigurumi. It articulates a particular variation of the long-distance friendship: the bit where you conspicuously consume—and I mean conspicuously in the literal sense, there were selfies involved—in order to stay close to people you see online more than you see in person.

This is happening more and more often, and I don’t know if it’s only something that my friend group does or if it’s something that many online friend groups are doing. We tweet pictures of ourselves drinking wine so that we can be, in a sense, drinking wine together. Or, the other night, going out for ice cream.

And sure, nobody would care if I didn’t put my winter boots on over my pajama bottoms and run out to the bodega so I could get my $6 pint of Ben and Jerry’s (don’t get the kind with the hazelnut core, it is way disgusting), but I treasure these moments of closeness and am willing to pay $6 for them.

Or $60 for a kigurumi.

Or $2,500 for a cruise, for that full week of repeated, unplanned interactions that bring people closer together.

What about you? Do you find yourself maintaining long-distance friendships in a way that you weren’t doing a decade ago, like simuldrinking wine or city-hopping for holiday parties? Do you conspicuously consume as a way of staying close? Or do you focus on, and invest in, the people who live nearest to you, assuming those people will be your friends for the long haul?

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