On Long Distance Relationships

I have been in a long distant relationship for 703 days. That's over a year and a half. That's also more than half as long as Joe and I have been together. He lives in San Francisco, I live in Chicago. It's a 4 1/2 hour flight to visit, at least $300 per ticket, and roughly $400 for a hotel weekend stay. It's not cheap, it's not ideal and it's not easy.

I'm no stranger to long distance relationships. My parents have been in one for years and the set up is far from ideal. Due to soaring ticket prices, visits are restricted to once a year for roughly two weeks. Just imagine that. I don't know how they did it but I do know how it affected me and how it showed me what I wanted for my own relationship.

 

 

Take Off

 

Committing to the Commitment

It's easy to make promises, to boldly proclaim that your love is everlasting, true, and transcends time and distance. It's a lot harder to deliver on those promises once you've been apart for 6 months, and you're lonely, horny and chugging a bottle of cheap wine in bed on a Friday night.

As lovely of a sentiment as all those promises can be, it's going to take a lot more than that to make a long distance relationship work. You're committing to a relationship with barely any of the benefits of being together. You not only need to be committed to your partner but also be committed to committing to your partner thousands of miles away. Feelings fade, honeymoon phases pass, arguments are had, and distance strips away any facade we built to conceal the uglier bits of ourselves. What's left is the backbone of your relationship: mutual support, friendship, and trust.

 

Timeline

Setting a timeline was a non-negotiable for me. I've watched my parents endure distance for more than a decade now and I refused to be caught in a long distance relationship with no clear end. Even if you don't set a clear end date, it's important to discuss where the relationship is going and where you hope to be in the next few years. This is reassuring and starts everything out on hopeful footing.

 

Ground Rules

Everyone knows there are already unwritten rules laid out when in a relationship but oftentimes long distance pushes us to really draw lines in the sand and agree to the terms and conditions of being apart.

Exclusivity - Some couples opt to be in a long distance 'open' relationship, allowing partners to date and see other people. Some, including myself, choose exclusivity. Make sure you know where you stand before diving head first into it.

Courtesy calls - I get particularly anxious about my fiance's safety when he goes out late at night. I worry that if anything happens, I'm nearly 2,000 miles away and don't know anyone in the area. When he moved, we agreed to send courtesy calls and texts: little updates of where we are, when we get home, who we are with. It's not about being controlling. It's about giving each other peace of mind and making them feel like a part of your schedule.

Honesty - Emotions are going to be running high quite frequently. Agreeing to be upfront about how we feel saves us from building up resentment and tension. He is allowed to say that he doesn't feel like talking today and I'm allowed to blurt out that I miss him.

No low blows - Just as people can get bold in the comment section when hiding behind the anonymity of a keyboard, it's easy to get carried away and blurt out things we don't mean while on a call or chatting online. We forget that someone is on the other end. Agree to never use your inherent flaws against each other, to never use painful, sensitive, and particularly intimate information to break them down. They trusted you with that information to keep, not use against them.

 

Planning: Create A Schedule

A huge part of making long distance relationships work is planning. In the beginning, I insisted on planning couple activities, call times, and future visits. My goal was to create and maintain a sense of normalcy. When we were still in the same city, we watched movies, ran errands, and ask random questions. When we moved away from each other, that did not change. We talked while I went grocery shopping, we synced YouTube videos, and we continued to ask random questions.

You're far apart with thousands of miles between you but it doesn't always have to feel that way. Creating a schedule to spend time together makes the distance seem less and makes the loneliness easier to bear.

 

Turbulence

 

Dependency

In the first few months of long distance, it will become clear who is more attached in the relationship. One will call more, need more support, more reassurance. That's perfectly fine. The problems arise when it begins to suffocate your partner. It's one thing to need support and attention and another to be possessive and clingy. 

It's quite easy to over-communicate and forget that they have a life outside of your relationship and talking to you on Skype. I once called Joe 52 times and soon after, accepted the fact that I had descended to crazy girlfriend level. We talked it out, established some space, and got better.

If you happen to be the non-clingy partner, try to understand. People cope with distance and loneliness differently and usually just need time. Be supportive and gentle with how you approach the topic but put your foot down when necessary. As adults, you both should be able to sit down and discuss a solution.

 

Little issues become monstrous ones

Arguments are much easier to have when you aren't face to face. There is less regard for the feelings when you can't see them, when you are separated by a glass screen. Something as trivial as the tone used to respond or a nonchalant comment can snowball into an unnecessarily dramatic argument.

Sometimes, it's using your partner as a stress ball or punching bag after a long day. Sometimes, it's the frustration of distance making us snarky. Sometimes it's doubt and jealousy that sparks an argument. Sometimes they just don't seem as excited to talk. Sometimes they forget a detail you thought was important. And sometimes, it's just easier to be mad at him than to miss him. 

Take a deep breath. It'll be okay.

 

Words have to be enough

One of the biggest challenges is that words will have to be enough. A phone call has to suffice for a moment when a hug and kiss would be most appropriate. Birthdays, anniversaries, celebratory and sad moments are spent away from the one person you want to spend the moment with.

Unfortunately, the only way we've gotten around this is to deal with it, be as accessible and supportive as possible, send care packages, and get creative with the ways you show you care. It can be as simple as sending a card or as elaborate as ordering them lunch and having it delivered to their doorstep.

 

Communication & Conquering Social Media

In this day and age, there is no shortage of social media platforms and messaging services. With Viber, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype, Snapchat, Twitter, Kik, Line, Google Plus, and Telegram, it can be surprisingly stressful to decide on one platform.

As Mary said in He's Just Not That Into You: "I had this guy leave me a voice mail at work so I called him at home and then he e-mailed me to my Blackberry and so I texted to his cell and then he e-mailed me to my home account and the whole thing just got out of control. And I miss the days when you had one phone number and one answering machine and that one answering machine has one cassette tape and that one cassette tape either had a message from a guy or it didn't. And now you just have to go around checking all these different portals just to get rejected by seven different technologies. It's exhausting."

Jumping from Skype to Facebook Messenger to dabbling a bit on Viber then chatting briefly on Evernote then texting only to go back to Facebook Messenger at the end of the day is not only exhausting but pretty damn confusing.

Some apps like Avocado are made specifically for couples while Telegram provides a more intimate, private platform. WhatsApp allows you to 'star' messages to mark them as favorites for future viewing while Facebook messenger proves to be a great for chatting as well as have strong audio and video call capabilities. Try experimenting here and there to find which one suits you best.

 

P.S. Bad internet connection ruins relationships. Be wary.

 

Intimacy

Sex is a key part of a romantic relationship. There's no denying it. But intimacy doesn't necessarily mean sex. It's togetherness, closeness, affection. Distance is an immediate hindrance to those. Hugs and kisses? No. Hand holding? No. Sex? Nope. Physical touch? Gone. This promptly removes physical intimacy.

So how do you keep maintain the closeness?

Emotional intimacy is just as important as physical in a long distance relationship. The perception of closeness, the level of trust you build, and openness allows you to share thoughts, emotions, and experiences. Keep communicating, keep talking, keep spending time together investing in your relationship.

Also explore ways to improvise when it comes physical intimacy. The blessed technology of this day and age allows us to communicate in every way imaginable. Get creative!

 

Doubt

There are going to be moments of doubt, moments when you're not sure this is going to work. Is this going anywhere? Will we make it through? Is this worth it? It's perfectly normal to doubt and question but letting them paralyze you is not. There's a saying: 'Distance doesn't ruin relationships. Doubts do.'

Don't blame your partner for something that hasn't happened, something that you're simply afraid might happen. Do not accuse or attack them for imagined situations. It only builds resentment and distrust which, ironically, will bring you closer to the situations you dread.

 

In-Flight Entertainment

Among other things, long distance relationships are built on the ability to keep things fun and interesting.  It's easy to get caught up in the daily grind and become creatures of habit. Here are some ways we keep the ball rolling:

Pet Names - Our pet names started with Facebook stickers we consistently sent. My favorite sticker set was of a fat bunny named Bun and his was a set of a rectangular bear named Opi. It became an inside joke of sorts and added some playfulness to our daily conversations.

Random Questions - When we were in college and just friends, Joe and I would chat online for hours. I looked for any excuse to extend the conversation so I started asking random questions. "Sunrise or sunset?", "zebra or giraffe?", "what do you like most about yourself?", "what do you like most about me?"...and so it progressed. Three years later, Joe and I still ask each other random questions and it keeps us on our toes.

"I Assume" - This little game was a result of running out of random questions to ask. At some point, I thought I knew everything there was to know about him so I said "I assume you like this" and he surprised me with a no.

Social Media - I've witnessed so many couples take their relationship into a very public arena and broadcast every development. Week-versaries, month-saries, arguments, and reunions. While I don't think all your business needs to be out on Facebook, I do like showing off my relationship and posting about big moments. It's fun to keep track of each others' social lifeand occasionally be a stage girlfriend. Bonus: It's just especially nice when your significant other shows you off.

Sharing Interests - I love makeup. He loves wrestling. I love romantic movies. He loves anime. I love watching makeup tutorials. He loves gaming. I love cooking. He loves food. We both have very different interests but make it a point to give each others' interests a chance. I've watched several animes with him and he watched Moulin Rouge. I now play Skyrim and he helps pick out my makeup. I am now subscribed to WWE Network and we share a Netflix account with mostly shows "similar to Mad Men" or "recommended since you watched The Holiday". Distance is no reason to stop bonding and sharing experiences and interests.

Snail Mail/Love Letters - Because who doesn't like mushy, handwritten, chicken-scratched, cologne-doused, random cards with puppies on the front? ♥

 

Prepare For Landing

 

Setting Goals Together

It is important to have goals that drive us to improve and bring us joy. In a relationship, your individual goals should align with your goals as a couple. Discuss your goals, your dreams, your dream house, how many kids you want, etc. Build a vision together. Build a life together.

"Setting goals in the first step in turning the invisible into the visible"
(Tony Robbins)

Long distance relationships are not for the faint-hearted. They are exhausting and they can be brutal. Goodbyes never get easier but we do get stronger. The key is to grow separately but not apart.