A year and a half ago, I was in a new long distance relationship, my first real serious dating relationship, and everything was peaches. People asked about how it was going and I was over the moon- he was perfect and everything was perfect! Long distance was the greatest thing invented and everyone should do it.
Turns out, that fun time known as the honeymoon stage didn't last, and long distance isn't actually the best way for relationships to happen. Who knew 2,500 miles between you and the person you love isn't super fun, right? But I've also learned that it's not impossible. It takes more than aphorisms like "love knows no distance" to get you through, so here's some wisdom I've gained about how to fight for love and make it last.
A little bit of my "credentials" for this post- I've only ever dated long distance (weird, I know) and while it hasn't always been great, I've been with my bae Avery for a year and a half. I'll also be sharing some advice from my friend Kelsey, who's been dating her man long distance for four years, California to Australia.
Avery and I are very different people and have seen those differences expressed in fights, struggles, doubts, storms in our relationship over the past six months or so, and learned a lot about how to talk through them in healthy ways.
To forgive is divine
If you're relationship is going to make it in the long haul, you're going to forgive each other of a LOT of faults. It's always good to express frustrations and feelings where you have them, so you can talk through problems and not leave them buried. But forgiveness is an absolutely vital discipline to learn to have a functioning and long-lasting relationship.
Everyone comes from somewhere. Learning about someone in a dating relationship, I've learned, is more than just learning about their personality traits and beliefs and values but learning why they are that way. Rather than holding differences between the two of you against him/her, try to understand why they feel that way and the things that have shaped their beliefs. A favorite pastor of mine talks about the relational value of mystery in the other person- they are a complex and unique individual who you can spend a life time learning to understand. Pursue them as such.
Forget the formulas.
As ironic as it is to say this in a blog giving relationship advice, you've kinda gotta forget others' formulas for success and figure it out as a couple on your own. For a while I'd see friends and say, wow, they've been doing this for this long and they never fight? or they're still in their honeymoon phase and never get tired of each other? or they're this far along and I'm behind... I must be doing something wrong. But the wisdom is tried and true, comparison is the thief of joy. There is no right or wrong way to date or timeline/formula to follow. Just because you're not exactly like that one "perfect" couple you know, doesn't mean you're doomed to fail.
For long distance relationships specifically, whether new or old or just for a season, here are some important tips I've found to be helpful in "normalizing" the distance.
Keep a date night, like you would if you were together.
Skype sessions are often squeezed in between classes and meetings and sleep, and we can only talk for so long before one of us has to go. So to have normal, relational time, we try to have a least one night a month where we have "date night"- no other plans, no interruptions, just time for the two of you to talk and enjoy each other. Make it fun: dress up, "share" a meal, prioritize loving and quality conversation.
I haven't always had this perspective, but lately it's been very helpful to think about how if I was physically with Avery, I wouldn't let people interrupt our dates and I would make them a priority and make myself look good for them. I've gotten used to saying to friends that I can't do x or y because I'm skyping Avery, and planning for it. It feels weird at first but it's the kind of commitment I would have to him if he were here, and he's no less important, so it actually helps things feel normal. I respect our relationship's importance and want to protect our time together.
Do things together. Read, watch movies/podcasts, play games.
Your shared experiences while apart are very limited. I get tired of just telling Avery about what I'm up to and hearing about his life instead of actually sharing memories we both have. Doing things like reading through and discussing a book together, watching sermons from each other's churches, praying together, or watching the same movies really helps bring us together around something in common during our time apart.
Here's the most recent book we read together, Loveology by John Mark Comer.
Find ways to be spontaneous.
Do things unplanned sometimes! Kelsey shared with me, "it's always going to lack in a long distance relationship because we can't just pick up the phone and head out on an adventure whenever we feel like it." But with enough creativity, we can work surprises and fun spice into our relationships. A friend of mine had a pizza with a note delivered to her boy on the other coast. Flowers or gifts are great. Send things to each other- handwritten letters, printed photos- my favorite is Avery's shirt he sent me recently, the one he wore on our first date. Get creative!
Always have a plan for your next time seeing each other.
Countdowns are great, aren't they? Whether it's two weeks or six months or a year, put flights and visits on the calendar so you have a sense of where you're going and how long you have to make it without them. Seeing a countdown wind down to zero builds anticipation and makes waiting worth it.
And on that note, have an end in sight.
Long distance can't last forever. As Kelsey says, "Talk about the future. It's going to come up eventually in the relationship so it's good to decide if you're both on the same page, both want the same things, etc. and compromise. It's hard to say that, "you have to come here" or "I have to go there" but discuss what would happen if that time were to come up and a decision needed to be made?" Commitment can be scary and long distance requires a lot of trust to promise you want someone in your future enough to keep them in your life with miles between. But it brings closeness and security in a special way.
As my friend Sarah said on her instagram the other day, "long distance romance is comprised of the daily and deliberate decision to love each other despite the difficulties of being apart." LDRs are hard. They're messy and painful and it's okay to miss your SO (and good to tell them you do). But love is always a decision, and this is another reflection of that powerful promise.
Christian, feminist, idealist, wife, poet, abolitionist, dreamer, adventurer.