Six months after my then-boyfriend and I became “Facebook Official,” he was on a flight back to Japan. I’m American; he’s Japense. While he was studying abroad in America we met and fell in love… only to have my heart ripped out when he returned home.
We’re married now – happily living in Japan. But before we said “I do,” we had almost two years of long distance, trying desperately to make it work. Long distance isn’t easy… but it is doable.
For couples “new” to the whole long distance relationship thing, I highly recommend Chris Bell’s Book: The Long-Distance Relationship Survival Guide
Anyways, back to my story.
Two months after my future husband (but then-boyfriend) returned to Japan, I did what any love-struck college student would do. I followed him to Japan, doing a year study abroad in Japan. But, as luck would have it, I ended up at a school 10.5 hours away, by an overnight bus. For the next fourteen months, we did a long-distance relationship.
Let me just get this out: Long distance relationships (LDRS) suck. There is no way around that.
We were in the same time zone, but 10.5 hours away by bus (more, if there was traffic). It was hard. I’m not going to lie, the first couple weeks, I sat in my apartment wondering how this was going to work out.
But it did work out. Nearly a year and a half after we began our long-distance relationship, we both said “I do” at a small ceremony in Texas and moved to a tiny apartment in Japan together. We’re happily married now – and my husband (silly as he is) claims that while our Long Distance relationship was hard, it made our relationship even stronger.
“Regular dating” in no way, shape, or form prepares you for a long distance relationship. It is a completely different game. In fact, when most people ask for long distance relationship advice, I tell them “don’t do it.” It takes a very specific person to make long-distance work.
But if you are reading this, you probably want to go ahead with your long-distance relationship. After all, no one actively decides “hey, seeing my significant other every day is overrated. I’m going to move across the country just because.” Long distance isn’t a chosen path, it is usually thrust upon you with the break up or do long distance choices.
Most people choose to do long distance.
And as hard as long distance is, it works just as long as both parties would rather be in a long-distance (albeit a crappy one, with scarce communication and trust issues) than broken up.
The hardest part(s) of a long-distance relationship:
Relationships are nothing without trust. Long distance relationships require even more trust than a regular relationships. When you see each other several times a day, you know what they are up to. With long distance relationships, that knowing is gone. Between the phone calls, Skype calls, and text messages – you have absolutely no way of knowing what they are doing.
[For more, check out: The Four Stages of Long Distance- Surviving the Separation]
This is where trust comes in.
You have to trust they won’t cheat. You have to trust they won’t flirt. You have to trust they will tell you if their affections are wavering or if they are tired of the relationship. There are certain physical cues that phone and Skype calls just cannot convey.
The only way to make a long distance relationship work is with trust.
2. Dealing with jealousy.
Absence makes the heart grow stronger (or so they say). But I also think absence makes the heart go wander (clever, I know).
I’m not saying this jealousy is un-justified. I’ve noticed about 1/3 of the time it is justified, and the other 2/3 is just crazy talk. During one particularly low point in our long-distance, Ryosuke forgot to log out of Facebook on my computer and I read through all of his private messages.
I’m not proud of it. I told him a couple months later – and he thought it was hilarious. I didn’t find any dirt. To be honest, I didn’t expect to find any dirt…. it’s just that distance makes people do crazy things.
Dealing with jealousy in a long distance relationship is one of the hardest things to do. It is different than trust. You can trust your significant other not to cheat on you as much as you trust the sun to rise each day, but if you see a picture of them at a party with a hot blonde on their arm, jealousy is going to rear it’s ugly head.
You need to have enough sense to know when the jealousy is just silly (and should be ignored) or whenever it is completely justified (and should be addressed).
3. Lack of Physical Contact
I’m a hugger. I’m a snuggler. I love holding hands and leaning on my fiances shoulder on long bus rides. I love slow-dancing with him in the kitchen after dinner and I love curling up together to watch TV.
When we are apart, I lose that sense of touch. And I need that sense of touch.
To me, more than the jealousy and trust, the lack of physical contact is the hardest aspect of a long distance relationship. Don’t even get me started on the lack of sexual contact.
All I’m saying, is that when you enter a long distance relationship, you need to realize that you are essentially setting yourself up for a celibate life with no hugging and snuggling. This gets hard when you go to a party, meet up with friends, or end up at a concert where an attractive brunette locks their hand in yours or pulls you in for a hug.
You whole body is screaming out “FINALLY” while your mind is churning out in the background “But what about your boyfriend…?” Which are you going to listen to? Do you have the willpower to purposefully make yourself miserable and craving – all in the name of love?
[side note: I have several friends in successful and long term long-distance relationships that have "friends with benefits" at their school. I could never buy into that idea. However, I know couples that say 'kissing doesn't count as cheating' or 'my boyfriend can have sex with whoever he wants, just as long as he stays emotionally faithful to me.' Each couple has a unique way to make it work.]
4. Sleeping alone
I hate sleeping alone. That cold, empty bed is the most obvious (and aching) sign of the distance. When you roll over in the middle of the night, hoping to find something to snuggle with, and only find an empty bed, your heart will hurt.
It’s a couple set – and we still use them today (even though we’re married and living together, which is kind of silly)
You need to get used to sleeping alone. I made a body pillow with one of Ryosuke’s shirts, just because I’m weird and clingy like that. It helps a lot.
5. They can’t be there for you when you need it
This is one of the hardest parts of a long distance relationship. Over the last year and a half of long distance, I’ve had a couple breakdowns. One of them was in the wake of a family accident, another was when I got stranded at the train station with no money and no way to get back home, another was when my bike got sideswiped by a car.
Ryosuke was in class both times. I called furiously, crying, and wasn’t able to reach him. And even when I was able to reach him, he could only comfort me with words. Words only go so far.
When you are in a relationship, you will need your significant other there when you fail a class, get in an accident, have a family crisis, or just a ‘normal’ mental breakdown. You long-distance boyfriend or girlfriend won’t be able to hold your hand when you’re sick, hug you when you’re crying, or take you to the hospital after an accident.
It’s hard. I need Ryosuke to be there physically – but he can’t.
6. That nagging feeling “What if I’m wasting my time? What if after a year and a half of long distance, they suddenly cheat on me or find someone else? I’ve just wasted 6 months of my life (and turned down multiple dates) for someone who might not be as committed…”
I’ve had friends who have done long distance for two years, then suddenly break up. I’ve had friends who have only done long distance for a couple months, but during the long-distance they give up opportunities so they can stay together. Then they break up.
I had a friend who was dating her boyfriend from back home. Another guy at school asked her on a date; she turned him down. A couple months later, her boyfriend dumped her. She went back to the first guy (apparently she really liked him) – but he was with someone else now. That was a year and a half ago. She missed her shot.
I had friends who gave up their top choice of school because it was out of the country; they gave up internship opportunities because they wanted to go home during summer break and see their girlfriend.
Relationships require sacrifice. There is nothing wrong with giving up opportunities for your significant other. However, you need to figure out when it is “worth it” and when it is not.
7. Making time to Skype every day
We Skype every day for at least two hours. It’s hard. It really is. But it keeps our long distance relationship going strong.
[For more, check out: Don't Blame the Distance - 6 Tips for Skyping During a Long Distance Relationship]
8. Voicing out your fears and listening to your partner
You can’t be afraid to voice your fears to your significant other. If you are jealous or worried, you need to be able to tell them that. And then need to be able to support you.
Pouring your heart out over the phone isn’t easy. It is awkward, uncomfortable, and difficult for both parties. However, if you can’t trust/respect them enough to give it to them straight, why are you in a long distance relationship? It’s only going to get worse.
9. The cost of the long – distance relationship
I’m not talking about the mental cost, I’m talking about the simple monetary cost of a long distance relationship. Plane tickets, snail mail, surprise presents, hotel rooms, vacations, and bus tickets cost money. Without money, you can’t do a successful long distance relationship. Even if you Skype two hours a day, send each other snail mail letters every week, and watch movies together once a month – you need physical contact.
You need to be able to see them on a fairly regular basis. It gives you something to look forward to. But this costs money.
10. Going to parties alone
I stopped going to parties a couple months into our long-distance relationship. It wasn’t an issue of trust – he trusted me, he just didn’t like me going. To me, it wasn’t worth the hassle.
Going to parties alone (even with a group of friends) means you are going to be hit on, you will end up dancing alone, and you will miss your significant other even more.
11. Spending your time alone
I get lonely. Long distance relationships are lonely. You can’t fill up your schedule too much because you still need to be there for your significant other.
Spending too much time with you friends (especially of the opposite sex) can easily lead to jealousy and trust issues. You need to make sure your significant other knows they are your number one priority.
Unfortunately, this means lots of alone time. Going to parties alone, eating dinner alone, watching movies alone, and going on mini-trips alone.
12. Arguments and Miscommunication
As I mentioned before, Skype and phone calls cannot compare to the “real deal.” Each ends up missing subtle, but important physical cues.
All relationships are hard – but long distance relationships have a whole other dimension to them. You need to learn how to productively argue via Skype without yelling over each other because jealousy, trust issues, insecurities, and not being able to see each other every day will lead to arguments (I mean, more arguments than a normal relationship).
[Add me on Google Plus: +Grace Buchele]