Your Guide To Surviving A Long-Distance Relationship
Long-distance relationships are tough. Two weeks apart can feel like a year, a year can feel like a lifetime. At best, it’s a slow countdown to when you’ll be together again. At worst, it leads to heartbreak.
I should know. When I was dating my partner, I spent a year in Asia while he was back in Canada. Then I spent six months in Peru. Then another year in Mexico.
The problem is that despite being born in Canada, my partner couldn’t be more English if you boiled him unseasoned and served him with mash. So for him, spending a fortnight apart with no communication whatsoever is perfectly acceptable (any longer and there should be a check-in email). In contrast, I believe a daily Skype call of at least an hour should be the bare minimum when one of us is away. Some might describe this as ‘needy’. I prefer ‘affectionate’.
For a long time, our general way of dealing with long distance was to break up. This is not a strategy I recommend. When we got married (ha ha, didn’t see that coming? Me either!), I thought, great, no more long distance! Wrong. Since then, we’ve spent another eight months on separate continents. But after the wedding, the break-up tactic wasn’t going to play, so we’ve had to develop strategies to manage time apart.
If you and your partner both expect and automatically provide each other with the exact same amount of communication and affection despite being in separate time zones – then wow, you’re clearly meant for each other, congrats.
For the rest of us, here are some tried-and-true tips (and the best and worst case scenarios for trying them) to help you through your time apart – and maybe even end up closer together. Whether you’ll be apart for a short stint or indefinitely, there are some basic steps that can make it easier.
One of you is coping with the drudgery of everyday life at home alone. Meanwhile the other person might have ended up someplace incredible, like San Francisco, and be posting nonstop selfies with the Golden Gate Bridge. Or they might be overwhelmed by the stress of whatever study/work/secret mission took them away. Whatever the situation, the more your expectations of each other are out of alignment, the bigger the challenge.
Have an honest discussion about what you expect from each other, keeping in mind limitations such as time zone differences. If there’s no internet access where your partner’s going (the bottom of the Pacific, apparently), how often can you realistically expect to communicate? If there is internet (of course there is), how often should you expect to communicate?
Worst-case scenario: In the spirit of honesty, your partner admits to having surgically implanted a GPS tracking device at the base of your skull. Yikes!
Best-case scenario: This frank discussion gives you new insight into yourself and your relationship, leading to improved self-kindness and deeper intimacy with your partner.
Agree on a set of long-distance KPIs
Now that you’re being realistic, it’s time to get Harvard Business School on the situation. Set some Key Performance Indicators – a list of mutually agreed-on actions. To be effective, your KPIs must be reasonable to both of you, so you may need to compromise. Like, a lot. But by agreeing on and sticking to them, you’ll demonstrate your commitment to each other.
For example, the standard KPIs my husband and I developed include a specific number of phone calls per week and a minimum response time for text and email. So he knows what to do to keep me happy, and I don’t pester him with constant calls.
Worst-case scenario: You’re so enamoured with strategy-based acronyms that you end up in an MBA program, resulting in more time apart.
Best-case scenario: Setting and following clear expectations provides a sense of mutual support and reliability. And they can always be re-negotiated if they’re not working.
When you’re away, show how your partner is in your thoughts
The person left behind may feel forgotten and neglected, while the person away may be caught up in the excitement of a new place. So one person is lonely and resentful, while the other can’t stop talking about how amazing it was to high-five Prime Minister Trudeau on a tour of Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Cue relationship meltdown.
While you’re away, let your partner know he or she is in your thoughts. Share affectionate observations that connect your partner to your new surroundings, such as ‘The Chicago River is the exact colour of your eyes’, or ‘Your high-five is way slicker than Trudeau’s’, or ‘The Ferris wheel here reminds me of when we rode the London Eye and you had that panic attack and vomited everywhere’. See how that’s better than a generic ‘wish you were here’?
Worst-case scenario: Your partner reveals that the smell of a certain cheese reminds him of you. Awkward.
Best-case scenario: The affection blossoms and you’re closer than ever.
But don’t just visit, be strategic about it. If you can, you should visit the new locale as soon as possible. Travel there together. Stay in your/your partner’s new digs, even if a fancy hotel would be more fun. It’s the experience of being there together that’s important, because it provides a personal context. It’s like that first visit to your partner’s work – ahhh, so this is where you spend all your time.
Worst-case scenario: Seeing the amazing place your partner has ended up inspires you to quit your job and sell all your belongings to join her, before you remember she’s only there for three weeks. Whoops!
Best-case scenario: You have a romantic adventure in an exciting place, and reminisce about it fondly for the duration of your time apart. You’re welcome.
Ashley Kalagian Blunt is a writer and stand-up comedian. She’s written for McSweeney’s, Kill Your Darlings and Griffith Review. Her current project is How To Be Australian, a memoir. She runs the comedy website Full of Donkey and tweets at @AKalagianBlunt.