Stay close and connected, even when you're living far apart.
- Posted on Sep 1, 2007
Americans live in the most mobile society in history. With opportunities all over the country (all over the globe, really) people move frequently, and over the internet, people from anywhere can "meet" and connect. Long-distance romantic relationships are the inevitable result. Young people are enduring long separations from their partners, and even couples who have been married for years are having to live in different places part-time because of their career demands. What's the best way to sustain a relationship in which your partner lives somewhere else?
The two of us have thought a great deal about this. Although Jordan lives in San Francisco and Jessica lives in New York City, we have been dating for nearly two years.
Long-distance relationships are like all relationships in that, to be healthy, they require open communication and shared interests and values. Still, a long-distance romance tests your commitment to each other and your communication skills more than a typical romance. It's tough to be apart. The physical aspects of love are vital. Human communication relies on many nonverbal cues. Even the most explosive romantic chemistry loses something when you can't be in each other's presence.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is coping with the uncertainty of what will happen with your relationship. The human mind tends to overanalyze, to attribute too much significance to isolated comments and unexpected feelings. When you can't see or touch each other, this tendency becomes magnified. It's important to stop yourself from jumping to conclusions. Maybe the other person didn't really mean what he said in the way you understood it, or maybe your feelings are more a result of the distance than the particular issue your mind has latched onto. Email is a good way to stay in touch when you're in different time zones, but remember that it doesn't convey tone well. Keep communicating and expressing your feelings and goals. Physical distance is a lot easier to survive than emotional distance.
Long-distance relationships require either a foundation—a long period of time together to start out with—or a goal—an eventual plan to be together—in order to succeed. Jeff and Tara Samuels of Mountain View, California, had both. They met while playing for their college's coed ultimate frisbee team. They dated for two years and fell in love. That was the foundation.
After graduation, Jeff was awarded a fellowship to live abroad for one year. During that time, Tara lived in New York City. They saw each other only once that entire year, over the holidays. But they had regular phone conversations; they trusted one another and they believed in their love; and they also had a goal—they knew that Jeff would be moving to New York after completing his fellowship. Their realistic approach and faith in one another paid off. Ten years later, Jeff and Tara are happily married and they have a young son.
Having a goal means that you figure out when, where and how you will be living in the same place. In general, the sooner you get to the same location the better. Even so, make the move only when you feel safe and secure in each other's love. Jessica spent a summer living in San Francisco before deciding that's where she wants to be. Before you move, plan and talk realistically about what work you will do, and what kind of community you will develop in your new location. And if you are going away from your partner for a period of time, discuss how you will readjust to each other upon your return. Regular communication, thoughtful gestures and a future goal of being together again in the same place helps couples stay tightly bonded.
Here are some tips to keep long-distance love going strong:
• Get on the same cell phone plan so that your conversations don't drive up your bill. Approach talking on the phone not as a burden, but a way to learn more about each other without the distraction of physical attraction.
Although Jessica understands that Jordan doesn't really like to talk on the phone for a long time, some of our best and most in-depth conversations have been over the phone. Set up regular times to talk if your schedules are conflicting. Sometimes it's nice just to call to say "I love you."
• Take advantage of new communications technology like video cell phones. Or try VoIP software that lets you talk to and see each other (if you both have webcams) using your computers and high-speed internet connections.
• Minimize other expenses so that you can take more trips to see your partner. For example, Jordan made good use of his rice cooker instead of paying for takeout dinners and put the money he saved toward plane tickets. Join frequent flyer clubs.
• Remember that there is a readjustment period when you meet up in person. You may feel exultant at first then despondent when you are separated again. Try to see each other for longer than just weekends, so that your experiences together will feel more like real life and less like a series of quick vacations.
• Keep each other in your prayers and tell each other you are doing so.
• Be creative in expressing your love. Jordan sent Jessica a lot of care packages of cookies (her favorite: peanut butter). Jessica sent Jordan many love letters and funny drawings.
• Meet in alternate locations to keep things fresh. Involve your partner in your social life: Introduce him to your friends or throw a party in his honor. It takes work and a lot of faith, but we are proof that a long-distance relationship can be a springboard for lifelong commitment: We're getting married in October!