How to make a long-distance relationship work
Why can’t love be simple? Why can’t you meet someone who lives round the corner, is instantly attracted to you, likes the same things and will be enthralled by you – and you them – forever? Well, probably because that would be very boring and also, as humans, life is rarely easy or simple. One way we make life harder is falling in love with someone who lives elsewhere. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, yes, but maintaining a relationship with someone who is three hours’ drive, or a plane ride can be stressful. That doesn’t mean it can’t work (and there’s proof in the pudding that long distance does work for some people) but does mean you’ll have to do some things differently.
So, they live there and you live here – how do you make a long distance relationship work?
What type of relationship is it?
First of all, you must decide what the relationship is. Is it a fling? Or Are we… serious? Sure, defining things too early can seem overly complicated and very unromantic, but a relationship where seeing one another regularly is tricky, needs parameters. It’s harder to be breezy and casual when you’re lining up diaries to be with each other. So, if you can’t be together all the time, are you at the stage of exclusivity? Be clear about this, and if you are at that stage then make sure you’ve been very clear about that and that you’ won’t keep searching. It’s all about managing expectations here.
Spontaneity is harder to pull off with a few hours of travel between you and while it isn’t very romantic to schedule times to meet up, you must stick to your plans and not let one another down. If you’ve been looking forward to seeing someone all month and they cancel at the last minute, that can be devastating. That’s not to say the element of surprise has to die altogether – in fact turning up unannounced at your partners flat will seem more special because of the effort involved. Make sure you’re a good listener, though, because if you try to play Prince Charming the same week they’re out of town for a sales conference three miles from where you actually live, you’re in trouble.
Talk a lot
The great thing about long distance relationships in the digital era is nobody’s ever too far away. We are, frighteningly, contactable pretty much all the time. So, take advantage of Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, the lot – “out of sight, out of mind” is practically impossible.
Embrace the humdrum
When you’re not together all the time, you feel you should be doing really exciting things or making big gestures on the occasions you are. Weekends in Paris! Romantic spa getaways! Yet another five-courser in a Michelin-starred restaurant or cocktails on the 57th floor of a huge glass building overlooking the city! This isn’t a real relationship, though; it’s a set of film scenes. For authenticity, have time together where you do hardly anything. Eat noodles on the sofa, kiss on a train, have a light bickering session in a supermarket, do your Bible study separately but in the same room. The little snatches of the everyday will bring you closer together.
Because you see each other so infrequently, your time together will feel more intense, like you’re under pressure to have the best time and for it to be as wonderful as possible. The reality is this may lead to rows over what seems like nothing, frustration because you’re gritting your teeth trying not to point out their flaws or your dissatisfaction, and even bad sex, or lack of it altogether. Your relationship is a pressure cooker and subject to all kinds of weird emotions. Be realistic about what you expect from one another and talk about it. Be very matter-of-fact about what’s happening and why – “we’re only arguing like this because we miss each other so much” – and be respectful.
Have something to aim for
People always say LDRs don’t work, but they can – as long as there is an endgame in mind. If you’re going to make it as a couple, you need something to work toward. Maybe, agreeing to see how it goes for a fixed number of months or years before making a decision about who moves where, or saving up to live in a totally different place, new to you both. Without goals, you can’t go anywhere, but seeing the long-distance part as a process in a much larger project can keep you motivated to be together.
Evolve or die
Talk honestly about the prolonged separation and whether you can handle it. You may find your feelings start to fade for one another and try to keep things going because of the effort you’ve made so far. The truth is, whether it’s for five months or five years, a long-distance relationship can only be a temporary situation. If you’re prepared to take it to the next level, you should, but if you don’t see the distance changing any time soon, while there’s a chance you can make it, you might be better off looking closer to home.