What Being In A Long(ish) Distance Relationship Has Taught Me

I’m in a long-distance relationship.

In this day and age, that could mean just about anything under the sun: living 100 miles, 300 miles, 3,000 miles, or 6,757 miles away from your loved one, seeing them once a week, once a month, or perhaps once a year. We’ve loosely defined the term “long-distance” to fit our expectation of what closeness should look like.

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When I was 18, I was a senior in high school and dating my then (spoiler alert: and now) boyfriend and could not fathom the concept of severing ties as I traveled to New England for college. He was a year younger than me, which meant staying back in sunny California for at least another 365 days. We were head over heels in love, but the impending thought of 3,000 miles between us loomed overhead like a storm cloud.

So, we broke up. And tried to see our situation from different angles. Again and again while I jet-setted across the country and back for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and summer vacation. The fact that I could not let go of such a rare and deep love cast scars across both our hearts as we tried to maintain a friendship over the years. In his defense, he stated clearly from the beginning that he never wanted a long-distance relationship. But as a young soul, I tried with all my might to “make things work”. Which, as most of you may know, never “works”.

The funny thing is, years later (seven to be exact) we’ve found ourselves finally living in the same state and old enough to know that if something is meant to be it will make its way into existence. Last March, we placed our pride in a tiny box and gave another stab at a relationship. A real relationship–L word and all. But this time, I was in graduate school and had the freedom to take trains and planes from the Bay Area to Santa Barbara to stay with him for lengths at a time. He would also drive up on long weekends and school vacations when I had to stay up north. During the 12 months that we’ve been together, I’ve learned a thing or two about “long-distance relationships”. And now, a few days before he moves back home for good, I wanted to share that knowledge with you:

YOU MUST LEARN TO LOVE YOURSELF FIRST

Before you give yourself to anyone, you must learn to be fully devoted to yourself. Because if you can’t love the single most important being on this earth, how can you expect to treat someone else with the same respect, love, and admiration? Understanding what makes you tick, what you enjoy or dislike, why you require attention, or where you set boundaries allows you to be a more fully aware and present partner. Not only are you relying on your partner, but he or she is also relying on you. So build that foundation with stone and steel before you add all the rest.

Another reason you must absolutely love yourself is that you’re probably going to be spending a lot of time alone, which can be a good thing! I find that people nowadays rely too much on others to satisfy themselves. When you go to a museum, read a book, or just eat lunch on your own, you’re giving yourself time to rest, reflect, and reset.

COMMUNICATION IS KEY

Think about it. Your only sources of communication are via text, phone call, Facetime, social media, and maybe email (lol), which means you’re missing out on facial cues, voice tones, and timing. There is an immense amount of pressure on technology to create that connection between you and your loved one. That on top of your mood, context, or location could set the trip wire and set you up for a miscommunication cocktail. Some things to consider when you’re in a long distance relationship:

  • How often would you both like to talk?
  • What time of day works best for each person?
  • Who replied last? (sometimes the other person is waiting for a response)
  • Simply asking: “Are you upset?” or saying “I don’t quite understand” can clear the air quicker than a sage smudge
  • Give your partner a heads up about bad service, travel plans, class or work schedules, exams, going out at night, etc.
  • Tell them you love them. Whenever you feel like it and however often you’d like.

BE TRANSPARENT WITH YOUR EXPECTATIONS

This goes hand in hand with good communication, but it’s important to set expectations and ask for what you want. I’ve learned that different people have different love languages–varying ways of showing affection/telling someone you care–and the fastest way to getting hurt is reading too much between the lines. As you and your partner grow closer, it’s vital that you vocalize what you expect from the relationship, why, and how. (Not like “I need you to tell me you love me more”, but more like “I enjoy hearing you say that you love me because it lets me know that you’re thinking about me.”) If something made you happy, tell him/her, hash it out, learn from the experience, and move forward.

This dualistic dance between two people can be as convoluted or as clear as you make it out to be. By drilling down on the first point I made (loving yourself first) you create a deeper understanding of why you’re in this relationship in the first place.

LOCK YOUR PRIDE, EGO, AND JEALOUSY IN A BOX AND THROW IT AWAY

Pride, ego, and jealousy were vices I battled with as I yearned for college weekends while living at home with my parents. When you’re physically so far away from someone, it’s easy to feel bitter about anything and everything. I had a bad habit of texting my boyfriend when he was out drinking, feeling upset about god knows what, and then being passive aggressive about it until I fell asleep feeling sorry for myself. Yeah, no bueno. And don’t consume yourself with social media either, especially if you’re just keeping tabs on him/her.

The best way around this is to trust yourself (that you’re amazing and worthy) and to trust the other person (that they love you and they’re just enjoying some time to themselves). Trust in the process. Trust that you’re exactly where you’re meant to be.

FIND FRIENDS THAT ARE SUPPORTIVE, ADVENTUROUS, AND AVAILABLE

Now is the time to cultivate friendships that will last. Besides spending time alone, you can always call up a friend to attend that music festival with or meet up for post-work drinks. Supportive, adventurous, available friends are the type of people who you can call when you feel a little bit crazy and leave feeling like nothing was ever wrong. They’re the ones who will cuddle you when you’re lonely and also be a vessel for your woes. Or those who will drive over for movie night on a Wednesday. It’s important to find friends that won’t feel burdened by your grievances and will also add value to your life.

Remember: your vibe attracts your tribe. Surround yourself with abundance, support, respect, and love.

PATIENCE 

Yup, that’s it. Patience is probably one of the most difficult lessons to conquer as you count down the weeks, days, minutes, seconds until you can see your loved one again. Now that I’ve started a full-time job, my boyfriend and I are only able to see each other every two weeks or so. It’s true what they say: distance does make the heart grow fonder. As a planner, I absolutely love looking into the future and scheduling weekend getaways. But as an impatient and anxious person, I often have a hard time quieting my mind for weeks at a time. What I usually do is write a “wish list” of places I’d like to visit with my boyfriend and see how that fits into both our schedules. If plans don’t pan out the way you had hoped, its ok. Things change. Learn to be flexible.

And that’s all I have… so far.

If you’ve read until the end, kudos to you.

If you need a synopsis, here’s an overview of what I covered:

  1. Love yourself before anyone else
  2. Clear and meaningful communication for the win
  3. Be transparent with your expectations (for yourself and your relationship)
  4. Forget about your ego, pride, and jealousy 
  5. Surround yourself with a support system
  6. Be patient

I’d like to think the key takeaway of what I’ve learned so far is to just enjoy the process. Any relationship is going to test your wits and turn your understanding of yourself inside out. But with just about anything, the more you practice the better you become. Focus on big love and the rest will follow.

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