What I wish I knew when I was dating long distance

If you had asked me when I was in college about long distance relationships, I probably would have said that I didn’t believe in them. It’s funny how quickly your attitude can change when you really care about someone and seemingly the only obstacle in your way to delirious happiness is a little thing like geographical distance. At this point in my life, I’ve had a few long distance loves and each time I’ve taken away some heartbreak, but more importantly some valuable experience about communication and what I personally need, whether my significant other is five minutes or five hours away. Maturing and having perfectly clear (ok, mostly clear) hindsight is what has led me to this place where I can admit what I wish I knew when I was dating long distance.

The literal distance doesn’t matter as much as you think

I often joke that as a New Yorker, a long distance relationship consists of more than one subway transfer. But I used to compare a bi-coastal relationship as far more difficult to another one that was a mere two hour drive, and this is actually not the case. When you want to make room for someone in your life, you’ll do it no matter what. If flight prices are beyond your means for awhile, we’re lucky enough to have technological ways like Skype and FaceTime to visually see each other until it’s possible again to physically be in the same place.

But I realized this truth about the actual amount of distance after I dated someone on the West Coast, and a friend of mine in New York complained that her boyfriend refused to travel into Brooklyn to spend time with her. And she also disliked her trek into Manhattan to get to him. It occurred to me that my guy and I had expended far more effort to see each other than two people who not only lived on the same coast but the same city! If you want to make it work you will. And I shouldn’t take the lengths that we would go to in order to be together for granted.

Communication has to be the utmost priority

This is a given in any relationship, but in retrospect it’s funny to me how the smallest thing can seem like the biggest thing when you don’t have your person by your side. When you don’t have the day-to-day physical interaction, there’s no room for games or innuendo, assuming the other person will pick up on your feelings from a text message or the tone of your voice.

Speak up! Even when in doubt! If you have something to say you need to say it and be clear about it. If you haven’t discussed exclusivity, do it and be honest about what you want. While I was once content with initially not being tied down by one long distance guy, after several months, I ended other more local relationships. My West Coast guy had become increasingly more romantic in his behavior towards me, being far more attentive, wanting to occupy a lot more of my free time and inviting me on trips aside from visiting our respective cities.

Before we had another conversation about what our relationship goals were, I believed his actions told the whole story of what he wanted. He felt that until he stated something in absolute terms, his behavior could simply be chalked up as being a nice guy. Learning about this problematic difference of opinion is why I know now that talking about all of the things is SO IMPORTANT.

Not seeing someone everyday can take more of a toll than you realize

I consider myself incredibly independent and protectively guard my alone time in between the many hours I work each week. A long distance boyfriend at certain points seemed ideal to me because of my personality. But when so many days went by where I couldn’t have dinner with him on a whim, or hug him for no reason, share news or even just describe my day in person, it really started to weigh on me.

When I first felt how strongly I was missing someone, I was embarrassed to admit it because I thought it made me sound codependent. But I was just in love! And love means you want your person around. And when they’re not for such an extended period of time it hurts and I can admit that now, instead of pretending it’s no big deal.

A stronger than average foundation of trust is needed

Sometimes I do miss the days before all the digital platforms. Social media can cause so many misunderstandings when it comes to long distance love. I have always considered myself someone who doesn’t seek to get jealous or paranoid, but when your boyfriend says he’s staying in for the night and your Facebook feed reveals he’s tagged in a photo out on the town? It’s likely to cause a fight. It’s possible the photo is from a different day and it’s possible that it’s not. That’s why trust is so important.

I had a boyfriend once who accused me of deception simply because I tweeted about how excited I was about a film festival in New York City. Twenty minutes earlier I had bid him goodnight on the phone, hung up, started reading articles on the Internet about said film festival while in bed and posted a tweet about it without a second thought. Minutes later my phone rang with him demanding to know where I was.

I guess the moral is, don’t assume someone is lying because they’re in a different city. Remember that social media posts are never indicative of the full story. And if you have to doubt the things your partner is saying, then there are bigger issues at hand besides being far apart.

It’s important to figure out approximately how long geography will separate you

This was the most difficult hurdle for me. Don’t put off this conversation out of fear of the unknown, because that’s what I did. I kept telling myself that I was happy, in love, content for now and I’d take each day as it would come. And that’s fine if it’s true. Which it actually was in the beginning. But when the relationship progressed, my feelings intensified and I found myself wondering more often than not where it was all taking me. Was I going to move? Was he? Would one of us resent the other one for giving up our own comfortable world to join the other?

Realistically you can’t live out your lives with three thousand miles separating you, or even five hundred. You need to know when your temporary long distance situation will become a permanent short-distance romance. Without a long-distance expiration date, a future plan to be physically closer to each other, so many unanswered questions bubble up. And if you’re in love, like I was, you owe it yourself to figure out those answers together.

(Photo via New Line Cinema)


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