One of the undeniable facts about life is that it pulls you in many directions, often when you least expect it. Sometimes this leads to moving and settling somewhere else. This could mean leaving your job or your family. But, commonly, it means deciding how to handle any romantic relationship you may be involved with. Is it better to cut ties and move on? Or is this person worth keeping up the relationship in a new dynamic? For any of you pondering the decision on what to do, don’t listen to anyone telling you that long distance relationships never work. It is true that many of them don’t last. But, believe me when I say long distance relationships are not the end of the world.
I am currently in a serious, long-distance relationship with one of my best friends in the whole entire world. Patrick and I have known each other for 6 years and have been best friends for probably 5 of those years. Only 1 of those years were face to face. Starting with me liking him while he was unavailable, he and I went back and forth liking each other in situations where one or the other of us was already involved with someone else or was not able to start and maintain a relationship. At one point, we passed up on the opportunity to start a relationship when both of us were available because we were on separate continents. We figured it would be too hard to keep up the relationship. And quite frankly, if the odds were against us, I’d have rather kept my best friend than risk losing him to a failed relationship. (At the time, I, like many others, thought all long distance relationships were doomed to fail.) Following my high school graduation, I moved back the United States for college. Patrick and I were very close through it all and had talked about maybe starting something when we were closer. However, when I went stateside, we were still on the opposite sides of the country. After talking it through and waiting three-fourths a semester of college, Patrick and I officially started our relationship.
Many people tried to dissuade me from starting a long distance relationship in my first semester of college. They told me that I didn’t know what I wanted and that we would both be changing so much during that time. They thought that we would grow apart as time went by and we didn’t realize what we were in for. They told me that long distance isn’t actually a valid relationship. They told me that he or I would just cheat and that it wasn’t realistic to think otherwise. I heard just about every opposition you could imagine. Let me tell you this- I am so glad I didn’t listen to them. If I had listened to all the naysayers, I would have missed out on some of the greatest times in my life with the most wonderful man. Sure, Skyping is not the same as face to face dates, but there are ways to be creative. You can still share videos with one another and talk about movies and games and television shows. You can play online games together. You can eat together. Yes, long distance relationships are difficult and stressful sometimes. Some days will be harder than others. And, I will not fault anyone for making the choice to leave a good thing instead pushing that good thing to a distance of hundreds if not thousands of miles. However, I find that if you go into a long distance relationship with the right mind frame it is still a bearable circumstance.
To all those embarking on the journey into long-distance relationship world, here are 5 of the most important tips I can give you to maintaining your relationship:
1) Trust and communicate with one another.
Trust and communications are basics to any relationship; however, they are the oxygen to a thriving long-distance relationship. Without trust in a long distance relationship, you will spend all your time jealous and resentful of the other person. You will find yourself upset because there are a million possibilities of what the other person could be doing and you really have no concrete way of knowing exactly the truth. To make matters worse, the distance makes your mind do weird things. You find yourself doubting things you know and your worries fester in the back of your mind. Trusting the person you’re with is the only real way which you will be able to keep a healthy connection. Furthermore, because of the distance, the only way to spend time together and be involved is through communication (be it text, the phone, letters, video chatting, etc.). That is how you will spend time together and maintain normalcy. You have the usual couple-y communication things to think about. “How was your day?” “How is work?” “How are so-and-so doing with such-and-such?” “How’s your family?” And, you have any array of normal couple-y fights. Plus, you need communication to plan visits and acknowledge important events. Making these two things a top priority is a step in the right direction.
2) Don’t neglect yourself or the things around you for the sake of keeping up your relationship.
One of the biggest mistakes I see in long distance relationships is that the people make the relationship their everything. This is something a lot of people do in general with normal relationships; however, to a long distance relationship, that is one of the most toxic actions you can take. I used the word neglect for a specific reason. While it is important to put effort into the relationship, neglecting yourself and the things around you can damage your psyche and your support system. You have to take care of yourself first before you can take care of another person in a relationship. Part of taking care of yourself means keeping up relationships with your friends, family, coworkers. Go out and do things. Believe it or not, going out places and having hobbies makes long distance relationships about a million times more manageable. Since both you and the other person will be busy at times, hobbies and friendships will give you something to do other than sitting around missing that person. And more so, it’s not healthy in general to make your relationship the only important thing in your life or your only source of happiness. That kind of action usually puts too much pressure on the other person which leads to more resentment.
3) Don’t be afraid to ask the really difficult questions.
In a regular relationship, you have all the time in the world and a ton of ways which you can ask the difficult questions. You can ease into the topic or find better times to ask something. Plus, you have an easier time getting the answers. You also have the ability to wait for the answers to come of their own accord. In a long distance relationship, you don’t have the luxury of waiting for answers to the difficult questions. To have a strong, functional relationship, it doesn’t matter what people outside the relationship think or say. You NEED to be on the same page as your partner. You need to ask about monogamy or an open relationship or about the intentions of the other person. You have to be able to ask where the relationship is going and talk about the difficult topics. Unless you are on the same page as the other person, your relationship is going to be filled with stress, no ideas about the future, no restrictions or guidelines, and SOMEBODY will likely end up hurt unintentionally.
4) Have a goal and/or end in sight.
Whether it’s the amount of time until your next visit, the amount of time until your next Skype date, or the amount of time until you make that big step and move in together, having a goal makes the distance a lot more manageable. It helps you to feel like the relationship is real and you are achieving things together. Some ways you can make these goals more tangible is by marking a calendar or making a sticky note countdown. Last time that I did this, I had 6 months until I got to see Patrick. I did a countdown on my calendar and marked off each day. It wasn’t a lot, but it was something each day that reminded me that I am a little bit closer to seeing him again.
5) Most importantly, love the person you are with.
I CANNOT stress this tip enough. Long distance is not easy nor is it simple. It is difficult and takes a lot of work and it takes more teamwork than you could ever imagine. Try syncing your schedules when one of you works all the time and the other person does full time school while going to full time medical appointments. It gets rough and some periods of time are going to be harder than usual. But, the bright side to EVERYTHING is that, if you love them, it isn’t going to matter one bit. Loving the person you’re with is the silver lining when you go out with your friends and you are the only one without a date. Loving that person more than you can explain is what makes it easy to ignore the temptation of attractive people around you. Loving the person enough is the one big thing that fills the void when you’re cuddling up to body pillows and missing your significant other so much you can hardly breathe. Long distance is not for the weary, it’s for the people in love. It is the last resort when the choice comes down to giving up and walking away or fighting harder than you’ve fought before. And I truly, truly, truly believe that, if you let it, love will never fail you.