Bryan and I have probably been separated geographically for more time than we’ve actually been in the same location. It’s definitely not easy, but we make it work. I’ve been thinking of some tips I have for those brave souls who are about to embark, or who are already struggling with, the LDR.
1. Get a routine
Bryan and I speak at the same time every day. I wake up, and the first thing I do is call him. I know that he will be waiting for me to call before he goes to bed, so I try to call as soon as I wake up. Sometimes we only get to talk for 10-15 minutes, if I’m in a rush, have reading to finish up before class, or if he’s really tired. But just knowing that I’m going to be the last voice he hears before he goes to bed, and he’s going to be the first voice I hear before I start my day, is a great feeling. If something happens and we miss that call, I feel off for the rest of the day. We also talk from when he wakes up (my afternoon) until I go to bed in some way–whether it’s chatting online while he works (shh!) or emailing back and forth while I study, we communicate so much that we are still a huge part of each other’s day, even if we’re physically separated.
Having set times when you call, IM, email, Skype, etc. makes both people in the LDR feel stable and cared for. I never have to wonder when I’m going to talk to Bryan, and because all of our communication, our relationship is actually stronger than before the separation.
2. Don’t act like you’re single
If I wouldn’t do something if Bryan was here, I don’t do it now. I do go out, but I certainly don’t go out as if I were single. I don’t stay out late, I don’t go to pick-up bars, and I tend to prefer more low-key outings, like dinner parties or margaritas with the girls. I have male friends, but there is never any boundary pushing. Which leads me to my next point…
3. Don’t get a fake boyfriend (or girlfriend).
When you’re in an LDR, you’re going to be lonely. Not all of the time, but there are going to be nights when you’re hanging out with a madly in love couple, watching them kiss, and wishing you had someone to kiss. Or when you feel like no one who really knows the real you is around. Or when you start to feel asexual. Some people panic when the loneliness starts to set in and search for what I like to call the “replacement boyfriend.” This is someone who can fill that void without actually cheating–they provide the emotional stability of a relationship that that person misses, but without (usually) any sex–and therefore, in that person’s mind, without any cheating. But from my view, developing a fake relationship is just as much cheating as having sex with someone else, and could be even worse. Sometimes you just have to feel the pain of loneliness and let it sink in. It reminds you that something is missing, and it’s not something that can be replaced. It’s okay to hurt, and on the days when I hurt the most I don’t reach out for a fake boyfriend–I call my real husband and we commiserate together.
4. Book your next visit during your last visit
This makes the goodbye easier, because you already know how long the next countdown is going to be. It gives you something to reach for. When you go to the gym, you don’t just get on the treadmill and tell yourself you’re going to run–you get on the treadmill, decide your going to run 4.0 miles, or 35 minutes, plug in your time, and watching that clock count down. Sometimes you play mind games with yourself (“I’m not going to look at the clock for the next 5 minutes”) to make the time go faster. Plane tickets to Japan are not cheap, but as soon as it is realistically possible for us to book the next flight, we do, and that gives us something to dream about.
5. Decide when the LDR is going to end.
The times I’ve seen the LDR crash and burn the hardest is when there is no set end date, no light at the end of the tunnel, and one or both partners gives up. This might happen when one person has the ability to compromise, say by looking for jobs in the city where their significant other lives or looking for jobs in a city they might prefer more, and chooses the latter. When the person who has been waiting realizes that a 3 year LDR might turn into an indefinite LDR, it’s easy for them to give up. So in our case, Bryan and I know that no matter what, when I graduate law school we’re never going to be separated again. If it means I have to take a job in a city that isn’t my top pick, that is so more than worth it to be able to finally settle down with my husband and start a family. If you’re in an LDR, you need to talk together about when the LD part drops off so that you’re just left with the R.
These are not my only tips, but I think some of the most important ones. I think the last thing I would say is that both people have to be equally committed to making a long-distance relationship work. If one person puts more into it than the other, that person is going to start feeling resentful. Just as in all relationships, both parties have to be equally “into it” for it to work. If one person starts feeling like they are single, going out on the weekends, and leaving the other to sit and worry, that is the beginning of the end. Likewise, even if both are great about calling and keeping in touch and visiting, if the person with the most control over when the long-distance part is over doesn’t show the other person they are willing to compromise by looking for a job in their city for when law school is over, it’s not going to end well. Talk about what you want, where you see the relationship going, and when you see the geography split ending.
Oh, and download Skype and get a webcam, ASAP 😉