The first rule in managing a long-distance friendship? Do not communicate before the person in the earlier time zone has been properly caffeinated!

Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke by Debbie Friedrich

Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke by Debbie Friedrich

That is one of the many lessons we’ve learned in the nine years since Lisa gave up her television producing job in Los Angeles and moved halfway across the country for love. Ironically, when we lived in the same city, we were both so busy--Lisa was working long hours and Liz had a full-time job and two small children--we rarely saw each other. But knowing the other was a short car ride away brought us each comfort. Like that time Liz was pregnant and had to go to the hospital after catching a terrible stomach bug and Lisa ran over to watch her eighteen-month old, even though her only babysitting experience at that time consisted of a weekend watching a ten-year-old. Or when Lisa had an awful week at work and Liz showed up at her apartment with a bottle of good wine and a shoulder to cry on. Those were the moments our friendship had been built on. As Lisa’s Uhaul pulled away we wondered, had we built a strong enough foundation to support our separation?

Yes and no. We had a lot to learn first.

Lisa quickly discovered that Liz can be easily misunderstood over email. Liz gleaned that Lisa didn’t like to talk on the phone for more than a few minutes, preferring long, drawn out text chains that eventually included emojis and GIFs, but never bitmojis.

We both discovered that we’d have to work harder to show the other she was important. We could no longer clink our glasses at happy hours while we listened to the other’s tales. We couldn’t be each other’s honest judge on shopping trips. Instead, we had to get creative. We started sending each other packages. Liz sent Lisa little things that reminded her of home, like a necklace in the shape of California. (Much cuter than it sounds!) And Lisa sent Liz angel figurines she loved. (Way cooler than they sound.)

We had to master the art of knowing what your friend needs even when you can’t see her face—training ourselves to detect the catch each other’s voice as one of us told a story about the queen bee mom at school being cruel, or the echo of loneliness the other’s tone as she mentioned it’s hard to make new friends in a small town.

And we had to plan time to see each other. And this involved plane tickets and getting time off work. Long gone were the days of popping over on a Saturday. But the silver lining was this time became even more special because it was set aside for one another.

Honestly, staying connected was hard work. And disconnecting was easy. Weeks would often pass when we didn’t speak live. We told ourselves that texts and emails were just as effective. That our friendship didn’t suffer. But it did. We lost our connection and our relationship was strained. We were reminded that hearing your friend’s voice is critical. And so we picked up the phone and began to rebuild that bond. Because there are no emojis in the world that can replace the right words or ensure a friendship will last.

Girls’ Night Out by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke is out now in eBook and paperback, published by Lake Union.