How to Deal With a Friend Moving Away

“Recently, my best friend moved away for a job. All my friends from college moved away after we graduated, so she was my only friend in this city, besides a few people I’ve met at work. How can I get over this and move on with my life without having any friends?”

It can be tough when a friend moves away, especially if they were someone you were really close with or used to spend a lot of time with. In our increasingly connected world, physical distance is not as much of a barrier, so it may be possible to remain close friends with someone, even after they move away.

In other cases, you may grow apart or lose touch with a friend who moves away, in which cases you will need to find ways to work through your feelings of loss and find ways to move forward with your life.

Studies have found that many people can maintain close long-distance relationships with people, so a friend moving away doesn’t have to mean the end of your friendship.[1, 2] The key is to be willing to find new ways to connect and support one another, and both people need to be willing to put in the time and effort.[2]

The steps below will help you learn how to say goodbye to your friend, make an effort to stay in touch with them, and cope with your feelings of loss, sadness, and loneliness.

1. Allow yourself to feel your feelings

It’s normal to have mixed feelings when you learn that a close friend is moving away. You may be happy for them, especially if they are moving for a new job or opportunity, but you probably also feel sad at the same time. While it might feel impossible to feel happy for them and sad for yourself at the same time, it’s entirely normal.

Making space for these seemingly opposite emotions will be easier than trying to force one of your feelings to go away, which may not even be possible. Instead of thinking you “should” feel happy for them, allow yourself to feel all of your feelings, no matter how wrong or mixed up they seem.

2. Make the most of your remaining time together

If you have some advance notice that a close friend is going to be moving away, try to make the most of this time by spending quality time with your friend before they go. While it’s commonly believed that quantity of time is what contributes to closeness among friends, recent research indicates that the quality of time spent matters more.[3]

Quality time means different things for different people, but often involves:[4]

  • Attending fun events or activities together
  • Making new memories together
  • Spending time one-on-one with them
  • Having deep conversations with them
  • Returning to places where you’ve shared a lot of good memories

3. Let them know how you really feel

When your friend announces they will be leaving, make sure to let them know you will miss them, instead of playing it cool, hiding your feelings, or assuming they know how you feel. Not everyone is great at showing affection or letting others know they care about them, but it’s important to find your own way of letting your friend know how you feel.

Some of the ways you can let your friend know how you feel about them and how much you value your friendship include:[4]

  • Giving them a small, thoughtful, or sentimental gift like a photo album or customized playlist of songs that remind you of time with them
  • Writing them a card, letter or a good farewell message to let them know what they mean to you and how much you’ll miss them
  • Talking with them about how much you’ll miss them or some of the fond memories you’ll always carry of your time together

4. Offer to help them with the move

Good friends are there for each other during times of need. Resist any urges you might have to distance yourself from your friend during their last days because of feeling sad and make an effort to show up to help if they need it. Because they will probably be very busy in the weeks and days leading up to the move, this may be one of the only ways you can squeeze in some quality time with them before they leave.

Offering to help them pack, move boxes, or clean out their old home are all great ways to pitch in a helping hand while proving that you are a good friend. Acts of service are also one of the 5 love languages and are great ways to show friends, family, and other loved ones that you care about them.[4]

5. Celebrate them before they leave

If the move is a happy one, planning a celebratory farewell is a great way to give your friend an epic send-off while also gathering together any of their family members or mutual friends you have. Many people feel shy about arranging their own party, so taking the lead on this can help ensure that this happens.

Even if the move is a more somber one (like them moving back home to help take care of a loved one who is sick), you can still plan a farewell party for them. A celebration with loved ones may help you feel better and could still be greatly appreciated by your friend.

6. Keep mementos of your friendship

After they move away, you probably won’t be seeing them as often and will also have times when you feel really lonely, sad, or are missing them. It can help to have some pictures or mementos in these moments that can help you reflect on some of the good memories you had with them.

If you don’t have a lot of pictures, social media posts, or records of your friendship, it may be a good time to start making some. Consider taking some pictures or videos together or finding other ways to document your time with them. This way, you’ll be able to keep records of some of your shared memories and have something you can look back on during times when you’re missing them.

7. Make a plan for your long-distance friendship

It’s all too common that when one person moves away, people lose touch, even with some of their closest friends. Often, this can be prevented as long as both of you make an effort to stay in touch and keep the friendship alive. In fact, research has proven that people in long-distance relationships can not only keep in touch but can also maintain close, highly satisfying relationships.[1]

In order to keep a long-distance friendship strong and close, it’s important that both people:[1]

  • Make an effort to stay in communication via phone calls, Facetime, letters, and setting dates to see each other in person
  • Discuss ways to stay in touch and remain close with the person before they leave town
  • Accept some of the natural ways your friendship will change after the move (e.g., not seeing each other as much)

8. Build in some self-care rituals

Self-care rituals and activities will help to boost your spirits during times when you’re feeling down.

Self-care activities are any healthy outlets or activities that relieve stress or help you relax or find enjoyment. Ideas for self-care include:[5]

  • Exercising, which can help to release feel-good brain chemicals that boost your mood and energy levels
  • Meditation, yoga, or mindfulness activities which can help you de-stress, relax, and unhook from difficult thoughts and feelings
  • Creative outlets like writing, painting, crafting, or DIY projects that give you a sense of fulfillment and enjoyment
  • Social activities like spending time with friends or loved ones, going to meetups, or attending events or activities in your community

9. Strengthen your other friendships

Good relationships are central to health and happiness and will go a long way towards easing the grief after a close friend moves away.[5] Spending more time with some of your other friends and making an effort to deepen your relationship by opening up to them is a good way to get closer with a friend.

If you need to broaden your social circle, there are many ways to meet new people, including trying to get closer to people at work or even venturing out in your community to meetups, events, or taking classes. Also, there are some great friend apps that can help you connect with find like-minded people who live near you.

10. Find ways to enrich your “new normal”

Even if you don’t feel like it, try to push yourself to get out, do new things, meet new people and make friends. By trying to enrich your daily life with meaningful interactions, activities, and tasks you enjoy doing, you will find it easier to cope with feelings of sadness, loss, and loneliness.[5] There are bound to be some empty spaces and time slots in your schedule after a close friend moves away, and working to fill in these gaps with other people, enjoyable activities, and new routines can help you find a “new normal.”

Final thoughts

In many instances, it’s possible to maintain your friendship, even from a distance. Technology offers many ways to bridge physical distances and remain in contact with people, but it does require the effort of both people. If one person doesn’t make this effort, it may mean you lose touch with your friend, which may cause some sadness, grief, and loneliness. In this case, it may be essential to get out, meet new people, and work on strengthening your other friendships.

Common questions after a friend moves away

What do you say to a friend that’s moving away?

Try to let your friend know that while you’re happy and excited for them (if it’s a positive move), you are also sad and will miss them. This lets them know that they matter to you and is important for them to hear.

What gift should I give my friend when they move?

A gift will usually mean more if it is thoughtful rather than expensive. Consider giving something with sentimental value (like a photo album or something that reminds them of an inside joke), or you could give them something you know they either need or would enjoy.

What if all my friends moved away?

If all of your friends moved away, you will need to be especially proactive about getting out, meeting people, and making new friends. You can do this by trying to make friends with people at work or school, by attending a meetup or class, or by using a friend app.

Will my friend and I be able to maintain friendship long-distance?

According to research on people in long-distance relationships, it is possible to maintain a close, satisfying bond with people, even when you live in different places. The keys are trust, communication, and negotiating new expectations for the friendship.[1, 2]

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Hailey Shafir is a licensed mental health counselor, licensed addiction specialist, and clinical supervisor working out of Raleigh, NC. She has a Masters in Counseling from NC State University, and has extensive professional experience in counseling, program development, and clinical supervision. Read more.

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