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To be young and … bad at keeping in touch

I went to college just outside of Chicago. I didn’t know a soul when my parents dropped me off in September 2010. During my first few months away at school, the 700 miles and one time zone separating me from my home in little ol’ Central Pennsylvania may as well have been another continent.

So that intense homesickness coupled with our commiseration over the rigors of college might help explain how I developed some of the closest friendships of my life during those four years at school. 

After graduation in 2014, many of my close friends scattered to different parts of the country to pursue careers or grad school, while others moved to various neighborhoods in the city of Chicago. I stayed there post-graduation for about a year, ultimately ending up back in Central Pennsylvania with my now-husband Paul by late 2015. 

As Joni Mitchell once sang: You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone – and it wasn’t until moving back to my hometown of Harrisburg that I realized the immense impact those college friendships had on me. 

Those feelings all came crashing over me like a wave a few weeks ago when we traveled to the Chicago area to attend the wedding of two of those aforementioned college friends, Sarah and Rachel. Reuniting with friends from our Chicago days was emotional and joyful. As Paul and I began our journey back home, I vowed to myself that I could not let these friendships fall to the wayside more than I already had.

So here’s my dilemma: In an age when social media allows me to feel like I’m up-to-date on friends’ lives without taking much time out of my schedule, how far does that go in helping me to actually maintain those close-to-my-heart-but-far-in-distance friendships? At what point does “I’m so busy” or “I’m bad at staying in touch” lose their truth and just become tired excuses? 

I put that question out to the CPBJ Young Professionals Facebook group and got a decidedly mixed response.

“I love Facebook for this reason [maintaining long-distance friendships]. I’m not a phone call fan because I’m busy. Texting is fine. FB is perfect for keeping up,” said group member Mandy Leggett.

Group member Tori Yardsley was on the opposite end of the spectrum: “Social media definitely lulls me into complacency. My closest friendships inhabit really deep, vulnerable spaces and social media isn’t conducive to fostering that. I’ve moved around so much that there are really integral people in my life scattered across time zones – taking time to plan a phone call, or video chat, is really valuable to me in maintaining those connections!”

So clearly, there’s no right or wrong way to stay in touch with old friends amidst our busy lives, and how we do it is unique to each of our preferences, needs and life experiences. I’m not going to follow up with every person on my Facebook friends list, and that’s what makes social media a useful and meaningful communication tool in its own right. I can keep up with milestones and appreciate someone’s joy or sympathize with hardships on Facebook.

But when it comes to those friends with whom I’ve shared up-close-and-personal joys and hardships, those relationships, just like any in life, take more effort than a ‘like’ or a comment. I do think that I can commit more time to picking up the phone and calling old friends or sitting down and typing an email to them … even if it’s just once a month or every other month.

Becca Oken-Tatum
Becca Oken-Tatum is the web editor for the Central Penn Business Journal. She also coordinates and writes for CPBJ's monthly Young Professionals e-newsletter. Email her questions, comments and tips at [email protected].

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