This article is brought to you, in co-operation, by the letters R and J who are currently making their way through the alphabet, looking for a place next to each other.
How do you really make a long-distance relationship work? I am assuming that by landing on this *little* work that you, the reader, have some personal stake in this. The following is a joint article produced between two people who are in a LD relationship and it 'ain't the first for either of us. All of the thoughts, theories and ideas are not just "idle chatter", but actually strategies that we are implementing.
(J:) Throughout your life you've probably gone through all types of relationships -- dependent, needy, satisfying, sexual, intellectual and a combination of all of the above. You've probably had a few long distance relationships (LD) by now -- you're a seasoned veteran. At the same time, you might be a beginner. Never mind your current state, read on, we might enlighten you, confirm your assumptions or just entertain you. Insert grain of salt here and there.
(R:) First, lets see what the critics have to say. A LD relationship, the doubtful say, is destined to fail. Many nay-sayers state that LD relationships are doomed because the other person is simply physically not there and can't participate in the building of a relationship. Or perhaps that neither of you can keep your hands off the opposite sex and will probably get into someone else's pants somewhere down the road. It is my and my companion's belief that the above are not entirely true and that this is especially relevant in our day in age.
(J:) At the same time, why should you care what the rest of the world thinks if you've met someone who is far away yet fulfils you in ways you want to be fulfilled? Don't let a minor point like physical distance stop you from realising your happiness.
As the Nobel prize winner and noted quantum physicist Richard P. Feynman once said, "What do you care what other people think?"
In terms of emotional load, it's no different than any other relationship except that you have to maintain emotional contact in a different way than you would if both of you were in the same city or area. In terms of cost, it is no different from any other relationship. Sure people think you pay a lot for LD -- in telephone bills, postage and other communication equipment. Comparatively speaking, a LD relationship costs just about the same as a regular relationship. That is, IF you are smart about it. Think about how much you spend going out on dates, special occasions and travel. At the same time, if your or your partner's main concern is the economical cost of the relationship then you should both reexamine why you are trying for a LD relationship. And as for flying or driving to go see your Other? Every relationship has its get away trips, the only difference here is that one of you is getting away from the every day. And that's a good thing!
The most important and critical part of a LD relationship, if not ANY relationship, is what transpires at the beginning of it. The basis, the foundation that you will build upon later. So, be careful how you begin -- that is the way you are likely to continue because human beings are creatures of habit and while we know that habits do change, be it through force of will or a Nicorette patch, it's better to being well than to extract yourself from a sticky situation later on.
Without breaking down the concept of love, which would be tantamount to personal, literary and emotional suicide, the most important thing to remember is what defines a relationship and how LD relationships differ from conventional relationships. In a physical and literal sense the LD relationship IS DIFFERENT because of the physical distance (duh.)
This, at first sight may seem simple and straightforward, but consider how much of our communication relies on being able to see the other person and conclude what is going on from his/her facial expression, gestures or intonation. You don't often have that when you're trying to communicate through letters, email or online chat.
This means that you will have to revise your ideas about communication to maintain your LD relationship. Most of our communicative strategies -- phoning, meeting up for coffee and going to parties together -- depend on being in the same city or living nearby. When you're in a LD relationship, you can't do that and MUST find other ways to stay together. Here are some of our suggestions:
What to do keep a LD relationship going:
Address your fears
Spend some time getting into the habit of talking about your fears, no matter how insignificant. Opening up your emotions to your Other lets him/her into your life and you into his/hers.
(J:) Erm, folks, this does mean trying to vocalise what you're thinking even though you may not be aware that you're thinking it. As paradoxical as this sounds, your partner needs to know what is going on in your mind and, all gender stereotyping aside, all of us can afford to be more conscious of what we feel and able to convey it to another.
(R:) Ahem, yeah and girls/guys... while we.re at it, please don.t assume that your sweetie knows what you.re thinking/feeling. Those "obvious" hints are not often picked up when you have a long distance relationship on the line. Silently nodding to the phone, or the online chat isn.t going to further your relationship.
In a LD relationship you do not often have the luxury of face to face, physical contact. This is where words, actions and technology come into play. In our tech-filled world, LD relationships have a fighting chance to survive as long as you're willing to tackle the challenge. Use e-mail and text messaging. Write letters. YES. Write letters too. E-mail and text messaging are, in fact, faster and much more fun, but nothing beats old-fashioned letters. Why, I hear you ask? Because they have been physically written by your companion. It takes time and energy to write a letter and mail it. There is a physical presence sent in a letter that beats e-mail hands down. Anyone can write an e-mail and more often than not, it's done quickly, sometimes more easily accomplished by mashing your head against the keyboard.
Let's not forget phone cards, web-cams, and even Voice over IP (VoIP) -- DO not expect your phone company to give you a good long distance rate.
One of the most important things to accomplish is to maintain both the quality and quantity of communication. You also need to make sure that you're both giving and receiving enough -- don't let your partner take all of the air time and don't talk a blue streak. If you have trouble talking about your feelings or saying that you.re hurt, sad or happy get over that, you will need an almost painful kind of openness to keep your partner in your life. Oh and for God's sake... LEARN TO LISTEN!
At the same time there will be those occasions or those things that you would like to leave unsaid because communication is just as much about silence as it is about speech. In that case, make sure that your silence is not going to be misunderstood -- hint to your partner that you're hiding something delicious for later or that you just don't really want to discuss this particular issue at this time or at all.
Spend "us" time
Definitely establish real intimate time where you both shut every other distraction off and just spend time together. This might mean talking about anything and everything, even the most mundane things such as: "What did you eat today?" or "How was work?" It might mean just keeping silent and letting the silence speak for you and enjoying each other's company. It's times like this that are the most important. Because they slowly but surely build on what you have.
What we find most important about maintaining a LD relationship is including the other person in your day to day life no matter how boring it may seem to you. You might think that there is nothing worth talking about happening to you BUT you might forget that there is someone who wants to be included in your life. The best way to do that is to tell it all . the boring, the exciting and the downright everyday.
Spend "buddy" time
There are times when you just want a voice or a presence rather than sharing your innermost thoughts, and that's fine. You can't always have deep and intimate conversations. Sometimes you just want to play that game, study, cook, or do everyday chores and have that person there. This is were it helps to have a great phone card or perhaps a web cam. Buddy time is important in that it lets you just be together without placing emotional strain on either of you and letting anything that you might have on your mind just surface -- be it the latest joke you heard at work, the mess that is school life or the latest gossip. Don't forget that "buddy" time is just as important as "us" time--another pillar that keeps your relationship strong and balanced.
Keep busy - "So how do you deal with this when you.re anywhere from 400 and 10.000km apart?" or: "ways to deal with frustration, sexual and otherwise"
(J:) You suck it up. You find alternative means of spending the built up energy. You go biking, you do your yoga, t.ai chi, karate, workout, whatever. You keep busy and you don.t think about what you can.t have because that.s a surefire recipe for extreme frustration that you think you can deal with but it.s a lot sneakier than that.
(R:) This is truly a no brainer. If you're not busy you're in trouble, because you may end up pining for your love and dropping the ball -- loosing sight of your goals. Keep busy and go about your life. Forget about the future and focus on the now. I may sound contradictory to a LD relationship where almost everything is geared to that future moment where you will be together and finally able to do all those things that you've delayed doing, but the idea is to focus on the now to BUILD up to the future. Work, mail delivery, the stock market, bills, they don't stop and neither should you.
If you keep thinking of the future you will loose sight of the present and life happens in the present. This is the true source of pain in LD relationships -- knowing that you have to take your thoughts away from being with your beloved so that you may focus on the task at hand. There is no easy cure for this one, no simple advice other than to persevere and go on -- keep the communication channels open and keep on doing your own thing.
Dedication and faithfulness but faithfulness not just of the "I won.t be with another person" type but also as a kind of perseverance in difficult times when your partner is not the best you know s/he can be. We all have cycles when we are at our best and periods when we are dull, it is in those not-so-perfect times that our beloved deserves our faithfulness because we know best what s/he is capable of.
There are many things that can be added to this, but we find these to be the most essential. Here are a few other things to consider on how to maintain closeness:
Talking on the phone:
Nothing beats a phone conversation. We have found that, as fun as voice and webcam are, they sometimes just don.t compare to a phone conversation. A phone conversation gives you more freedom instead of just constantly sitting in front of your computer.
Read the same books, watch the same movies, play the same games:
This definitely gives you something else to talk about. Though it's mundane, you get a chance to build up common ground. Another thing we have found is the benefit of sharing music. Listening to the stuff that your partner enjoys not only expands your musical tastes but, in some way, you learn more about that other person.
Share your problems, or solve problems together:
Though you cannot physically be there to support your partner, there is no reason why you cannot support them and, in general, be there for them. Having someone on your side when you have to make a tough decision is sometimes all that one needs. Other times all you have to do is take a moment and listen. If either of you is in school, swap ideas or help with proof-reading. Either way, just having a fresh perspective can bring you closer.
Plan something together:
To visit each other, to do something once you.re together, to build something together -- as simple as a puzzle, as complicated as a house. Just make plans together, it'll give you something to look forward to.
Invest in some gear:
In this day in age, we have so much access to technology. With the advent of Internet, digital cameras, and all around networking there is no reason why technology cannot be used to soften the harshness of a LDR. There are so many chat programs out there that even if you cannot write a letter you can write just a quick note. Often a quick note is all it takes to let that other person know that you are still thinking of him/her.
Laying down a few quid can get you a decent webcam, or you can even go as far as a digital camera to capture moments that are often missed in e-mail or letter. Having text messaging is a nifty feature too. Technology can literally cut down the distance. Until someone develops a "Touch-o-vision" plug in, it.s the next best thing.
Lastly, a few occasions in which we don't recommend getting into a LD relationship:
If the person is immature and has no real level of communication with you to begin with, dump the relationship, and move on. If the interest is purely physical, dump the relationship and move on. A general sign of either is if your initial courtship involved copious amounts of sex and little else.
Also, there are certain issues that are best left unsaid in a LD relationship. You will have to decide for yourself how often will you say "I love you" because we all know that repetition tends to make things mundane. You will also have to decide what will replace a deep gaze into your significant other.s eyes because silence and communicating beyond words is what builds intimacy and closeness. It doesn.t mean that you can.t be intimate if you are far away, it just means that you will have to redefine what it means for the two of you.
LD relationships can teach us to value the less obvious sides to our partner, or even the less obvious sides of ourselves. Characteristics we might overlook in the passion of the moment become clearer with distance and they can deepen the intellectual and spiritual side of the relationship -- they can, though they don.t always do that.
A LD relationship is in essence an emotional marathon, or a Dakar Rally. This isn't a 100-meter dash, a quick burn. Your recipe for success will be to never loose touch, never cease to communicate and, above all, to keep your partner a part of your life in every way you can imagine. Only then will you have a strong chance to make the relationship work. You must work together to be and stay together.