Long-distance relationships are not for the faint of heart. Sure, the beginnings of love feel like hearts and giggles and imaginings of what’s to come, but what about the lagging times in the middle when you’re physically apart, and love and admiration start to wage a private war against life-sized fears and doubt? Is this relationship worth it? Are you fooling yourself? Does this person really like me? Do we have what it takes to survive this?
Take a break from those self-defeating thoughts for a moment and consider this: it’s perfectly natural to feel doubt and fear in the lulls of a long-distance relationship. In the frustrating times between those magical long weekends and planned visits, you just want to spend time with someone that you really like and who you want to really like you, too. You need reassurance that your strong feelings of love and admiration are reciprocated. So what do you do? How do you cope with a long-distance relationship?
Buck traditional notions of relationships.
The first thing you can do is realize that there are no “regular” relationships—only local and not so local. It’s a hard shift to make for many people, but think about it this way: Less than 60 years ago nearly everybody coupled with partners within their own small town’s limits. With the advent of planes, trains and automobiles—and now in recent history, the Internet—the notions of how men and women meet is changing, too. Because the Net gives you an opportunity to get to know highly compatible and attractive people outside of your locale, geographical boundaries are melting away and more long-distance relationships are forming. Long-distance relationship experts estimate that approximately nearly 4 million singles (and 3 million married couples) are currently in long-distance romantic relationships worldwide, and that figure is growing. So, just when you think you’re on an island all by yourself, you’re not alone.
Additionally, long-distance relationships offer one advantage over local ones: they pose a chance to build a relationship more slowly. Getting to know the right person incrementally over time can forge a strong and powerful union. Still, you still want to take your time and get to know your partner on a very deep level to assess where you’d like to take the relationship. Because of the distance, you have less face time and shared experiences than more local relationships to be able to make that determination right away—so take your time!
Accept uncertainty and combat it with activity.
Most uncertainty in a long-distance relationship comes from having intense feelings of intimacy and connection followed by equally intense feelings of having to stand on your own. This kind of separation anxiety can also come with local relationships, too. Extensive travel for work has the same impact on couples’ lives as a long-distance relationship, and military couples are no strangers to frequent and extended times apart. The rules of long-distance relationships are like those of local relationships, except insecurities are magnified.
The most important step you can make when feeling frustrated by the miles that lay between you and your partner is to make a conscious effort to not put your life on hold—do the things that you like to do and pursue interests that you’ve always wanted to develop. It can be hard for the mind to reconcile being with someone and still “feeling single” simultaneously, but just because you may feel that you’re in a no-man’s-land of not-quite-single and not-quite-taken doesn’t mean you should internalize your insecurities and cut yourself off from the outside world. The more you isolate yourself, the more your insecurities will rise about the other person’s feelings for you.
Keep yourself busy with friends, family and loved ones, and continually nurture your social ties. If you’ve already begun to drift away from friends since beginning a long-distance relationship, give those friends a call and make some plans. A happy, healthy person is one with a supportive social network. If yours could use a few more new connections, then make them—it can be easier than you think. Think about joining a writers’ group or take a class in something you’ve always wanted to know more about, or join a gym and start taking group classes, or join a hiking group—the point is to find something you like to do and jump in.
Communicate Your Expectations
Make sure you’re on the same page with your partner by communicating your expectations about the relationship and by fully understanding theirs. This includes what you both are looking for in a relationship and are willing to bring to the table, and what your expectations are of each other.
Don’t worry about “spoiling” the mood—when you establish a level playing field, you put yourself in the best position to establish the kind of mutual trust that will help you determine whether your relationship with this person should continue—or end—for all the right reasons. Even if a relationship doesn’t work out, having this level of open and honest communication right from the start can minimize emotional hurt and disappointment.
It’s important to communicate your expectations throughout the relationship. Should you find that you seem to be putting in more effort to keep the relationship going, clearly communicate that to your partner. If you find that your expectations are different from your partner’s, resist the urge to get mad at them for being different from you or wanting different things than you do. Imagine if the shoe was on the other foot. You want things to be mutual. When expectations do not feel or are not mutual, jealousy can crop up.
Banish jealousy whenever it rears its ugly head because it will eat you alive in a long-distance relationship. The fears we conjure in our minds are often worse than the reality of the situation. If you’re worried about “cheating” and are caught between the poles of “well, we’re not really together together,” snap out of it and get talking to your partner. Whether a person strays—in either a local or long-distance relationship—has to do with the quality of the relationship and how intimate you both are with one another.
So be honest and synch your expectations and aspirations with your partner. Tackle the monogamy question—is your situation one that is exclusively faithful or just loosely dating? Establish who visits whom and how often. Express what you’re really looking for. If you want to start out with dating other people as well, say it. Don’t be afraid to communicate what you need in a relationship, and remember that things can change. Just because you both may be dating other people from the start doesn’t mean that you can’t be exclusive later.
Keep the romance alive.
Coming back together after being apart repetitively can be challenging but it presents so many opportunities to fall in love over and over again. The key is to keep the romance alive during the times you are apart.
Taking advantage of the many different ways you can remind your partner how special they make you feel. Get creative—go beyond traditional “snail mail” and e-mail and send your partner flowers, a special mix CD, a singing telegram or homemade cookies you know your partner likes. Make a video professing your love and post it to YouTube®, and then send them the link to view it. Fill out an “All About Me” personal fill-in book and send them your completed copy along with a blank copy for them to fill out and send back to you. And even if you’re not the most hands-on creative type, you can use technology and the tools around you to express how you feel—try a well-timed text message via cell phone or online instant messenger.
Keep the romance alive within yourself by keeping a scrapbook of your relationship from the very beginning. In it you can print out and tape or glue in your first e-mails alongside handwritten journal entries about your thoughts and feelings as your relationship grows. Journaling also helps sort out your emotions, so that in times of separation when you might be feeling a bit (or a lot!) of loneliness, you’ll be able to better get a handle on what you’re feeling so that you can present the best version of yourself to your partner when you have face-to-face contact. As your relationship progresses, you can add plane, bus and train tickets, coasters from restaurants, and pictures taken on trips. This scrapbook will become a precious keepsake for you and your partner. Even if your relationship doesn’t work out, you’ll be glad you’ll have an amazing chronicle of a period in your life to look back upon with fond memories.
Keep on keeping on.
Every relationship, whether local or long-distance, is unique, so use your best judgment with what feels right for the both of you. There are three things that make for a happy, healthy and stable relationship: Personal independence and growth, mutual commitment and great communication—even through the tough times! Distance can seem overwhelming sometimes, but a love that lasts a lifetime may be well worth the risk. Where there is mutual will, love will always find a way.