Written by Grace Ding
Before Gunn, I had never stayed at the same school for more than two years. I left the Bay Area when I was five, and lived in Shanghai for three years. I was later in Beijing for four years until coming to Palo Alto in eighth grade. Through these experiences, I had a lot of opportunities to maintain long-distance friendships. Unfortunately, I was too young to realize that I should’ve embraced the challenge. Instead, leaving schools or cities tended to mark the end to my friendships because I lacked the methods and effort to keep in touch. The only childhood friends that I have not lost completely are those whose parents remained friends with mine; even so, I only see and talk to them at family-planned reunions.
The first instance in which I remember actively trying to stay in touch with friends was when I left my last school in Beijing at the end of seventh grade to come back to California. Although I had only been at that school for two years, I felt attached enough to my friends there that I put more effort into maintaining them than I ever had before. In the first half of eighth grade, I regularly emailed and messaged several close friends; however, as time went on, those exchanges became less and less frequent, until the only consistent forms of communication left were Instagram likes, comments, and sometimes, birthday posts. To be fair, even though I don’t regularly chat with any of my middle school friends anymore, I appreciate how familiar and nice it is to catch up during instances in which we are able to meet in the summer.
Another experience I’ve had that many students share is promising to stay in touch with all my summer camp friends but never actually doing so. For me personally, this year marks the first time I have succeeded in staying close with several camp friends. Keeping Snapchat streaks is definitely a popular and valid, although low-maintenance, way to keep contact. However, I’ve found that the most valuable and lasting friends I’ve made are those that I still have regular conversations with without ever feeling like they’re a chore. For the couple of friends that I feel truly connected to, it’s not hard at all—even though we’re all busy and time zones can be a challenge when scheduling calls, a mutual desire to maintain the friendship goes a long way.
I’ve learned many lessons through these experiences, one of them being that it’s impossible to sustain all the friendships you initially might want to. However, there’s alway hope that even if you don’t regularly talk to someone, it’ll still be natural to meet and catch up when in the same place at the same time. Another important thing is to not feel bad or apologize and worry excessively during times that you talk less; I used to do this, but I’ve slowly grown more secure in my friendships and found that I can go periods of time without talking to a friend but still be able to pick up easily where we left off when we’re back. This is not to say that you shouldn’t be actively making time for the people you care about. Long-distance is definitely a commitment, but the challenges can also make your friendship stronger. For me, maintaining long-distance friends help me not only appreciate the times I do meet up with them, but also how they can be such a positive and essential part of my life despite not always being physically in it.