how to survive long-distance neediness
December 4, 2011 3:45 AM   Subscribe

how needy is too needy in a long-distance relationship?

i'm 22, he's 26, and we've been together for four years now. the first half was long-distance (several states over), while he finished up his degree, and after that he moved to the same town as me, and lived with his parents while trying to save money for school.

fast forward to now... he just started a graduate program four hours away. i'll be done with my bachelor's degree next spring, at which point he'll move every five weeks or so for a year to complete rotations all over the state. in other words, it looks like we won't be able to live together again until about a year and a half from now.

even though we have a semi-set time in the future when we can be together, i'm starting to feel anxious about the quality of our relationship. we usually only see each other once a month, and overall communication is much more limited than the first time we were long-distance thanks to his much heavier school workload. we survived the first time by writing regular long emails to one another, but now he doesn't have time for the same amount of communication... i'm lucky if i get a text message a day from him, and often our phone conversations end up so late at night (because he studies all day) that we're both too sleepy to really talk.

the end result is that i feel sort of like an outsider to my boyfriend's new life. i'm obviously proud of his accomplishment of getting into school, and i know he's working hard, but i also feel a bit neglected, especially because i can't help but remember how much better he used to be at communicating back in the early days. i know that's probably not a healthy way to look at it, because grad school is a big change from undergrad, but i do sort of feel like our relationship has regressed.

i often don't feel like i know what's going on in his life, and he doesn't seem too terribly interested in what's going on in mine. (he often doesn't remember things i've mentioned to him multiple times about what i'm doing, etc. which hurts my feelings sometimes.) when i've talked to him about it, he just apologizes and says that it's a lot more work than undergrad and it's really hard to manage his time. i've even flat-out asked him if he can juggle a relationship with this new school, and he insists that it's worth it to him and that i'm a major reason he wanted to go to school in the first place (marriage, taking care of a family, and such.) obviously whenever he says this, it makes me feel a little guilty for being impatient and shortsighted.

i'm keeping busy myself with school and work and hanging out with friends and such, but i can't help but feel unfulfilled in terms of my relationship. i also feel a little irrationally jealous of his new friends who get to see him all the time... he's even planning a skiing trip with them for the very first week he gets out of school! i guess i was secretly hoping that he would want to see me first thing.

i don't want to be too needy, but i also want to feel like we're not just leading totally separate lives all the time. how can i change my approach and/or attitude, and hopefully see the light at the end of the tunnel?
posted by happyjuice to Human Relations (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Long distance relationships are tough. Mrs. A and I coped with 5 years of a trans-Atlantic one before we got married. The trick is to let each other know that you're thinking of each other even if you can't see each other all the time or if daily calls aren't possible.
Are you sat waiting for contact, or can you initiate it too? If you're sat waiting, then it's going to be much harder than if you are both busy. I'd suggest you schedule regular calls even if they aren't every day, but be prepared for some slippage as you both get caught up in other things and don't stress if it's a day later when you catch up with one another. Consider postcards, Skype, car packages in addition to phone calls. When Mrs. A. was visiting her folks for a month earlier this year, we used to Skype and due to the time difference, I'd be working and get to chat as she fell asleep, which although meant limited conversation, was incredibly good.

It's probably harder than the first time around as you've gotten used to seeing each other all the time. I notice that we are less tolerant of long absences than we used to be.
To answer your question: you're not being needy, you need as much contact as is required to feel a part of each other's life. Now you just have to figure out how to get that contact.
posted by arcticseal at 3:59 AM on December 4, 2011


When my SO goes away for long periods for work (although not as long as this) we found to start with that our communication styles weren't quite matching - he would call often but not for long and I got frustrated with that, I would call him at the wrong time when he was busy.

We decided to talk a lot less often, but for longer - so, he would make sure to find a time every couple of days where we could sit down properly and have a good chat. That worked a whole lot better - fulfilling, and it didn't interrupt the rest of our lives so much.

However, you have to want to make the effort - you both do. If I'm being horribly honest it sounds like he doesn't, not at the moment. Have you tried taking a step back, contacting him less than he contacts you, and seeing whether he steps up his game to match the deficit?
posted by greenish at 4:03 AM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is there any way you could go with him on the ski trip? It'll give you a chance to spend time with him, and meeting his friends might help you to feel more involved in his life.
posted by cider at 4:04 AM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


i don't want to be too needy, but i also want to feel like we're not just leading totally separate lives all the time. how can i change my approach and/or attitude, and hopefully see the light at the end of the tunnel?

You sound like a level headed person who has a good partner and a good relationship. I don't think your issue is neediness but focus. I'm assuming his focus is on his studies and coping with the ldr and being away from support networks etc. He can't, he just can't give you the focus right now and for the next while that he used to give you.

You too need to find focus that is not on him or your relationship. I don't mean ignoring it or looking elsewhere, but developing your life in other ways, finding other interests and ambitions for yourself.

18 months is not that long - and you will be able to see each other during that time, yes? - and when you can live together again, your independently developed interests will make you a more desirable and enjoyable companion.

Stay true, trust and chill.
posted by Kerasia at 4:15 AM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


LDRs suck ass. Sorry. One thing I did was insist on a nightly call via webcam even if he was tired. I'd watch him fall asleep, which is either creepy or romantic depending on your perspective, but it gave me a feeling of intimacy.
posted by desjardins at 5:01 AM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


You need to tell this to him, and let him know he has to make more time for you. I know he says he's busy, but if you were living together he'd still have obligations to give you his time, to focus on you and show you youre important to him. It was easier before because things were new and fresh, not because he is busy right now.

From my experience as an ignored partner in a LDR, I know how petty you feel getting annoyed when someone misses a call, or asking for more responsiveness in gchat. But your concerns are worthy of respect, and he should respect them. Otherwise it won't be long before you're drifting apart.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:46 AM on December 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


I agree with others that you might want to look at your patterns and change your expectations for communication. Instead of the daily call/text, schedule the weekly or every-3-days longer call. Keep writing him the long emails even if he can't reply substantively. And see if you can't schedule more weekends or events with him, so that you stay a presence in his life and don't lose touch too much.

It sounds like there are no other problems besides the distance and his schedule, which is great. It doesn't sound like he's being drawn off into interest in other people (or even has time to) and sounds like he does still value your relationship and views this as a short-term sacrifice for a long-term gain. That's all good. You're both a little on the young side, but it's not unheard of that this may work out even when there are some tough times. I suspect at 22 it's harder to feel patient with someone than at 26; your perspectives are a little different because of that, I suspect. But if you feel this relationship is worth your investment, then you can get better at being patient and allowing this space. I'd probably be more skeptical about this except that I know a few couples who lived through phases like this while one partner was in medical school, which is obviously intensely demanding and really does not allow much of a life outside studies. There were some bumps in the road and, I know, conversations about how to progress and maintain the relationship, but in the few cases I know of, it worked out in the end - all became what appear to be lifelong relationships.

I guess the important thing is that you come up with solutions together. Whatever you figure out about communicating, visiting, etc. needs to start with the needs of his schedule, which is more demanding, and his energy level, which is lower than yours after he completes his work. Graduate school really is much harder than undergrad and, if anything, you feel more invested in not fucking it up because it relates so much more directly to your career and your network. He is right to consider it as deserving the bulk of his daily attention. That doesn't mean dropping you completely or giving you short shrift, if he wants to preserve the relationship; but it does mean you both need to find a solution that's workable and sane.
posted by Miko at 6:03 AM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can feel the frustration in your post, and I understand it. It sounds like you want to make this work, but with the increasing sense of disconnection it's harder to see the point. I don't know if this will work for you two, but maybe some variation on a standing "date" of some sort, something to look forward to no matter how busy things get otherwise will help you to stay connected and remind you why you're making this sacrifice. The worst place to get to is the feeling that you're wasting your time waiting for someone you don't even know anymore.

What worked the most for me and my SO through several extended periods of long distance (and we still don't live in the same city, but at least we're near each other and on the same continent) was a standing weekly video chat date, plus occasional hand-written letters and mix-tapes for maintaining personal touches. We couldn't always talk on the phone or email during the week, but every Saturday with few exceptions we would find a computer and log in to see and talk to each other for at least an hour or two. We rarely talked about the difficulties of our separation, but instead used the time to talk about neat/weird things we'd seen or done or read, a good meal we had, small accomplishments, funny stories, etc. We laughed a lot. It REALLY helped to keep me focused on what I loved about him, and what we would have when we could finally be together.

The thing is, if you guys are going to end up together, you both have to start carving out time for real, meaningful, intimate, open conversations, in addition to the regular chats and checking in and visits. Because when you do end up in the same place, that emotional intimacy you've held onto will be your life raft in the ups and downs of suddenly finding yourselves in close proximity. Even in the best of circumstances, that can be a rocky rocky time, and you have to have a good foundation to see you through.

Check in to verify with absolute certainty that you're both in this for the long haul, and start working together to ensure you stay connected. It's not impossible, but as you know it's damn hard and I wish you good luck.
posted by swingbraid at 6:04 AM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


i don't want to be too needy, but i also want to feel like we're not just leading totally separate lives all the time. how can i change my approach and/or attitude, and hopefully see the light at the end of the tunnel?

You need to communicate your needs to him, including how different this round of your long-distance relationship is. Graduate school is a significant amount more work, but with the wonders of Skype, it's very possible to be doing your homework together and barely talking while you work, similar to the way couples do when they're together.

My SO and I, for around 6 months, did exactly that and we would work right up until bedtime, where we'd spend 20 minutes really talking about ourselves and then call it a day. Even just having an open Skype line and not saying anything was a connectivity that helped.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 6:20 AM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


My husband and I were successfully in a LDR in two years while I was in graduate school. When I left for school, everyone told me we would break up. I was offended, but I later realized that statistically, they were probably onto something. 90% of the long distance relationships I saw in graduate school fell apart.

The way we made ours successful was this: open communication and planning of reunions, both long term and short term. You need to tell your boyfriend exactly what you need. For example, I wanted to talk to my then-boyfriend every night before we got too exhausted. He put a reminder on his phone to call me at 10 pm. It wasn't huge quality talk time every night, but we were conscious enough to have a conversation and to say good night to one another. If you're upset about this ski trip, tell him--and ask him if you can plan now to see one another on your next break.

Also, have you visited him there yet? Seeing him and meeting his friends might go a long way toward making you feel like a part of his life there.

In other words, don't worry about being needy. LDRs necessitate making peace with your needs and instead communicating them in a grown-up way. Work on that.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:40 AM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Perhaps you should both work out what kind of communication is important to you and how you can get it. In particular, it is probably not the best idea to schedule the only meaningful conversation for a time when you are both about to fall asleep. This could be scheduling a break early in the evening where he can get some food and talk to you before he gets back to work. That would probably be a good habit for him to get into anyway, because it will make the heavier workload more sustainable in the longterm.
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:44 AM on December 4, 2011


Graduate school is a lot of work, but plenty of people manage to have both local and long-distance relationships while they're doing it. Hell, I know a lot of people who are in grad school who are married with kids. It doesn't sound realistic that he literally doesn't have time to send you more than a text message during most days. He has obviously made new friends he has some time to see, so he can make time for you.

It almost sounds like he is trying to put your relationship into hibernation so he can do the best he can in this program for 'your future'. But that doesn't help with your present.

What would make it better for you? Having a longer conversation 1-2 times a week? Having a short but meaningful conversation every day? Skypeing together while you eat dinner? Ask him what would be his ideal level of contact. Maybe he wants to do more too but is just a bad scheduler.
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:31 AM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hmm. I'm in a similar situation (long distance boyfriend, no grad school but he's very busy) and I'm trying to assess what my needs are and how often I feel like I need to talk to him. He and I have a possible two month or more separation coming up and like you, I'm worried about still feeling like I'm a part of his life, that no huge disconnect occurs, and basically still feeling that we're in a treasured, loving relationship even though we may not see each other for many, many weeks.

So, it's pretty much what works for you. I think I'm gonna tell him that I really, really need to have at least some form of contact with him every day. Not necessarily a phone conversation every day (if he's having a party at his house and gets drunk I'm not gonna expect him to remember or make calling me a priority, or if I'm staying at a friend's house, etc.) but at the very least an email shot off before bed, or some IMing, or even just a few texts throughout the day (or even just right before bed) to let me know that he's thinking of me and that I'm still important to him and all. Even if it's just a handful of texts for a couple of days, just so I know he's taking a few moments to think about me and miss me. That, for me, is enough to hold me over till our next longer phone conversation and of course till we see each other next. What works for you?
posted by Emms at 10:50 AM on December 4, 2011


i've even flat-out asked him if he can juggle a relationship with this new school, and he insists that it's worth it to him and that i'm a major reason he wanted to go to school in the first place (marriage, taking care of a family, and such.) obviously whenever he says this, it makes me feel a little guilty for being impatient and shortsighted.

i'm keeping busy myself with school and work and hanging out with friends and such, but i can't help but feel unfulfilled in terms of my relationship. i also feel a little irrationally jealous of his new friends who get to see him all the time... he's even planning a skiing trip with them for the very first week he gets out of school! i guess i was secretly hoping that he would want to see me first thing.

i don't want to be too needy, but i also want to feel like we're not just leading totally separate lives all the time. how can i change my approach and/or attitude, and hopefully see the light at the end of the tunnel?


Worrying about being "needy" is sort of a red herring here. You want what you want. You need what you need. You can't just snap your fingers and change what you want; you may as well own it. But "secretly hoping" to get what you want is a good way to end up frustrated.

Don't preemptively decide that you can't have what you want. Tell him how you feel and what you're hoping for, and let him decide if you're asking too much.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:30 PM on December 4, 2011


If it makes you feel any better, the amount of communication (text and occasional phone conversation) is more than I see other couples with one (or both) people in grad school able to give one another, so hey, that's cool right? The forgetfulness and being distracted is pretty normal as well--he is really, really busy right now and probably has a ton of things going on and has not yet learned to keep everything together.

Studying together over webcam is a good suggestion that I've seen other people employ well.

But like nebulawindphone said, you want what you want and you need what you need. Express to him your concerns and see if you guys can't figure out a regular form of contact that will help you feel remembered.
posted by schroedinger at 12:51 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Prearranged 1-2 hour Skype calls once or twice a week would probably be good for both of you and feasible from a timing perspective (lots of frequent communication eats up more focus time than a longer stretch all at once).

Talk/email and let him know how you feel and suggest a sensible solution.

FWIW, I'd be a tad miffed about the ski trip thing.
posted by dickasso at 1:11 PM on December 4, 2011


My long distance relationship with my girlfriend was a lot like yours for two years and then we broke up, because why do I have to go home and CALL her ALL THE TIME and the women around here certainly are attractive, aren't they, and what's the point of all this again?

And then we got back together two years later, and then after a year we did long distance again for three years or so, and the difference the second time was that there was no longer any question in either of our minds about whether we were made for each other. Failure simply wasn't an option because we had seen the grass on the other side and it was dry and brown. Moving from 20ish to 25ish was a contributing factor. I matured in dog years during that time.

And when I saw things in that context, that I simply had no choice but to suffer the things that you have to suffer to keep a long distance relationship alive, only then I was able to do it. And I am very sorry to report that it is suffering, that none of it got better and nothing changed except our attitude about it. Because we were living separate lives and I don't think people are really designed for that, and the same stresses happened and it just wasn't an option for them to matter anymore, and it really was that simple.

I don't know what to say to help if one of you doesn't feel like this is IT, like this is the one. I really believe that's what it takes. Everything followed from that.
posted by Kwine at 7:29 PM on December 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


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