My now-fiancé and I began our relationship in a way that is anything but conventional: with him in the Chicago area and I in Southern California. We had met and became close as freshman at college, but he had transferred after our first year… a couple months later, we began dating, 2,084 miles apart. Over the next three years, the two of us lived on two continents, in six states, and in four different time zones. We’re together now (thankfully!), but I will never forget what it took to get us to this place.
How could I describe our long-distance relationship? It was constant motion, trying to connect and reconnect, share our lives from afar, coming together and moving apart and then doing it all again. It was a fight, a choice, a joy. Long distance forced us to decide from the beginning whether we were going to be honest and raw and persistent, or not. There was no middle ground. And so throughout the years, we spent thousands of hours on the phone, on Skype, even sending care packages to each other. We watched movies simultaneously, we read books out loud, we studied with the video chat on, we fell asleep while the other person was on the phone.
Being in a long-distance relationship was exhausting and I would never wish it on another couple. But, at the same time, it was a blessing in its way. Will and I learned how to truly communicate with each other, to work through our arguments, to discern exactly what the other was thinking by a pause or a tone or a particular word choice. After months (and eventually, years) of conversation, we grew to truly know each other. When we went through pre-marital counseling earlier this year, we scored in the 90th percentile for communication and conflict resolution. Both us of laughed when we saw the numbers because we knew it was all those hours on the phone that strengthened us in such a way. How could it possibly be any other way?
In truth, most of the “long-distance relationship tips” can be applied to any sort of relationship. But when you’re separated, things get reduced to the core pretty quickly. There’s no watering it down. And this stuff matters. So, here are my long-distance tidbits:
1) Identify what the other person needs to feel loved & connected. For me, short bursts of frequent communication was enough… if Will texted me every couple of hours, or we were able to talk for twenty minutes before bed, or we chatted for just five minutes three times throughout the day, I felt loved. Will, on the other hand, needed quality time: that is, communication without distraction and without a time limit. Because we knew these differences, we could make sure to reach out to the other person in a way that was necessary for them.
2) Tell the truth. Always, always, always. Glossing over the uncomfortable things is easy when the other person isn’t around. But instead, Will and I quickly learned that in order to have a healthy relationship, we needed to be honest when we talked… every. single. time.
3) Be creative. I’ll never forget the autumn day that I got a letter in the mail from Will and opened it to find a bright red maple leaf. In Cali, it was still summer, but having such a tactile symbol of fall reminded me that Will was still out there, somewhere where the leaves were falling and people had to put on a coat before they went outside. And I’ve been known to send him baked goods a time or two, of course.
4) Allow yourselves to spend time together without talking. When you’re long-distance, the overwhelming majority of your time spent together consists of conversation. For us, it was sometimes tempting to avoid connecting with the other person simply because we don’t want to talk right at that moment. Instead, we needed to just put Skype on while we studied and allow ourselves to be quiet together, no pressure. Sometimes one of us would watch a TV show, or read, or take a nap while the other hung out on the computer screen. And that was okay.
5) Be wise about choosing when to see each other. Visiting isn’t just about finally getting to see each other; it’s about money, about your time, about choosing to see your significant other rather than your family and friends. Will and I did everything we could to visit each other as often as possible, but there were times when we had to make the hard choice and say “no” (and for couples who live within driving distance, I’m sure that this is an even larger and more difficult consideration). Maybe it’s because I needed to spend Christmas with my family, or because the flight just wasn’t cheap enough, or because Will wouldn’t be able to take off from work so we could spend time together. That being said, when you can make it happen, make it happen.
p.s. photos found here