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LDR is more than just romance: How I deal with friendship loneliness

By Ysabel S. Vitangcol Published Jul 03, 2022 3:32 pm

It’s quite common that “long-distance relationships” are immediately associated with romantic ones.

Many couples decide to take the leap, especially nowadays, with the convenience of faster communication, thanks to technology and the accessibility of travel now compared back in the heyday. Some couples choose to bite the bullet and take the road, while others opt not to, fearing the difficulty of being physically separated from each other. To each their own, right? 

Not a lot of people talk about the struggles of being in a long-distance relationship with their best friends, though. They're quite similar to what one in a romantic affair experiences: the longing, the missing, the timezones, you name it. After all, they, too, are special persons in our lives—as they say, “for keeps.”

Somewhere in the middle of my active years as a competitive figure skater, a formidable bond was formed between me and three other girls on my team. I never thought our friendship would eventually test the time and distance. 

I was six years old when I started skating, with Bea being my second friend at the rink and her older sister Lizl being my first. I met Angela a year later when we joined a competition overseas and Denz followed a few months after. While we saw each other at the rink a lot, it wasn’t until we were around 11 or 12 that the four of us became inseparable. I cherished the company of the girls both inside and outside our training.

The author and her friends loved performing during special occasions, like this Christmas show taken in 2010.

We hung up our skates midway through high school, focused on college entrance tests, and then attended university. Thinking that we would hang out less frequently than we used to, we eventually ended up in the same school. But we had to make big moves in our own lives, too: Bea began spending her summers in the United States with her dad. I went on a student exchange program in France for six months, and later in the year, Denz moved to the United Kingdom to pursue further studies.

Three years later, we all had moved abroad: Bea moved to the US for good, I joined Denz in the UK (also for further studies), while Angela pursued opportunities as an educator in Spain. At first, it wasn't a problem at all. We caught up whenever we could in person, like if someone or all of us were back in Manila or if someone else visited the other in their respective country. 

Then the pandemic happened. 

It’s okay to feel lonely. It’s okay to long, to miss, to grieve – this is part of a coping mechanism during difficult, trying times.

My visa was expiring that April, so I was forced to fly back to the Philippines instead of being stuck in a foreign land that I already called "home" for two years.

The first leg of the pandemic felt like a piece of cake because of the familiarity of being physically away from each other. To help keep ourselves at bay during the hard lockdown, we had yoga sessions and wine nights over Zoom. Our Telegram group chat helped us stay connected in real-time. Come to think of it, we are fortunate to have a friendship that transcends distance—we do have technology and the Internet to thank.

The girls and my other friends who flew out of the country before the pandemic decided to stay in their respective countries. As time went on, things started to get lonelier for me than it actually was at the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak. Of course, the Internet helped ease the separation anxiety somehow, but when things began transitioning to the "new normal" in Manila, I realized that I couldn’t call or text a friend on a whim to meet up somewhere like I used to because of the far distances and time differences that separated us. 

Longing and missing your friends are normal. Honestly, it was a rude awakening for me, that it was the quality – and not the quantity – of friends that mattered, because the bond that I had with my girls was something that I terribly missed and couldn’t find with anyone or any group of friends. 

The author and her friends during a skating practice in 2015

Throughout the duration of the pandemic, I have navigated through the loneliness of not being able to see my loved ones in person, just like the others. But the sudden shift of the isolation and separation period was so drastic that it took a toll on me, creating loneliness and difficulty to foster deep friendships that are similar to the bond that I have with the girls. Did I set my expectations too high? Am I trying to "replace" my friends who are far away? Do I not want new friends? A part of me blames myself for how I felt, but then I realized that no one, really, is at fault. If the pandemic was to blame, we wouldn’t be getting anywhere. If anything, the pandemic gave me a fresher perspective of acceptance and love. 

Yes, long distance can work. Yes, it’s okay to feel lonely. It’s okay to long, to miss, to grieve – this is part of a coping mechanism during difficult, trying times. Communication is always key to any relationship, so keep those lines open. 

I know they will always be there—so will the memories we have made and will create in the near future when we see each other again.

Life goes on as the girls deal with their lives around the world. While I continue to miss them, I still feel happy and very proud of them when they share the latest on their careers, personal wins and downfalls. At times, our group chat remains dormant, but hundreds of messages fill to the brim when we catch up. It’s as if time stood still. I know they will always be there—so will the memories we have made and will create in the near future when we see each other again. It’s been six years since the four of us were complete, but it doesn’t mean our friendship is over.

Surely, more people and more friendships will come along the way. My friendship with the girls has been through so much through the years, and I’m certain that there will be no other friendship like ours. I will always love them, I will always love us.

It still feels pretty cold out here, being alone and missing them all—but I look forward to the warmth of their embrace when we’re in one place again.

The author and her friends during their last complete reunion in 2016