The Agony and The Ecstasy… of long distance relationships. So rarely does one cliche so succinctly sum up something.
Those of us who’ve tried can all attest: it’s haaaaaard.
There are different kinds of relationships across the miles and they require different things.
Some start out that way, such as when you meet Mr. Wonderful at your friend’s wedding in Wisconsin — and you live in Biloxi.
Or, perhaps the Mr. Wonderful you’ve been dating for five months in Biloxi gets sent to Chicago for a six-month assignment. Or, worse yet, his dream job moves there permanently and you don’t want to choose between your own dream job (still in Biloxi) and your dreamy boyfriend.
The differences between the three are vast. You and Wedding Wonderboy are getting to know one another across the miles, while the relocations take away a known quantity.
Building a new relationship is a whole lot harder than maintaining an existing one. The easiest one to weather is the temporary shift – if you’re committed to the relationship, you just have to figure out a way to survive six difficult months. But even that isn’t easy.
DEFINE YOUR TERMS
You can ease a lot of long-term discomfort and confusion by defining your expectations in advance.
For instance, unless you’re looking for a casual, non-exclusive relationship, at some point, one of you is going to have to move. That can add a whole lot of stress to your already strained couplehood. So, from the beginning, set out a game plan.
Are you evaluating whether one of you will move, and if so, does that mean marriage? Or are you just trying to maintain the relationship as it stands now, perhaps in a different place?
Recognize that you can’t compare a long-distance relationship to one based on physical proximity. But you may be surprised how much a relationship can grow – if you work at it. Late-night talks and thoughtful letters can convey a lot of what is most important in the long-term: your goals, values and dreams.
But simple companionship and connectedness is often the meat and bones of a relationship — and you still have to prepare yourself for the absence of his or her warmth, smile and all the wonders of non-verbal communication.
When a girlfriend and I were separated for three months, I drove her absolutely crazy because I needed — non-negotiably — to talk to her each day.
We discovered this when somehow we skipped two planned phone calls and I completely freaked out. I felt millions of miles away from her (really, it was only 20,000), unloved, uncared for, forgotten… and I was sure he’d been hit by a bus and that’s why she couldn’t get to the phone.
Definitely one of my finer, rational moments.
What had actually happened was that the nine-hour time difference got in the way. She was in Israel and I was in Nigeria and she somehow thought that calling at 3 a.m. was inappropriate.
Call me foolish.
Remember this: missing a day (36 hours in my case) does not indicate relationshipial jeopardy. If a phone call gets missed or an e-mail doesn’t arrive, do not assume that your darling has run off with the cleaning lady or been hijacked.
Discuss your communication needs and limits. It’s likely that one partner will need more communication more than the other. Be prepared to be flexible.
If you want more contact than your partner, try to be less demanding. If you need less, try to be a little more communicative than you might tend to be. Meet in the middle.
For instance, if he wants to talk daily and you don’t, perhaps you can commit to sending a one-line loving e-mail each day, just so he knows you’re thinking of him.
BRANCH OUT FROM THE PHONE TREE
E-mail is a wonderful invention for separated loved ones and is particularly useful in helping to avoid transferring your IRA directly to AT&T.
On the other hand, be careful about relying on e-mail to resolve conflicts.
The problem here is that e-mail feels as casual as a phone call, but it’s permanent. The words are there in black and white. Tone, intentions and content can all be easily misconstrued.
Just remember: this is a note, not a Talmudic passage to be read and re-read for every hidden nuance, message and subtext. (Being overly analytical can be a real burden here.) If you have an issue to resolve, try to do it over the phone or in person.
You even have other options.
To cut down phone costs, try calling your Beloved One when you know he or she won’t be in — and leave a “thinking of you” message on voice mail.
Before Alexander Graham Bell ever was born, people kept in long-distant contact by writing words on a piece of paper, which they then placed into an envelope, affixed a postage stamp (in those days, you had to lick them), and then mailed through the post office. These were called “letters.”
You can also send care packages and little gifts, or peruse the selection of sicky sweet cards at your local Hallmark store.
SHARE THE BURDEN
However you do it, be conscious of the costs involved and try to apportion them in a fair manner. It can cause resentment if one of you foots the bill for everything.
That’s a doubly sticky situation since it leaves the big spender somewhat in control of the relationship.
With visits, alternate who visits whom and consider meeting in the middle on occasion.
Remember this: if you can’t openly discuss your feelings about how you’re spending money, you’ll have a hard time building a long-term relationship with this person. Keep in mind that the tensions that arise now are opportunities to strengthen your relationship for the future.
MAKE THE MOST OF TIME TOGETHER
When you are together, expect pressure (whether it’s because you have issues to discuss or not). Don’t spend so much time agonizing over and planning out your time in concert that you forget to enjoy it. Every moment does not have to be perfect or perfectly scheduled.
Conversely, understand that the perfection of weekend getaways likely won’t continue once a normal relationship is possible.