10 Ways to Survive a Long Distance Relationship
Now and again in today’s increasingly international world, it happens that the person with whom you particularly enjoy spending time / having sex jets off to another country. This leaves you with a rather difficult choice. You either continue to be together (though not, technically, together), or you decide to go your separate ways (though, technically, one of you has already decided to go their separate way).
For those opting for the latter, the process is a little more straightforward. Goodbyes are said, tears are shed, and you either return to that animal kingdom of a dating scene (or Tinder, if you have a better phone than me), or you fill your house with cats and shut yourself off completely from society. For those opting for the former, the process is a little more difficult. Goodbyes are said, tears are shed, and then you start the waiting game.
To make yourself feel better you might occasionally imagine that you’re some kind of Lord Bryon and profoundly state that: “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” This, however, is absolute crap. Absence is more likely to shrivel the heart to a husk of its former self – leaving you feeling cold, empty, and sometimes in desperate need of someone to hold you through the night, and whisper in your ear that you’re not going to die alone.
But absence doesn’t kill the heart, and as another similarly irritating poet once said: “where there’s life there’s hope.” Softening the blow of a loved one’s departure is never easy, but there are some things you can do. Here are 10 of them.
Communication is key, but not too regularly, and certainly not about everything. There are some things in life that are thin on the ground and therefore worth sharing: accomplishments, promotions, the birth of a child (though hopefully not yours, if you’re partner’s overseas) and writing a top quality list article. Then there are things that aren’t: what you’re having for dinner, what you had for lunch, and what their particularly radical friend you’re never going to meet thinks about the encroaching power of corporations.
Not talking about or asking after these things doesn’t mean that you’re distancing yourself by not showing an interest in your better half’s life. It’s not a case of “out of sight out of mind” – another tedious adage conjured up by a wordsmith perhaps as tedious as myself. It means that as a couple you’re not becoming boring; that you’re keeping an air of mystery and enigma about the two of you – like that which existed when the relationship was new, exciting, and much, much geographically closer.
So set some rules or boundaries before you “go the distance”, so to speak. Agree on communicating twice a day, once a day or once a week or whatever. Just remember that the less frequently you do so, the more you’ll have to talk about when you both get round to it.
9Be clear about your expectations
Winging it won’t work with a long distance relationship. It’ll leave you feeling insecure, uncertain, and above all unhappy. And while it’s not the most romantic thing in the world, at some point you’re going to have to accept that “The Power Of Love” isn’t going to guide you to the finish line, and that the race your running is going to need some rules.
Either when you move apart or, preferably, before, clearly and honestly set out what you both want from the relationship. This will make managing expectations infinitely easier; something essential if you’re relationships going to survive the distance. In fact, a recent study from the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy shows that it’s not really the distance at all that puts the strain on the relationship; it’s feeling that your expectations aren’t being reciprocated. Making your expectations crystal clear, therefore, will send you heartache in the long run.
And these expectations can relate to anything: whether it’s the short- or long-term direction the relationship’s heading, the degree to which you’re both exclusive, or negotiating a particular slot set aside for Skype dates. But also factor in the fact that there might be disappointments along the way. If your partner’s living out in the boonies and is reliant on a horse-driven mill to power their Internet connection, be understanding that you might not get that particular Skype date you wanted.
8Use Skype, but not like a psycho
Some will tell you that Skyping during a long distance relationship is a perfect way to ensure you’re relationship will stand the test of time. They’ll tell you to do it as often as you need to, to make sure you’re distraction-free, maybe even to try Skype sex. These people are not to be trusted.
We all know that Skype is no substitute for face-to-face contact. But, when you think about it, it’s actually nothing like face-to-face contact at all. A large part of being in a relationship – I assume, maybe mine’s different – is spent in each other’s company but doing different things: making tea, cooking pasta, folding underwear, the exciting stuff. But with Skype, you’re obliged to sit still in front of a computer (or wander round the room if you have a better phone than me) and look at each other. Except you’re not even looking at each other, because doing so would require that you both look fixedly into the camera. Like absolute psychopaths.
Skype is helpful, but use it like a normal person. Have it on so you can talk to your better half but don’t just sit there looking into that black mirror of a webcam. You could even try turning the webcam off sometimes so it’s like a phone call. Like what we used to have in the 90s, but free. And less likely to be hacked; on which note please, please be careful with Skype sex.
7Try to maintain the same interests
At this point I’m starting to lose count of the number of articles I’ve read suggesting that couples doing long distance should watch a movie together. In fact, such is the market for it that a website’s been created especially – Gaze – which allows you and your partner to stream the same movie simultaneously.
I’m not against this idea per se. But I’m also not entirely convinced that synchronizing screenings of long distance relationship movies is the best cure for your lovesickness. Fortunately, this isn’t an option for me anyway as if I tried to use Gaze my laptop would probably overheat and explode on my crotch. But hey, there’s no reason others can’t.
It’s undoubtedly important that you stay interested in the same things, but there are better ways to communicate this than by just streaming movie together or – as someone genuinely suggested – reading books to each other. Just talking to each other and updating each other over the things you share might be enough for some; planning your next meet-up in a place of mutual interest perfect for others.
And it’s also vital to remember that having the same interests doesn’t have to mean doing things together (not that you can anyway as they’re hundreds of miles away). In fact one of the benefits of being in a long distance relationship is that it frees up both of your time so you can do exactly what you want without having to compromise. Maintaining individual – as well as shared – interests is crucial if you’re to be an independent, rather than interdependent, couple. Then again it’s not like you can be too interdependent anyway… they are hundreds of miles away.
6Occupy your time and develop yourself as a person
In order to survive a long distance relationship it’s necessary to keep busy. Jobs help maintain a routine, but it’s vital to do things outside of working hours too. Make nice meals for one, read books and immerse yourself in the lives of its fictional characters, take up a sport or help out at an animal rescue shelter.
Stay sociable. Go out with friends but also make an effort to talk to new people. And don’t just talk to people of the same sex (which would limit you to just 50% of the global population) but talk to anyone you come across. When that person you’re getting on really well with suggests exchanging details, casually accept. And then graciously accept their invitation for coffee or a drink or some other drink (as all social encounters apparently require that we consume some form of liquid).
Meet up with that person. Impress them with your wit, charm, or striking physical attributes. Insist on footing the bill. Tell them it’s late, order a cab; give their address, foot the fare. Walk them to their door, wait for them to tell you it’s been “really nice” and watch a subtle fire burn through their eyes.
Stand there dumbstruck as the crushing realization comes upon you that you’ve strayed from the righteous path. Hurriedly excuse yourself and walk away. Then start to run. Run as fast as you can with the image of your distant lover impressing itself from your mind onto your retinas. Start to cry for the pathetic fallacy of it all, and then laugh; at first manically and then gratefully, safe in the knowledge that your long distance relationship has survived.
5Definitely don’t sleep with anyone else
Golden rule this one. Having sexual – or, for that matter any kind of – intercourse with someone else is a sure fire way to kill your relationship. That is assuming that you’ve agreed to be mutually exclusive. There are supposedly those couples that claim not to care about any infidelity on the other’s part. But I’ve yet to hear of a real couple for whom this is true – apart from a man called Davecat, who married a doll and took another doll for his mistress. The absolute madman.
One problem is that being in a relationship makes you more attractive. Presumably, at a bar or a club, there’s something about that self-assured, relaxed demeanor that sets you apart from the usual wild-eyed, sexually starved predator groups. Or it could be that most humans are terrible and instinctively target those they can scent are off the market. One thing’s for sure: it’s certainly not the glowing skin that comes from having lots of sex (or sunny delight).
So what can you do? You could embrace your new-found self-imposed celibacy, dedicating your time to a pure life of self-improvement and learning, like some kind of medieval monk. Or you let the world of pornography suck you, metaphorically, away from the reality of your newly chaste life – arguably less advisable. The final option is that you and your partner hook up for cyber sex.
This can, of course, vary drastically from suggestive emojis and racy text to full on, no holds barred webcam sex. Just make sure that if you’re doing the latter you have a decent webcam and a fast Internet connection. Otherwise your unfortunate partner’s going to be on the other end of one giant flushed moaning pixel.
4Be aware of each other’s schedules
To clarify, this doesn’t mean that you need to be updated about the minutiae of their day-to-day life. You don’t need to know, for example, at what time of the day they plan to go to the shops to get milk, or for how long they expect to stand in line at the bank later that afternoon. As already mentioned, these details are tedious and add little to no excitement to the relationship. And it certainly doesn’t mean entering stalker mode and keeping track of each other’s social media activities.
But being in the know about your loved one’s general schedule is important, especially when you’re both living in different times zones. And it’s not just the latitude you need to be aware of, it’s also the different culture. If you’re other half’s on a study abroad program, for example, be aware that they’ll be immersed in a different world, doing lots of new things with lots of new people. In short, having a better time than you.
The main thing to inform yourself about is their general routine – what their working or study hours are, roughly what time they’re getting up, and roughly what time they’re going to bed. And do make sure that you pay attention when they tell you about big upcoming events; nothing screams romance like calling up for Skype sex on the eve of a grandparent’s funeral.
3Visit regularly, and never leave without arranging the next one
The day finally arrives. You, or your partner, have cleaned the apartment, coated the bed with roses (preferably shed of their thorns) and sent any pets or children you might have to a sitter. All of that tension that’s built up over the past weeks, months, even years is released in a torrent of frenzied conversation, fine dining, finer wining, and inevitable bedroom wrestling. And then before you know it, you’re time has come to an end and you’re waving each other goodbye through tear-soaked eyes from the station or airport. It’s the inescapable Groundhog Day of your love life and the path that, as difficult as it is to tread, you’ve chosen. But there are things you can do to make it easier.
When the moment comes to say adieu, why not leave each other a memento; something you can hold onto until you see each other next. And try and leave them something special, not an unwashed pair of socks or stack of takeaway pizza boxes (because the two of you didn’t leave the room that much). Something of sentimental value would be ideal: a perfume soaked t-shirt, a handwritten letter, even a lock of your hair if you’re into that sort of thing…
And another thing that helps is writing down the date of your next rendezvous and sticking it up somewhere visible. This can be anywhere from a fridge to a noticeboard, or perhaps on that photo of you two together that forms an integral part of your bedside shrine.
2Have an end date
The nail in the coffin for all long distance relationships is uncertainty. And the condition in which uncertainty festers is not knowing when you’ll finally be together again. To make a long distance relationship work it’s crucial that you have an end point. And this doesn’t have to be a momentous life event, like getting a job in one of your cities or buying property together. Just knowing when you’ll next see each other is enough for the most part (although it clearly does help to have some idea of what you’re both working towards).
Setting this out isn’t impossible, and there’s some good step-by-step advice out there for how to decide an end date in a long distance relationship. But doing so is essential; as Mark Manson eloquently puts it, a relationship that’s not growing is dying, and not having a point of convergence on the horizon will only have one result: drifting apart.
And this is the most vital thing to bear in mind. A meaningful relationship (by which I mean one based on more than just mind-blowing earth-shattering sex) is about two people wanting to build some kind of future together. Now if you’re living apart, and therefore without the aforementioned sex, and there’s no way your futures will intertwine, then you have to ask yourself what exactly the relationship is based on. Or to put it another way: if there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, it might be better not to go down that tunnel at all.
1Keep calm (and carry on) and stay positive
Above all else, your relationship is only going to remain functional and positive if you too remain functional and positive. Moments of weakness permitting, you have to make sure that you’re injecting positive vibes across those all-too-distant channels. Pessimism and negativity will only have the effect of killing what you have stone dead – just as it would in any other type of relationship.
There are many ways to put this into practice other than grinning forcedly and manically at each other down a webcam. Sending the occasional gift or e-card is a great way of letting them know you’re thinking of them. But don’t go overboard and let your insecurity drive you to sending enough flowers for them to plant their own rainforest. Little and often is the trick.
And just remember you’re winning. Kind of…. True, there’s nobody around for that lovely physical bond, and standing in the line at your local supermarket holding a six-pack of lager doesn’t look as good on your own. But you should be thankful knowing that you at least have someone who loves you other than your parents and your dog. Albeit someone who’s living far, far away.
So there you have it: the Ten Commandments for how to survive a long distance relationship. Everyone’s circumstances are different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. But overall it can be reduced down to a number of things: ignoring people who prattle on about constant communication (it’ll only aggravate the relationship and make it feel forced and well… boring); using Skype properly and not like a technologically fascinated outpatient; striking a balance between shared and personal interests; planning for your immediate and long-term future; and not sleeping around willy-nilly like the Dutch.
But remember that you’re also allowed to wallow. Your situation, as everyone around you will inevitably come to realize, is less than ideal. Just know that you’re not alone (although technically you are), and that many others have gone before you and survived. One such figure is Michael Fugitive, and he captured the essence of long distance relationships beautifully in writing: “When you are alone – at sea, in the polar dark – an absence can keep you alive. The one you love maintains your mind. But when she’s merely across the city, it is an absence that eats you to the bone.”