Amanda’s take on a successful long-distance relationship

First and foremost, I have to say that I agree with everything Andrew already posted about making a long distance relationship (LDR – yup, I’m going with an irritating abbreviation) work. This includes the fact that our one example is not a one-size-fits-all for every couple. I would also like to state that I’m no relationship guru, nor am I a writer or self-help books; my advice is as haphazardly selected (from an ongoing mental list) as it is arbitrarily organized.

Step 1: (Mental) Planning and Dialogue.

I should say at the outset that I don’t believe that any amount of “preparing” will make a couple ready for a long-term LDR. Like everything else in life, and like every other couple in the world on any normal day, we were (are) flying somewhat blind. There is so much that simply cannot be planned; you take every month, every week, every day as it comes.

However, it was incredibly helpful for me in particular (the partner staying behind) to have open dialogue from the outset. I have to say, I originally shied away from this – I think I hoped that if I hid behind a rock and waited for 2 years, he would magically come back and everything would “return to normal.” It was Andrew who forced the issue to discuss our goals, hopes, and expectations for our separation – both on an individual level and as a couple. I am utterly grateful. This really helped me solidly understand why this experience was so important for his life path, and also started my conceptualization of what these two years would look like from my end. How could this time be constructive for me as an individual and for us as a couple?

To steal Andrew’s turn of phrase, I truly believe that mental preparation, dialogue and openness before the distance sets the tone for the rest of the time, and is a “necessary but not sufficient condition” to making this work.

Step 2: A Little More Conversation (Selectively)

This is simply a no-brainer; yet also surprisingly tricky to get “right.” Of course you need to have ongoing quality communication. What I feel like no one told me, what I came to understand on my own, is that “quality communication” is simply no substitute for time spent physically together, and also looks different in every relationship. Before Andrew left, I found myself searching the interwebs for advice on LDRs. The advice was overwhelmingly negative. But – behold! – I did find one blog with an uplifting PCV success story. This young woman talked about the value of communication, and said that she and her boyfriend talked every day, at least twice a day, either on the phone or Skype. She reasoned that, if they were in the US, they would talk at least that often.

I do not in any way want to disregard that young woman’s advice. She found that situation to be the best option for her relationship. But, for me, the cold-hard truth of the matter is this: no amount of time on Skype, no number of caring texts, no witty Facebook post, nothing is going to make you feel the same “connectedness” as when you’re physically with your partner. They’re simply…not there, and quite frankly, sometimes electronic communication can only make you feel that ache more keenly. The little kinds of nonverbal and physical communication you and your partner exchange hundreds of times a day when you’re together in the same place simply cannot be replaced by Skype or Gmail or texts or Facebook messages. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for these things– there certainly is, and little “check-in” messages throughout the week, between phone calls or Skype dates, can make you feel more connected. I think LDRs would be nearly impossible (for me) without these things. But there is no substitute for being with your partner.

So my advice is multifold:

  • You absolutely positively must build in to your 2+ year separation time to see each other. It must be a priority. I honestly cannot conceive of Andrew and I lasting this long if we hadn’t been able to see each other last summer for several weeks and over the holidays (and this June and July!).
  • Between those physical times together, make time for communication in your own way – in whatever medium and however frequently best fits your relationship to make you feel connected. Again, this is different for everyone, and something to work out with your partner.

One last nuance regarding “communication”: sometimes, it’s best to keep certain thoughts/feelings to yourself. Don’t get me wrong: share share share share share what you are feeling and thinking – if they benefit the relationship. That doesn’t mean you wear rose-tinted glasses and ignore feelings of jealousy or bitterness or depression or anxiety regarding the relationship; as Andrew so beautifully put it, “ignoring your emotions rarely makes them irrelevant.” That’s true. But sometimes an artful touch of self-editing or withholding is best. There will be times when things will just…suck. You will miss each other an unbearable amount and be frustrated at work and jealous about all the new people your PCV is meeting and bitter that they’re gone in the first place…and, because you’re in a LDR, you have a LOT more time to analyze and make a mountain out of a molehill. Sometimes it’s best to feel whatever frustration you’re feeling, realize that voicing it or harping on it will do more harm than good, and wait for a better day. If it feels like an emotion that’s coming from an honest place, share what you need to share to be true and open in the relationship. But don’t dwell. It’s easy to dwell in frustrating places when you’re so far apart – this benefits no one.

Step 3: Growing Together, Growing Apart

I know this may come as a shock to some individuals in a LDR…but your partner. is. not. there. with. you. anymore. All that connecting, that growing together and shared life planning that you do so naturally when together? Yeah, that’s not exactly going to happen organically while you’re thousands of miles apart. Moreover (and perhaps even more frustratingly), your partner is now in a completely different environment, meeting hundreds of new people and fundamentally changing their basic way of life for the next two years. It is essential to find a way to remain relevant and connected to each other – and, I hate to say it, but being in love is most certainly a “necessary but not sufficient condition.”

Andrew and I got exceedingly, stupidly lucky. As he already detailed, we have basically the same job in mirror-image: we are both foreign language teachers (ok, his position is more nuanced, but let’s go with the generalization). We can talk about techniques and share games and voice frustrations and that draws us together. We also both love politics, and are interested in economics, sociology, and psychology. We share book recommendations. We make sure to find things with which we can connect and share. We also talk freely about the future: our plans, our hopes and dreams, favorite travel ideas. It gives us something to look forward to when we’re together again.

But, again, I reiterate: your partner is (spoiler!) not there with you. That stings. You’re going to feel lonely. In your basest moments, you’ll pout about being “left behind.” So grow up and become an interesting person with an interesting life. Make new friends. Find a new hobby. Adopt a pet. Learn a new skill. Dye your hair. Make a foray into new genre of music or literature. Join a club. Work out. In some ways, this is advice you’d give a person who is going through a break-up – and the advice is relevant because, in some ways, a LDR does feel like a mini break-up: in large part, you’re on your own. At their surface level, these new activities and interests are a distraction. But really, they anchor a part of the foundation of your relationship. No one wants to be with the exact same person for decades on end. It’s human nature to change and grow. Your PCV is growing by definition: I think the biggest mistake you could make would be to remain the exact same person waiting for them when they come home. Expand as an individual, and share that expansion with your partner.

 

Absolutely un-sortable, random specific advice:

  • If at all possible, do not live in the same town that you and your partner lived in. Too many memories; you will inevitably feel lonely by the sight of certain restaurants and coffee shops. Self-expansion: get to know a new place. Nothing like a new start. (And, for the love of God, DO NOT live in the same house that you and your partner shared. Terrible plan)
  • Do not live alone. Whether it’s a friend or a complete stranger, having someone around intrinsically makes you feel less lonely – even if you’re just exchanging pleasantries and/or listening to them open and close drawers. It’s oddly comforting.
  • When the going gets hard, remember why you want to be together in the first place. Make a list, put up photos of great times together.
  • Talk about them. At first, I was almost afraid to talk to my coworkers about Andrew, because they had never met him – it felt like I was making him up! But I learned that if you don’t bring that person into relationships with friends/coworkers/housemates/etc…they cease to be there. Your partner ceases to exist in that sphere of your life. And every sphere eliminated diminishes their importance/relevance to your life overall. Talk about them. Even if your coworkers think you’re making them up.
  • There are certain (avoidable) social situations that will inevitably make you feel lonely and crabby. When possible, avoid them. For instance: going out to a bar/club with all single friends (who are looking to NOT be single), weddings, Valentine’s Day anything…etc. Avoid them.
  • Absolutely no Dar Williams, Joni Mitchell, Death Cab for Cutie, The National, or The Weepies for the first two months of the separation. NONE, NO EXCEPTIONS.
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3 responses to this post.

  1. Amanda and Andrew,

    You guys are great!

    I enjoy all of Andrews posts, but these “his and her” posts are special. They’re lovely, warm, and hopeful. Thanks for sharing your journey.

    Cindy

    Reply

  2. Posted by chris groth on February 23, 2012 at 7:06 am

    i love you both. hope all is swell and miss you.

    heart
    chris

    andrew? will you be back in friendship soon? kt and I are only a few minutes away!? and will be close to amanda this summer…

    Reply

    • Thanks Chris! I miss you too. I’m hoping to come back briefly to watch my brother graduate from Carleton, but then I don’t think I’ll have money or vacation until I finish my two years in late November… But you’d better believe I’ll be tracking you two down in December. 🙂

      Reply

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