10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Getting Into A Long Distance Relationship
My parents have been in a long distance relationship for a decade. For half my life, I witnessed the delighted airport hellos and painful goodbyes. We experienced the anxiety of separation and the excitement of an upcoming visit. Phone calls and Skype video chats replaced my father's place at the dining table or the typical sit down to talk about birds and bees. In many ways, I feel like I missed out. So when my boyfriend and I began discussing how we would dive into our own long distance relationship, all I could think about was how I was going to say goodbye and not crumble into a million pieces. I was so afraid of what I would miss out on in his life and what he would miss in mine. Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, achievements, failures; all spent apart. How would we survive the estimated 3 years apart?
When I made my decision to move to Chicago shortly after my boyfriend's decision to move to San Francisco, my mother warned me not to follow some guy around the world. She wanted me to live my life and build myself up, not drop everything to be with a man. I understood. And I still went with half of my heart set on leaving to make my relationship work. That's the truth. Part of me left for me, for my own adventure. Another part of me left for him and I don't think there's any shame in that. I love hard and I was ready to sacrifice for it.
But I wish someone had warned me about how difficult it would be just to set up a long distance relationship, just to get things settled and find out footing. I wish I had a guide book for navigating the Skype calls, time zones, video syncing, arguments, and planning of visits. Unfortunately, that's not what I'm offering now but I do have 10 things that I wish I knew then that I know now.
1. It's going to be a horrendous emotional roller coaster ride.
Let's be real. No amount of planning is going to prepare you for the gut punch of the initial separation and the continued beating each goodbye will give you. The months you spend apart will be speckled with memory triggers, sobbing, giggling, pouting, random arguments, pillow punching, flaring tempers, more sobbing, and wondering if this is all worth it. Then you see each other and it's right back to square one. Take things as they come and enjoy the ride.
Welcome to the LDR life!
2. You won't be top priority.
He's going to lead a separate life and spend A LOT of time with other people, many of whom you don't know or particularly like. That may not always sit well with you but you rarely ever have a choice and this may make you feel jealous, possessive, or neglected. Basically, it may prompt you to throw a tantrum. Remember that he'll have his own daily routine, chores, activities, hobbies, friends, and priorities but then so will you. Make time for each other but remember that your world does not revolve around your significant other and you have a life to live. Make friends, go out and have a few too many drinks, marathon a 22-episode show on Netflix, work out, take long walks. Experience things and then share them with your loved one. It'll make for great conversation.
3. The time difference is a bitch
Our time difference is only two hours but it still has a huge impact on our relationship and our routine. When he calls during my lunch break, I've already been awake for 6 hours while he's been awake for about half an hour. So 'how's your day going?' becomes a one-sided question. I will always fall asleep earlier than him, have meals earlier, and be the one to wait up if he's staying out later while he will be in class when I get off work. How to get around it? Patience, communication, and creating a routine to guarantee time for each other.
4. People will still hit on you
Many guys don't bat an eye when I mention that I have a boyfriend who lives elsewhere. It's rarely taken seriously. The usual come back is "well, where is he tonight? I don't see him." Some people can be aggressive and sometimes take flirting a bit too far. Step away and know when to put your foot down. There are also going to be cases when you flirt, when you're out having a good time and a few drinks and some handsome guy catches your eye. You're in a relationship but that doesn't turn you into a horse with blinders. You're still going to be attracted to other people. Flirting isn't cheating. A little friendly flirtation is fun and good way to get to know someone better. Just know when to stop and call it a night.
5. You won't always get the support you want.
While most friends and family will be supportive, there will always doubters. The uncle scoffing at my 'date night' and doubting if it's a real date. The aunt constantly suggesting other men I could be dating. The coworker that asks if my imaginary friend is ever going to show up to a company social. The friend that mentions there are so many pretty girls where he is. The person who is skeptical about my satisfaction in my relationship because he is my first boyfriend, who says 'wouldn't know better' or asks 'how do you know he's the one if you've only ever been with him?'
They don't know your relationship and how your arrangement works. They don't understand it and it doesn't fit into their definition of a normal, healthy relationship so they question its validity. What to do? Shake 'em off. This is YOUR relationship, not theirs.
6. You will be asked a slew of stupid, invasive questions.
"How do you guys do it? How do you deal with the lust? Are you always horny? Do you have a lot of phone sex? Why don't you guys see other people? Do you let him sleep around? Aren't you worried he'll cheat on you? Do you trust him that much?"
I've heard all these questions and their many variations several times over the past two years and it can take all my energy and willpower to stop myself from punching people in the throat. Initially, it felt very awkward to have someone interrogate you about the state of your sex life or the trust you have in your partner but over time I've learned to roll with the punches. Yes, phone sex is great. Yes, I trust him completely. No, we do not see or sleep with other people. No, I'm not worried he will cheat. Yes, it can be tough like any other relationship. No, I don't appreciate your questions.
7. You both will change. Maybe subtly, maybe drastically but it's going to happen.
You are going to become more headstrong. He is going to be more demanding. You are going to start going out more and he is going to start staying in. You are going to have mood swings and he is going to tear his hair out as he impatiently tries to deal with them. You are going to get sick from work-related stress and he is going to be engrossed in his thesis. You are not going to be the same nervous, lost young woman he met three years ago and he is not going to be the same naive, painfully optimistic young man. But you will be stronger, braver, wiser, and hopefully, deeper in love. Growing and changing together is a beautiful part of the relationship. Don't fear it.
8. It's going to be expensive.
Flights, hotels, food, activities. It adds up. If you didn't plan a visit months in advance, tickets for holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Labor day, and New Year can skyrocket and hotel rooms aren't cheap. Maintaining a long distance relationship requires some kind of light at the end of the tunnel: visits, vacations, goals, or a set end to the distance. Some couples go an entire year apart for a few weeks together. Some go six months apart while others see each other every other weekend but they all manage to fit in time to see each other in person. The keys are budgeting, planning, and buying tickets early. Visits are important at maintaining the relationship and while some people scoff at how often I travel to see him and how much I'm spending, it's frankly none of their business. My relationship is something I never regret investing in.
9. The relationship is going to be built on mostly promises
This is a painful truth. It is a bunch of 'I owe yous' about how wonderful and rosy things will be "when we're finally together". It's one promise after another, making plans and guaranteeing smooth sailing. And then that weekend visit finally arrives and we get too caught up in finally being together that those plans don't always happen and we realize we don't have enough time. Then come the dreaded goodbyes and the idea of smooth sailing vanishes.
Don't get too caught up in the illusion of what it's going to be like when you're finally together. Make realistic plans and learn from each visit how to manage time and make the most of the limited time you have together. Some visits are for touring and walking through the city. Some visits are for being with the family and bonding. And some visits, my favorite kind, are just for us and not leaving the house at all.
10. It won't get easier.
But you do get stronger.