It was a tale as old as time. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Then, plot twist: boy has to leave girl. Say what? This was no Hollywood blockbuster, this was my life.
I met Colin when he was on sabbatical from college and had made his way to Miami. We played it casual at first but soon, those pesky things called feelings got in the way and we fell for each other. It was wonderful and fun in all of the ways young adult love can be. So, after six months of dating, when he revealed to me that he had to return home to North Carolina to finish his college degree, I was devastated.
As someone who had valiantly attempted to maintain a high school relationship my freshmen year of college (and failed miserably), I prepared to say goodbye to what had been the best, and shortest, relationship of my 24 years. As I drove him to the airport three weeks later, tears in my eyes, clammy hands gripping the steering wheel, we discussed what would happen next. We both agreed that we didn’t want to end our relationship due to geographical issues and with a two-hour direct flight and multiple streams of communication at our fingertips — literally — maybe we could make it work.
But, the odds were against us. Colin had to remain in Raleigh for at least two and a half years and with my burgeoning career at home, I was in no position to leave Florida anytime soon. So, as we tearfully said goodbye at the terminal, we begrudgingly welcomed a new phase into our new relationship: long distance love.
In today’s age of love and dating, long distance relationships are quite common. Thankfully, the seemingly endless technological advances of communication do make it somewhat easier to remain connected. However, there is no substitute for the real thing, face-to-face. In the two-plus years that Colin and I lived 800 miles apart, we shared a number of ups and downs, highs and lows and the constant nagging question of is this really worth it?
The answer: that depends. But if you’re reading this article, chances are you’ve found yourself in the same position we were in: sad, bereft, maybe even feeling a bit hopeless. Yes, long distance relationships can totally suck. They are challenging and isolating and welcome a host of issues that most couples don’t normally have to face. But they are also surprisingly positive and can help to foster a relationship that becomes built on a foundation of unyielding trust and the belief that, in spite of great odds, you’ve found the one and you’ll do whatever it takes to make it work.
So, based on my personal experience of surviving and thriving in a long-distance relationship, here are some ways to make it suck a little less.
1. Focus on quality of communication, rather than quantity
Between phone calls, text messages, video chats and social media, it’s never been easier to remain virtually connected with someone. Throughout an entire day, you can share every minutia of what you did, ate and experienced. In the beginning of your LDR, you may even do that. However, as time wears on, you’ll find that sometimes there really isn’t enough happening to share with your partner. Our days end up following the “lather, rinse repeat” cycle of “sleep, work, eat, repeat.”
To combat this, focus on the rule of quality over quantity. Limit the frequency in which you speak every day so that when you do communicate, you’ve got more to share. Don’t feel pressured to speak for a certain length of time because it feels like that’s what you’re supposed to do. This can lead to communication feeling like a chore rather than a privilege.
Colin and I once spent 30 minutes on the phone discussing the merits of what makes a good turkey sandwich, solely because we felt like we needed to speak for a given length of time. I still cringe just thinking about it. And for the record, it’s lightly toasted bread with Swiss cheese and Dijon mustard — but I digress…
2. Make time for virtual dates
It is more important than ever during a LDR to prioritize time for each other, just as you would in person. Set-up designated times for “dates” or experiences you can both do and share later. This could be anything from cooking a meal and having dinner together over video chat, attending the same movie premiere or reading the same book and discussing it after.
Colin and I picked a few television shows that we would watch together and text during commercial breaks. Sharing our theories and favorite moments from the night’s episode made us feel as though we were doing it together — even if we weren’t sitting on the same couch.
3. Give yourselves something to look forward to
While more than 90 percent of your relationship will be spent apart, it is still imperative to set long-term goals. This will allow you to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. For us, we knew we had a finite timeline of two-ish years apart, but for some couples, it could be indefinite. Which is why you should look forward to, and discuss, all of the things you want to do once you’re together again — even if it’s just discussing plans for an upcoming visit.
On average, Colin and I were able to see each other for roughly three days every six weeks. So in the days leading up to our reunion, we would excitedly discuss all of the events and activities we were going to do together: concerts, restaurant openings, festivals. Being able to plan, and get excited for, an upcoming date allows for a sense of restored normalcy in an otherwise unique situation.
4. Enjoy the time you have together — and the time apart
Once you finally are reunited — however long that may be — make sure to maximize every single moment of it. Now is not the time to dwell on petty issues and arguments when you should be spending every second appreciating the fact that, finally, you’re seeing each other live and in living color. That’s not to say you can’t and shouldn’t discuss your relationship and any overarching issues you may have. Some things are best reserved for discussing in person, but try not to get bogged down with insignificant matters that end up wasting precious time.
Alternatively, try and embrace the time you do spend apart as an opportunity to grow and learn more about yourself. Explore a new hobby, join a networking group, anything that forces you out of your comfort zone. I took cooking classes, vacations to visit friends and started volunteer work. Having a life outside of your relationship makes you a better partner, and person, overall.
5. Remember why you’re doing this in the first place
To me, this is the most important aspect of any LDR: the why. Actively making a choice to live apart from someone you care about is a very difficult and, at times, a very isolating decision. You are signing up to give up something that other couples take for granted every single day: the act of seeing and being in each other’s presence.
You won’t get as many date nights or holidays together. The financial implications of having to buy plane tickets or gas to accommodate visits can put a strain on any relationship. Plus, there’s the inevitable nagging insecurity and worry that comes with not always knowing who your partner is with and what they’re doing. For even the strongest couples, once in awhile your resolve starts to wane and you start to wonder, can we really do this?
We experienced all of this and more in our time apart. We were not only in geographically different places, but life experiences as well — he back in school and living the life of a collegiate, me working full-time, coming to grips with newfound adulthood. We argued and bickered and definitely had our moments of doubt where we both felt that, maybe, this was all too much for us to bear. Yet, at the end of the day, we always came back to each other. We knew that no matter the odds, we had something worth fighting for. The alternative of not being in each other’s lives was far worse than not living in the same city.
Long distance relationships are challenging, whether you’re doing it for a finite amount of time or indefinitely, no matter if the distance is a city away or an ocean. However, to truly invest in a relationship that is 100 percent reliant on trust, honesty and open communication can bring about one of the strongest and most intimate foundations between two people. Your partnership grows exclusively by what you share with each other and the knowledge that you are choosing to go through this obstacle together — even if you don’t get to be “together” as often as you’d like. You won’t get to share as many physically intimate moments, but your intimacy will grow from your shared devotion.
I am thankful to be able to say that we did make it to the end of our time apart and have now been living together for over three years. We try not to take our time spent together for granted, but also give each other ample amounts of distance and space — perhaps because we became conditioned in doing so. We look back fondly on our LDR and equally believe that it is the reason we are so connected today (and will be married in six months).
Ironically enough, once we were back to living under one roof, that took almost as much adjusting as our time apart… but that’s for another blog post.
— Megan Harris