I don’t consider myself a relationship expert or whatever, but I have learned a lot from my experiences especially when it comes to long distance relationships since all serious relationships I’ve been in went long distance at some point. Get ready for yet another LONG post but this time it’s about long distance relationships. How fitting, right?
OK. Let me get this out the way, long distance relationships are the worst. “Is he/she worth waiting for? Are they feeling the same way I do?” “Am I kidding myself thinking this can work?” “Would I be better off dating the mailman instead? At least he comes to my house every day.” “Is my boyfriend living a double life?” We’ve all heard it. “Oh, you guys don’t fight? You’re happy and in love? You’re still in your honeymoon phase. Just wait.” Or something to that effect. Those statements do have some truth to it. Usually, the beginning of a relationship is about getting to know your significant other more and during that time period you are merely enjoying each other’s company without the bickering and without the realization of their daily (bad) habits. That is an over-generalization of the honeymoon phase, but you get the picture. A lot of people believe that once the honeymoon phase is over the “real” relationship begins (meaning it was easy peasy at first, and then takes a little more work). Regular dating” in no way, shape, or form prepares you for a long distance relationship. It is a completely different game. In fact, when most people ask for long distance relationship advice, I tell them “don’t do it.” It takes a very specific person to make long-distance work.
I get it. Long distance relationships SUCK. There’s no way around it. All my life I’ve never met someone who has said, “Yeah, my boyfriend lives 18 hours away in Japan, it’s great!” On the contrary, everyone I’ve met in a long distance relationship can relate to the slow agonizing feeling that takes place over months or even years — that feeling that your heart is slowly being carved out of your chest by a butter knife and replaced with FaceTime calls and whatsapp chats. I’ve seen both sides of the long distance relationship coin. I’ve seen them implode and I’ve seen them fizzle out. I’ve seen them be worth the pain and loneliness but also reach the moment of needing to let go. When it comes to surviving the distance, here’s what I’ve learned is most important.
1. YOU ALWAYS NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO TOGETHER
What kills long distance relationships is the constant underlying uncertainty of everything. “Is this worth it?” “Does he still feel the same way about me as he did before?” “Is he secretly meeting other girls without me knowing?” “Am I kidding myself with all of this? Maybe we’re horrible for each other and I don’t know it.” The longer you’re apart, the more these uncertainties will fester and grow into legitimate existential crises. That’s why when trying to make a long distance relationship work it’s necessary to always have some date that you are both waiting for. Usually, this will be the next time you are both able to see each other. But it can be other major life moments as well.
The minute you stop having some milestone to look forward to together, it will become harder to maintain the same enthusiasm and optimism for each other. One thing that is true about all relationships is that if they’re not growing, then they’re dying. And this is more important than ever in long distance relationships. You must be evolving towards something. There must be some goal out in front of you that you’re reaching together. You must have some cause that unites you at all times. You must both have a converging trajectory at some point on the horizon. Otherwise, you will inevitably drift apart.
2. BE SLOW TO JUDGE
A funny thing happens to humans psychologically when we’re separated from one another. We’re not able to see each other as we truly are. When we’re apart from one another or have limited exposure to a person or event, we start to make all sorts of assumptions or judgments that are usually exaggerated or untrue. I am definitely guilty of this. This can manifest itself in various ways within a long distance relationship. In some cases, people get insanely jealous or irrationally possessive of their partner because they perceive every casual social outing without them as potentially threatening to their relationship. They become paranoid, asking “Who the fuck is she? Tell me who the fuck that girl is, and why is she all over your Snapchat — oh, she’s your cousin? You’ve never mentioned her. Why didn’t you tell me about her? Are you hiding something from me? OK, maybe I wasn’t listening when you told me, but I still don’t want you hanging out with her, got it?”
Other people become extremely critical and neurotic that every small thing that goes wrong is an end to the relationship. Like if the battery dies and their partner misses their nightly FaceTime call, they sit there thinking to themselves that this is it, the relationship’s over, he finally forgot about me. Other people go the other direction and start idealising their partner as being perfect in a bunch of ways that they’re actually not. After all, if your partner isn’t in front of you all day every day, it’s easy to forget all of the little obnoxious parts of their personality that actually bother you. It’s easy to overlook their flaws and faults. And not only that, but it feels good to imagine that there’s this picture-perfect person for you — “the one” — out there, and it’s these damn logistical circumstances that are the only thing keeping you apart. All of these irrational fantasies are unhelpful. And when stuck in a long distance relationship, it’s very important to distrust many of your own judgments and inclinations to a certain degree. Remind yourself that you really don’t know what’s going on and the best thing you can do at any moment is to simply talk to your partner about what they’re feeling and about what you’re feeling. There’s that old saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Well, I’d edit that to say, “Absence makes the heart fucking psychotic,” if I could. Be very weary. I also think, absence can make the heart wander. (Clever, I know).
3. MAKE COMMUNICATION OPTIONAL
This is a tough one I won’t lie. I used to feel like prioritising specific time to talk to your partner is super, super, super important! I’m still trying to find balance with this one myself. A lot of long distance couples create rules or expectations that they should have XYZ communication or that they need to talk every night at a certain time. Many long distance advocates recommend this sort of behavior. In my current relationship I’ve tried to take a backseat and not micro manage as much as I did earlier on in the relationship. Obviously you have to be very careful when taking this approach as you can easily subject yourself to being taken for granted and being treated like a doormat. Micro managing may work, but I now feel like communication should happen organically and unconditionally if someone wants you like that. You talk to each other when you want to, not because you have to. And if that means going the whole day without communicating, then so be it. People get busy, after all. And periodically having a day to yourself is actually pretty healthy, I guess.
When you force communication, two things can happen. The first is that when you inevitably hit days that you don’t have much to talk about (or don’t feel like talking), you’ll just half-ass it and fill your communication with a bunch of fillers. Great, now you’re half-assing your relationship and spending time with your partner not because you want to but because you feel obligated. Welcome to every shitty marriage ever.
This half-assed communication often creates more problems than it solves. Like, if your partner seems more interested in his business proposal than catching up with you, chances are you should just hang up and try again later. There is such a thing as overexposure.
The second problem that can happen from forcing communication is that one or both people can begin to resent feeling obligated to the other person all the time. This resentment then sparks stupid fights which almost always devolve into some form of, “I’m sacrificing more than you are!” “No, I’m sacrificing more than you are!” And playing the I-sacrificed-more-than-you card never solves anything. The best way to go about it is to make all communication optional. Both of you can opt out at any time. The trick is to not take these opt outs personally when they happen — after all, your partner is not your slave. If they’re having a busy day or need some alone time, that’s totally up to them to decide. BUT, you do need to use your partner’s (and your) desire for communication as a barometer for how the relationship is proceeding. If your partner spontaneously feels as though he only wants to talk a few times a week instead of a few times a day, that is both the cause AND the effect of his feelings for you. I don’t believe anyone that truly loves you and wants to be there would find it ok to go a day without speaking to you. The ‘feeling distant’ is worth talking about, not yelling at him for not calling more — and being honest about it.
Doing this requires something called “trust.” It’s a novel concept. And easier said than done. But you’ll need it if you’re going to make it through this.
4. MAKE SURE THE DISTANCE IS TEMPORARY
A long distance relationship CANNOT survive without hope. And for there to be hope, there must be some possibility that you two will one day be together and achieve your Happily Ever After. Without that shared vision of Happily Ever After, everything else will quickly begin to feel meaningless. Remember, LOVE IS NOT ENOUGH. You both need to have life visions that are aligned, shared values and mutual interests. Not only must there be some shared vision of a possible future together, but you both must also feel as though you’re working toward that vision.
Long distance relationships can only work if both partners put their money where their genitals are. OK, that sounded weird, but what I mean is that you have to make the logistical, life-rearranging commitment to one another for it to have any chance of working. Paradoxically, you end up with this weird dynamic where long distance relationships force you to make much more significant commitments to a person who you’ve had far less exposure to. It’s like buying a car when you’ve only seen one picture of it. Is it worth it? This is the question I get a lot on twitter from people like @Selentine lol. On one level, yes, it’s always worth it. Because even if the relationship goes down like a Malaysian Airline flight, you will have learned a lot about yourself, about intimacy, and about commitment in the process.
On another level, it’s hard to tell. Because when you’re stuck in a long distance relationship, you don’t really know what it’s like to date the other person. You only have this halfway, vague idea of what it’s like.
Sure, you know their personality and their attractive qualities. But you don’t know the reality. You don’t know each other’s ticks. How she avoids eye contact when she’s sad. The way he leaves a mess in the bathroom and then denies making it. How she’s always late for important events. The way he makes excuses for his female friend’s unacceptable behavior. Her tendency to talk through movies. His tendency to get easily offended at comments about his appearance. And so on. You don’t get a sense for the actual relationship until you’re there, in person, and in each other’s faces non-stop, whether you want to be or not. This is where true intimacy exists. In the constricted personal space between two people who have spent way, way, way too much time around each other. This intimacy is sometimes dispassionate. It’s sometimes obnoxious. It’s sometimes unpleasant. But it’s capital-R Real. And it’s what determines if a relationship will last or not.
Distance prevents this constricted intimacy from ever forming in a meaningful way. When we’re apart it’s too easy to idealize and romanticize each other. It’s too easy to overlook the mundane, yet important differences. It’s too easy to get caught up in the drama of our minds instead of the calm and boring truths of our hearts. Can it work? Yes, it can. Does it work? Usually, no. But then again, that’s true for the vast majority of relationships. And it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ever at least try if we believe someone is worth it.
If you are unhappy, choose yourself. If you are angry all the time, choose yourself. If you are anxious, insecure or worried, understand that you are allowed to feel all those things and that you are not forced to hold on simply because the world tells you that you must try harder because you need to compensate for the physical distance. “Distance is not for the fearful, it is for the bold. It’s for those who are willing to spend a lot of time alone in exchange for a little time with the one they love. It’s for those knowing a good thing when they see it, even if they don’t see it nearly enough.” -Meghan Daum.