Why Long Distance Friendships Always Fade in the End

Travel is a wonderful and beautiful part of being alive, isn’t it?

New places, new food, and often, new friendships. But there’s a dark side to travel. As wonderful as it is, there are palpable challenges associated with making friendships as you travel from place to place. In this article, I’ll explain the core of the problem, and the way you can intelligently solve the problem without much effort, because the problem is solved through understanding and self-knowledge.

A Major Challenge when Travelling

Many travelling challenges are not obvious from the outset. For instance, sometimes when travelling, at least if you’re lucky, new friendships will form quickly. Sometimes you feel that you resonate with the other person very much and may even see yourself becoming lifelong friends with them. This, in itself, is a beautiful thing and one of the great rewards of exposing yourself to new places and people. However, there is a serious challenge posed by making friends while travelling.

Invariably, you have to say goodbye.

The nature of travel is Movement. This is paradoxically its greatest challenge and its greatest strength.

Obviously, when you leave, you won’t see your new friend face to face for a while, perhaps not for years. And often, if a strong bond is made, each person will try to maintain the new friendship through methods other than face to face. It’s only natural, right? And today more than ever, people are maintaining these friendships through internet services like instant messaging, email, or even Skype.

There’s a problem with this though. In the long run, it just doesn’t work. The reason why is directly related to the fundamental nature of people.

But why doesn’t it work? Let’s pilot our metaphorical USS Friendship… ship, around the Ocean of Knowledge and see what we can find.

The Reason why It Doesn’t Work

Let’s return to our analogy. Imagine you meet someone who really wants to stay in touch, whether it be through email, Skype, or (my personal least favorite) telephone. However, since you only knew this person for a relatively short amount of time, maintaining a friendship will be exceedingly difficult via remote communication of any kind.

Yet some people buy into expectations of growing their friendship this way.


Because they fail to understand basic human nature. A budding friendship needs a good amount of time to build trust and connection, and sometimes people try to progress through this stage through using remote communications (including internet-based ones), and fail to realize the following fundamental elements of human nature:

  • Strong friendships require high levels of trust.
  • High levels of trust are built by spending quality time with someone.
  • Spending quality time with someone requires you be within sight of each other, at the very least.

And this is especially important in the early stages of a friendship when both individuals are still beginning to understand one another.

Low Bandwidth vs High Bandwidth Communication

A good way to illustrate this is to compare and contrast the different ways you interact with people in your life. Today, you have lots of options, and each option has a different level of information that can be communicated by using it. You can call this level of information the “amount of bandwidth” that a kind of communication is capable of transmitting.

Some methods of communication are very low bandwidth in terms of actual information received, such as email, instant messaging, and SMS texting. A slightly higher form of bandwidth is Skype voicecalls or telephone, because you can now hear emotional inflections in a person’s voice. An even higher level of bandwidth is a video call (which is available in Skype and iChat now), and this is higher obviously because you can see the person and read their expressions (more or less).

However, none of them can even come close to the amount of bandwidth face to face communication is capable of. (To put this in perspective, people used to call this “talking to someone”, but as you can see, we need to be a little more specific these days.)

Actually, talking face to face with someone is the highest bandwidth communication available today, and it’s how humans build trust. Their brains are wired that way. You may have heard that when you speak to someone in person, most of your communication to the other person is not in the actual words you’re saying. Most of the communication is non-verbal, i.e., being communicated through body language, expressions, and more. This explains why so much information is lost when you communicate solely through email or even phone. In fact, massive amounts of information are lost.

A budding friendship in which the vast majority of time “spent together” is achieved through low-bandwidth means is frankly not capable of developing into a strong friendship. It’s only the pale shadow of what a real life friendship might become.

This is somewhat similar to if you try to revive a friendship that has faded by using primarily low-bandwidth communication tools. Do you think this method will result in a renewed and strong friendship? It can’t. Using low-bandwidth tools (like Skype) for high-bandwidth tasks just doesn’t do the trick. Sure, a friendly email (or if you’re really awesome, a handwritten letter) is a great way to rekindle a friendship, but it’s only a start, not a way to maintain. It’s only kindling, it’s not going to grow any fires. This is why it’s so important to remember to be realistic when it comes to maintaining a friendship using anything other than face to face interaction.

The Solution is Courageous Honesty

You’ll find the solution to this problem by looking back at your own experience and by realizing the strengths and weaknesses of each type of communication method. If you’re really honest, you won’t try to metaphorically fill a square hole with a round peg. You’re smarter than that!

If you remember only one message from this article remember this:

The more you maintain your friendships in person, the stronger they will become. Otherwise, you’ll be experiencing a pale shadow of what your friendships could be. So it’s best to focus the majority of your social energy on people that you’ll actually see more than once a month (preferably more than once a week).

Yes, it’s great to keep in touch with friends that you rarely see, but just remember to stay balanced. Remember to put more time and energy into friendships with people you can actually spend time with on a face to face basis more than once in a blue moon. You deserve to have good friends in person, too. You deserve to have friends you can actually hug!

It’s really important that you remember how valuable time is, yours as well as other’s. Value the time you spend with people you care about. (I’m speaking of time spent with them in-person, of course.) I know it sounds brain-dead obvious, but too often we forget to value that time spent together.

Your time is precious (and limited), so make your friendships as good as they can be and have the courage to let go of friendships that don’t serve anyone anymore. If you feel a certain friendship no longer fits who you are, give yourself permission to let it fade with grace. Remember, if one person in a friendship isn’t happy with the friendship, no one in the friendship can be truly happy.

Instead, focus on strengthening the connections you actually want.
You deserve nothing less.