How to make a long-distance relationship work

Guide, Life

Get over your fear of FaceTime

Long distance relationships are not inferior relationships: they are different. Their rules are not that different to the rules of normal relationships. It’s just that distance can make you behave strangely.

For example, don’t tell them you love them fourteen times a day: overuse cheapens it and it makes you sound guilty. Don’t get upset if they’re busy: it doesn’t mean they’re guilty. Ensure that when you open your front-facing camera on FaceTime you hold it above your chin so you don’t look too jowly.

Here are some other lessons.

LONG DISTANCE RELATIONSHIP

Don’t stay in the same place for the wrong reasons 

Mostly, the long-distance set-up is forced by a change in situation: one of you graduates and the other still has another year at university; one of you is offered a job in a new city; one of you goes travelling and the other starts a graduate job.

Firstly, you’re young: take the job. One of you leaving will change things but these changes tend to be logistical: you’ll spend more time on trains shooting out of London, or planes launching out of Gatwick. But one of you staying, turning down an opportunity, will change things too, and these changes are more nebulous and therefore far harder to fix. The person who stays will feel resentful; the one for whom they stayed will know this, and will act out. At some point, you’ll have an argument, that will end with someone spitting something about “holding me back”. You’ll regret it but neither of you will forget it.

Especially if it’s a short-term set-up – in which case resistance is both futile and petty. “I’m here in London, but my girlfriend is more than 4,000 miles away in Delhi,” explains Jack. “It’s a temporary thing. She happens to be over there for work and we’re used to being a lot closer, but for four months my relationship is just about as long distance as it gets.” They spend a lot of time on Skype and WhatsApp. “The hardest part is a four and a half hour time difference.” He recommends as much contact as possible.

Also, be rational. “Long distance relationships are not hard,” points out Oli, who moved to London after graduating, and whose girlfriend Megan is still finishing her course in Cardiff. “A lot of the time people can’t hack it and they break up. But if your gut reaction to going five or 10 days without seeing someone is to end it, you weren’t just that into them. There’s a gap in the logic of breaking up with someone because you didn’t see them enough – you’re not going to see more of them now, are you?”

S-E-X

You have iMessage, Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime and Snapchat. If you cannot use the digital tools for digital filth then you’re really not trying hard enough.

Making up not breaking up 

Just because you’re far away, doesn’t mean you won’t have the sort of boring, quotidian arguments that you have when you’re in the same place. You can still needle each other, you can still snap at each other. Obviously, though, these slurs feel exaggerated when you can’t just hug them suddenly a few minutes later to express your regret. Instead, you might have to say you’re sorry, which you hate.

Remember the context: this argument happened partly because you miss each other, probably. Remember that it seems worse because you are far apart. Do not ascribe significance to it: you don’t need to break up because one of you got a bit pissy about the fact that you’ll be arriving on Saturday morning not Friday evening.

Quality time

Speaking of which: there is also inordinate pressure to ensure that time together is ‘quality time’. It is limited, and therefore wasting a second feels at best remiss, and at worse negligent.

Anyway – stay chilled. If one of you has another plan on the Friday, then say you’re coming on the Saturday morning rather than skipping Friday night’s plan, or trying to do both and ended up rolling into their town at midnight, drunk. It’s OK to have another life. It’s OK just to spend most of Saturday watching telly. It’s OK to arrange to meet someone else who also happens to be in town. It’s OK to spend a few hours apart during the brief window in which you can be together. Relationships thrive on perspective.

Do not start using the expression ‘date night’.

The Fear 

At one point in all relationships, you will have a crisis of faith. This may happen more than once. You will wonder whether this person is ‘right’ and how do you ever know if anyone is ‘right’, anyway, and other suffocating unanswerables. Obviously you don’t need to be in a relationship to have an existential collapse, though the common uncertainty of existence can be compounded when your happiness is invested in a second, unknowable individual.

Calm down. Don’t talk to them – yet – as you will both start panicking and end up breaking up, accidentally. Talk to some mates. Do not place too much stock in what these mates say. Have a bit of a think.

The Fear of Someone Else

If you’re the sort of person whose blood roars in their ears because you spot someone has “liked” a link your boyfriend has posted on Facebook then you are too immature for a relationship of any distance.

Seriously, though, if that person is actually cuckolding you, they won’t be so obvious. That girl might have a crush on your boyfriend, but nothing has happened and it probably won’t if that’s her unsophisticated modus operandi. Affairs take place in secret.

“One of my house mates used to be in a long distance relationship, but used to sleep with different girls all the time regardless,” explains Rob Firth. “Ironically, his girlfriend who was completely loco and used to threaten to break up with him if he was even tagged in a photo with a girl on Facebook, never realised what was really going. Instead she was wrongly paranoid about the girls in our house, who never did anything with him. Once, she came down to visit and forced the entire house to have drinks with her and him, so that she could interrogate the girls in our house. She was really confrontational with all of them and it was awkward for everyone, especially as we all knew he had been sleeping with just about everyone else other than those who the girlfriend was accusing.”

The absent ‘ball and chain’

Obviously, the worst bit about being in a long-distance relationship is that you can feel like you are neither single nor properly attached. You don’t get the warming part where you spend the evening together, silent and happy; you don’t get to go off and get off with anyone you want.

But if you’re seriously moaning about this, reassess what you’re doing. Calling your absent other half a ‘ball and chain’ makes a funny quip twice, maximum. If it’s the way you’re describing them then this is a problem.

Catching up

Don’t text them every hour. Yes, you will miss sharing the small moments that create closeness but in the same way overusing “I love you” cheapens it, telling them everything cheapens the contact. Also, there is a danger that telling them “everything” will become a moany monologue about everything that is annoying you that day. Save the catch up.
Or change medium. “There’s a lot of sending photos,” Jack says. “I might send her a photo of my breakfast before I decide to Instagram it. She will respond with something far more interesting like a street market, a temple or some fabrics.”

Hang in there

“It’s tough not talking to someone you care about face to face for several weeks,” says Oli. “Not having sex is also terrible. But, frankly, if you want to be together you’ll stay together. You don’t file for emancipation from your parents because you haven’t seen them since you moved to Barnsley to start your grad job. If you break up with your other half ‘because of distance’ you’re kidding yourself. You just don’t like each other that much.”

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