Say you meet a handsome stranger one night in the corner of a dark bar. He’s visiting from somewhere else, but something clicks and all of a sudden it’s on. After a whirlwind week where you manage to cram in a months’ worth of getting to know you, he leaves, back to his life and you to yours. The inevitable ennui sets in, but before you chalk this up to another fling with no staying power, do yourself a favor: Consider the adult long-distance relationship.
I dated someone long distance in college for three years, and while it wasn’t the worst thing in the world, it certainly wasn’t the best. For starters, we were 20 years old, that tricky age where every decision is both extremely important and completely irrelevant. In the dark ages before texting and sexting and the ease of constant communication afforded to us by our personal devices, I spent a lot of time on the phone and on Instant Messenger, smoothing over hurt feelings or picking fights. As in so many situations at this age, immaturity won out over reason. We tried to make it work as best we could, but ultimately the distance worked against us. As I watched my own relationship and the long-distance relationships of my friends dissolve around me, I vowed never to embark on a nightmare like that ever again.
Now I’m in my early 30′s and single, but most of my friends are in relationships — a natural occurrence the older you get. One of my best friends is in a long-distance relationship with someone who lives in another country. She’s noted that a lot of people use this fact as an entree to ask pointed questions and make snap judgements about what her relationship must be like — something that my friends who are dating people that live in the same city don’t have to deal with. “What is that like?” people ask her. “It can’t possibly sustain itself,” they say to her. These intrusions on something that is nobody’s business but hers are irksome, but the fascination with how a situation that seems like a relic of our undergrad years is very real. From what she’s told me, it all sounds pretty appealing. As people’s lives become busier and as careers take off, your priorities shift. It seems that all the negatives of an LDR in college are now its major selling points. We had a frank chat over wine about this phenomenon and it was illuminating. She assured me that the LDR of your 30′s is an entirely different beast than the one you endured in college. If you find yourself in a possible adult LDR, here are some nuggets of wisdom she passed on:
1. Communicate early and often. Communication is crucial in any relationship, from your best friend to the people at the laundromat, but in a long-distance relationship clear and constant communication is essential. Think of all the times anything you say is misinterpreted or taken out of context. A sideways comment said out of frustration or stress can be bad, but is usually explained away face to face. That same comment over the phone or sent by text message or Gchat has the potential to develop into a giant bomb of hurt feelings and misunderstanding. Talking as much as you can about everything from how your week is going to the status of your relationship to the plot twists on “House Of Cards” is healthy for any relationship, but its especially important if you’re miles apart.
2. Check in every now and then. When you live in the same city, extended periods of silence or a lack of steady communication are taken in stride. If work gets busy, or if life outside of your relationship is all consuming for a little while, it’s no biggie. When the person you’re with is in a different time zone, their day-to-day can be a mystery. It’s good to check in, just to see if everything is copasetic. The best part? The nature of your relationship means that both parties know it’s not checking in out of jealousy or other reasons. It’s healthy and necessary to ask for — and deliver — status updates so that the other knows where things stand at all times.
3. Don’t schedule sexts. The hardest thing about a relationship that exists purely through screens, phone calls and Snapchats is the lack of physical contact. Thankfully, modern technology has made it super easy for you to get off whenever, however, wherever. That is the beauty of the world we live in today, but there’s something about setting aside prescribed times to do it that feel tawdry or stifling in the worst possible ways. I don’t know, it’s something about seeing “sexting with my boo” in your mental day planner that saps all the excitement out of it. It’s best to happen upon these situations organically — maybe after you’ve slipped out of a party early, you’ve had a couple of glasses of champagne, and you really, really miss him. Just see where it goes.
4. Pick and choose your battles. When you’re dating someone you see regularly, everything has the potential to be a door-slamming, brunch-leaving blowout. He said something weird to you that you misheard while looking for your shoes and rushing out the door? Fight about it on your way to dinner! Maybe you’ve been harboring quiet resentment over the way your partner sheds all of their clothing like a snake does its skin on the way to bed. Clean passive-aggressively while making pointed comments under your breath, then fight about it! These arguments are almost second nature when you’re living in the same house, or spending a lot of time with someone, but when you’re not, it forces you to realize what is actually worth fighting for. There is great freedom in the act of letting things go. Choose your battles wisely.
5. Make sure there are loose plans in place to see each other semi-regularly. If you’re dating someone who lives a train ride away, it’s easy to spontaneously hop on a late night train out of the city and surprise your boo. If there’s international travel involved, it’s a different story. The fact of the matter is that you’ll find yourself missing that person a lot while you guys are apart. Make sure to have loose plans set in place for your visits, and be sure to share the financial burden. If plane tickets are involved, talk about splitting the cost, and make sure that you’re not the one shelling out $400 every month to go somewhere for a harried, busy weekend.
6. Be grateful that you have the best of both worlds. The thing that people don’t talk about when they discuss their long-distance relationships is the independence it affords you. Relationships are hard because all of a sudden you have to incorporate someone else’ life into your own. If you’re an independent person by nature, this intrusion can be awkward. Being in a long-distance relationship means that you can still maintain your independence. A time difference that seems like a pain in the ass at first becomes a handy way for you to manage your time. Wake up an hour earlier and chat with your boo while you’re getting ready for work. Leave a party a little earlier and settle in if you know they’re going to be around. The true beauty is that you can maintain the life that you’ve always led, while still being in a fulfilling, healthy, adult relationship with someone who is just as committed as you are. Cherish that.