Long-Distance isn’t fun. Anyone can tell you that. But you also can’t stop loving someone just because they live too far away. Most people would rather try to make the distance work; even if they know they are going to fail, they at least want to try.
For couples “new” to the whole long distance relationship thing, I highly recommend Chris Bell’s Book: The Long-Distance Relationship Survival Guide
Or, of course, my own book (written right after my husband and I moved to Tokyo and our LDR ended) My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book
To make it work, I think you need to understand exactly what happens in a long-distance relationship. I’ve notice they follow four general steps: Denial, Short-term depression, Loneliness, and Acceptance. These are my thoughts.
The Four Stages of Long Distance:
1. Denial. This technically starts before the long distance relationship even begins. It’s that first stage, right before you leave, that you tell them “don’t go.”
It can be anything from “Just stay for a couple more hours” to “Push your flight back a couple days, I will pay the difference.” It is that first stage of panic, tears, and anxiety of separation.
2. Short-term extreme depression/loneliness. This happens usually directly after they leave. It always hits me the hardest when my fiancé’s bus pulls away. I always cry. It’s even worse when it is a plane or train.
At this point, you don’t actually miss them yet. You are just depressed because you know how much you are going to miss them. For me, this stage usually lasts between a couple minutes to all day (depending on whether it is going to be a couple days or a couple months until I see my significant other).
3. Steady depression. It’s exactly what it sounds like. When my fiancé and I are not in the same city, I’m depressed. Not deeply depressed, just a little bit – just enough that people who know me can tell if he’s visiting or not.
This stage goes on for as long as you want it to. I have friends in long distance relationships that are depressed for nearly a week every time their significant other visits, then leaves. I also have friends that recover almost instantly. Everything finally settles on the final step: Acceptance.
4. Acceptance. The problem with acceptance is that it can come in either one of two forms: Replacement or Surrender.
Replacement is by far the worst. 90% of couples I know that are in long-term relationships have opted for replacement. Replacement means what it sounds like; you replace your significant other with something so that you don’t miss them so much. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you are replacing them with another person; it is also common to replace a loved one with a hobby, job, friends, clubs, or horrible reality television (like Toddlers in Tiaras, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, or Judge Judy). The basic gist of replacement is that you’ve gotten tired of that hole in your heart, so you try to use all that frustration, depression, and loneliness and turn it into something productive.
Last year, during winter break, while I was away from my then-boyfriend, now fiancé Ryosuke, I made close to 100 cloth flowers with a mold I got from a friend. Each flower took about 20 minutes to make (at least), with another 10 minutes attaching it to something (a hair clip, hair band, or pin). In a four week period, I spent almost 60 hours making cloth flowers because I felt lonely.
At the time, I felt pretty proud of myself. Now – not so much.
You see, the problem with replacing your loved one with a hobby or craft is that it is taking up the energy you used to devote solely to your significant other. So, not only are you physically too far apart to see each other (which makes it much harder), by throwing yourself into a project, you are also making yourself emotionally unavailable.
I know when I’ve hit this phase because I don’t want to Skype with my fiancé. I don’t have energy for him, I don’t want him to see me because I feel useless, or maybe I feel like I don’t have time. Skyping becomes something I dread doing, instead of what used to be the highlight of my day (earlier in step 3).
This is how long distance relationships fail. One or both parties start to replace their significant other with something (another person, a hobby, or extra work). This causes resentment. Resentment causes fighting and even more depression.
Eventually one or both sides do not feel like the relationship is worth it anymore. This can take anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months. I’ve even seen relationships last long-distance for over a year and then suddenly fall apart.
The other option is Surrender. Surrendering means that you realize that your situation is miserable. You wish you could see your significant other, but you can’t. And then, rather than trying to replace them with something else, you move on.
Sit down and compartmentalize your life. When your significant other is gone, there’s going to be a hole. Something will be missing. But there’s nothing wrong with that. You can live with a little hole in your heart, as long as you learn to accept it – rather than fix it. However, you realize that whatever feeling you have right now will be “worth it” when you finally do get to see your significant other again. It helps if you can see them at least once a month. If you can’t – just keep the date you get to see them again someone in plain view (like taped to the back of your door or on the refrigerator). Knowing that date makes the distance easier.
Every time you visit each other, the cycle repeats from step 1. Eventually you just get used to it.
Relationships are not easy, but long-distance relationships are especially challenging. If you really love each other and are 100% committed to making it work, regardless of the cost, then you have hope.
If you are not 100% committed… don’t try. I’ve been in a failed long-distance relationship (where I was putting in more effort than he was) and it was incredibly frustrating and painful. Don’t waste someone else’s time like that. I understand not wanting to break up because you love them, but you have to realize that every day they spend in a long-distance relationship, they are sacrificing opportunities (job, friends, potential lovers) to stay with you.
My failed long-distance relationship only lasted about a month and a half and the entire time I thought there was something wrong with me. I swore never to do another long-distance relationship… and then I met my fiancé, a Japanese student studying abroad at my college for a year. We lived in the same dorm and dated for about 6 months before he went back to Japan. I followed him for a 15 month study abroad in Japan (I had already planned to study in Japan, dating him extended my study abroad by about 4 months). I have never once felt worthless or alone in our relationship.
Even though we’re still doing long distance (I live in Tokyo, he lives a ten hour bus ride away in Akita), we’ve never been better. I like who I am when I’m with him a whole lot more than I like myself when he’s not around.
[Edit: We’re married now, living in Tokyo. We continued doing long distance until I graduated from college, had a beautiful ceremony in Texas, and shipped off to Japan shortly after. We are more in love today than we were, almost three years ago, when we started dating].
Opportunities will come and go, but I want him to stay forever.
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