From a guy who’s been there.
Surviving a long-distance relationship isn’t easy.
You don’t realize how much of a relationship is actually physical until you take that physicality almost completely out of the equation.
And I’m not just talking about sex. I’m talking about smiling, hugging, reading the reactions on your partner’s face, crashing next to them on the couch for six hours while you binge-watch your new favorite show together. Long-distance romances have to deal without any of those relationship standards.
Keeping romance alive when you can’t always touch or even see your loved one can be tricky. BUT it can be done. If you find your groove, loving someone thousands of miles away can be surprisingly fun and fulfilling… IF you find your groove.
When I was in college, I started a relationship with the woman of my dreams. And then, four months later, I traveled to Scotland for an eight-month study abroad program. I was broke and she didn’t fly, so we knew, going into it, that we wouldn’t be seeing each other for two-thirds of an entire year. And we were worried.
Could our new love survive such a long absence?
Spoiler alert — it did.
This year we’re celebrating our seventeenth wedding anniversary.
But it wasn’t a simple thing to pull off. It was hard and we made mistakes, but eventually, we found a way to make our long-distance romance work for us.
If you’re considering entering a similar arraignment with someone you love, here are 5 lessons I learned (the hard way) about how to make a long-distance relationship thrive.
Before I left for Scotland, my girlfriend (now wife) tried to break-up with me.
I was mad about it until I realized what she was doing. She was trying to break-up with me for my own good. She didn’t want me to feel limited by her. She wanted me to fall in love with Merida from Brave or whatever she thought Scottish girls looked like, if I wanted to.
She was trying to be noble.
Fortunately, I refused. I got her to talk openly about her fears (her fears of limiting me, of losing me) and I talked to her about mine (fears of ruining her year at college, keeping her from finding new love). The key was — we didn’t wait until we were thousands of miles away from each other, on the phone, to have our giant dramatic relationship talks. We had them first thing and it made all the difference.
This is something I completely SCREWED UP.
It was my job to figure out how calling me in Scotland would work, so I got my girlfriend a calling card (dating myself) linked to my home phone account that, I thought, gave us a cheap international rate.
Then we got the first month’s phone bill — $1,000. (That sucked.)
We had to beg money from her dad, which was embarrassing and was a shitty way to meet him, and we quickly learned an important lesson — logistics matter.
We soon worked out a new, reasonably priced phone plan AND scheduled times for calls and email chats. And that schedule was important. It was the lifeline for our relationship.
But we also knew that, of course, the schedule had to be flexible. I was experiencing new things every day and she was finishing up her last year of college.
We built a communication infrastructure that we respected and that didn’t feel oppressive and it made all the difference in the world.
One girl on my study-abroad program almost literally spent her entire trip in the computer lab, desperately chatting with her boyfriend back at home. I couldn’t believe that she’d come all the way to Scotland and was letting her home relationship prevent her from experiencing ANYTHING in her new country. What’s the point?
Fortunately, my girlfriend was constantly goading, reminding, and demanding me to actually go out and HAVE FUN. So I did. I spent MANY nights at the pub with my flatmates. I went to clubs. I went on day trips. I made female friends and I’d dance with them when we had a night out on the town. I didn’t treat my relationship like an albatross, like some dead weight that prevented me from being social.
I knew that I’d go crazy if I wasn’t social (and so would my girlfriend).
So we both made a pledge to remind the other one to go out and interact with other people.
And we weren’t jealous or over-protective. We were honestly happy for each other when one of us had a great night out. We had to fully embrace the fact that we’d be having fun separately, or else we would’ve withered and died.
The BEST thing I got from my girlfriend during our time apart were actual handwritten letters. Not emails.
They’re fine and utilitarian, but they’re not sexy. They don’t have a smell. They weren’t created by actual physical contact. They’re just not as intimate, no matter how many sexy pics you attach to them.
I was never much of a letter-writer before our time apart, but the letters we exchanged during our separation really did act as the physical representation of our love. I still keep them in a box today — they’re that special.
AND she also got to send me embarrassing postcards where she claimed openly to the mailman (and whoever in my flat got the mail first) that my middle name was “Testicle-Boy” which made me VERY popular with my roommates and made me laugh until I cried.
Sharing is maybe the most important trick to keeping a long-distance romance alive.
I had to treat my relationship like it was an essential part of my daily routine.
I talked about my girlfriend all the time. I was constantly telling stories about her to my roommates and school friends and, sometimes, I’d give up our precious phone time, so she could have long chats with the people I was living with. (She found their Scottish accents incredibly sexy, which, c’mon, so did I.)
I’d sent her pictures, I’d tell her about my day, I made sure to ask questions about what was going on in HER life. I didn’t treat our relationship like something we’d paused, like something we’d resume once I got back to the United States.
I treated our relationship like it was alive, growing, and thriving every day.
Yes, I couldn’t see her, but she was always there with me, so, once I finally returned home, it didn’t seem weird to suddenly have a girlfriend again. She was such a part of my life when I was away, it was almost like we’d never been separated. (Although the in-person sex was a REALLY, REALLY nice bonus for eventually coming back to her.)