Going The Distance
At the beginning of my senior year in college, my high school sweetheart, J, and I decided to end our long-term (and, for three years) long-distance relationship. Those three years apart taught me invaluable information about myself and my expectations for future relationships; above all, when J and I broke up, I swore up, down, and sideways that I would never be in a long-distance relationship again.
Then I met Nick. And as much as I wanted to be single (something I hadn’t experienced since I was seventeen-years-old), and as ridiculous as I felt for tail-spinning out of one relationship headfirst into a new one, I liked Nick more. A lot more.
(We look about fifteen in this picture; I swear we were twenty-one. And matching. Always matching.)
We couldn’t have met at a more inconvenient time. About a week before we started dating, Nick made his final decision to apply to graduate programs and sent his applications in to schools up and down the east coast. By the time he decided to go to school in North Carolina, we had only been dating a few months; I knew I liked him a lot, but I also knew that I was not going to move to an unfamiliar state to follow a still pretty unfamiliar boy. And so, the summer after we graduated, Nick moved to North Carolina to begin his graduate program, and I moved to Maryland to be close to my family and start my career as a teacher. Less than a year after I swore I’d never be in a long-distance relationship again, there I was. Starting from scratch.
But we had it all planned out: Nick would stay in NC for a year and then transfer to a program in MD. We would live happily ever after. The end.
Turns out, once you start a PhD program, it’s not so easy just to start bouncing around from university to university. And by the time Nick realized this, I had secured myself some pretty sweet tenure at a wonderful school. Either of us could have made the move, but neither of us wanted to leave what we had started (something we discussed it often). In the end, we both understood the other’s choice to stay where we were; so we stayed where we were, and we made it work.
Long-distance relationships suck; don’t let anyone tell you differently. Sure they have their upsides: plenty of time to yourself to do whatever you damn well please, less distractions (however welcome) to contend with when you actually want to get stuff done, etc. But, in the end, the negatives outweigh the positives. LDRs are lonely, painful, sad, and (if you visit each other as frequently as Nick and I do) freaking expensive. But they’re not impossible. Nick and I have been dating for five years, and we’re in the middle of our fourth year apart. The light at the end of the tunnel is approaching, but we still have to over a year to go.
A bunch of people have asked me over the last four years how we manage to have a happy, functional relationship when so much of it is spent apart. Here’s the breakdown:
1. Communicate. I’m not just talking about the obligatory morning emails (which we send every week day) or before-bed phone calls (yup, every night), although those are important, too.
I’m talking about real, honest, open communication about pretty much anything and everything. Nick and I learned very quickly that, if something is bothering one of us, we need to talk it out as soon as possible. Otherwise, without the benefit of body language cues and all that good stuff, the issue festers and grows and gets blown way out of proportion. Neither of us has a problem admitting we’re upset about something, and usually the issue can be resolved before it gets out of hand, and everyone’s happy. The same deal applies when we’re not apart, which leads me to the next:
2. Savor the time spent together.It’s rare that we fight (like, ever), but if we do get pissy with each other, we make sure to stomp on the argument quickly, especially when we’re together. We both agree that our time together should be spent enjoying each other, not being bitchy. It happens, of course, but it happens pretty infrequently. Savoring time spent together also means, well, spending a lot of time together. We try to go on at least one date per visit, and we spend the other time doing whatever: making dinner, going for walks, reading.
We don’t even need to be having a conversation; sometimes it’s just nice to be together.
3. But be your own people. I guess this is true in every relationship, but I feel like it’s especially true in long-distance ones. Take that time apart to find out what you like to do. Spend time with friends. Meet new people. Explore new hobbies. Do your thang. I kind feel like Nick and I appreciate each other more because we’re our own people with our own lives and our own friends. It gives us a lot to talk about, that’s for sure.
4. Talk about the future, when you won’t be apart. We do this a lot. Like, all the time a lot. While it might seem counter-intuitive (like it would make us sad to talk about something that we want so badly but know is a long way off), talking about our plans for when we’re together is surprisingly cheerful, fun, and reassuring. It’s not always super-serious (actually, it hardly ever is); usually, we just talk about how nice it will be to make dinner together or get a puppy or whatever. Making plans makes it all seem like an end is in sight.
5. Skype. What did people in long-distance relationships do before Skype? Hell, what did I do in my own long-distance relationship before Skype? Nick and I bought each other web cams for Christmas last year, and it was the best idea EVER. Skype is so much better than the phone; they’re not even in the same league. While we still talk on the phone more than we Skype (just out of convenience), seeing each other is comforting, and it makes things that much easier.
6. Plan ahead. Nick and I are obsessive-compulsive planners. We see each other every two weeks or so (which I know is super-frequent!) and we plan the trips way ahead of time. Usually Nick will buy his train or plane tickets to Maryland for an entire semester all at once. It’s nice to know when your next visit is going to be, especially if you play the count down game like I do.
7. Be honest. In my last long-distance relationship, I was always avoiding saying the obvious: that I was sad and that I missed having my boyfriend around. J and I almost made a point of not admitting how much we missed each other. Being stoic didn’t do us any favors; in fact, for me, keeping those words bottled up almost made it worse. For some reason, Nick and I have never avoided the obvious: that we miss each other. In fact, we say it pretty much every day. Not in a sad, mopey kind of way, but in a very truthful, honest one. (Although, truth be told, it’s been said in the sad, mopey kind of way plenty of times). Even if nothing can be done to end the situation right now, even if there is no magic-fix, sometimes it’s just nice to hear that you’re missed and loved.
8. Reap the benefits (however small). Want to hear something kind of embarrassing? After four years of long-distance, I still get butterflies every single time I pick Nick up at the airport or train station. It makes me feel like I’m twelve even admitting this, but it’s true. I know a major benefit to not living in the same house (or city, or state) is not having the luxury of getting used to/sick of each other. Hopefully that won’t ever happen even when we ARE living together, but for now, I love reveling in the giddiness of our reunions every two weeks.
And there you have it: my advice for going the distance while you and your significant other are going the distance. It’s hard, and it’s work, but it’s worth it.
Have you ever done the long-distance thing? What’s your best piece of advice for making it work?
With at least another sixteen months to go (who’s counting?!), I’ll take all the tips I can get!