Long Distance Relationships
November 7, 2004 6:23 PM   Subscribe

Getting tired of the "Wish you were here!" phenomenon. I need some suggestions for keeping a long-distance relationship healthy, happy, and fun. [MI]

My boyfriend and I are now in a long distance [hetero, if it matters] relationship. We were friends for the better part of a year, began dating for several months, and spent most of the summer together 24/7. The beginning of the separation was really hard on us both, but I think we're managing okay now. We're both in school, and it's important to us both to be in our respective programs, so moving isn't really an option for us. We're both on the same coast and time zone, so we're able to see each other on average every three weeks due to time and finances. Likely the summers would be spent together as well. We have cell phones with free long distance, lots of internet access, and I think fairly decent communication skills. But, we're far enough away that the trip requires flying. What can we do to keep the conversations alive, interesting and in tune with each other? How can we ease back into each other's presence after so much time away? Any other tips from successful long distance couples? What made it easier or less painful? What were the things that made it harder?

For example, one of the things that I've personally missed were the stories and explanations; they'd come out while cooking dinner, relaxing with books, or watching TV. Things like, "I remember my grandfather doing...." that just don't have the space or inclination to emerge over phone conversations. So, we've agreed to write old-fashioned letters, through the mail, that contain some of these stories. That way we'll get stuff in the mail (always good), a chance to continue to grow as a couple, and have a trove of letters in the end. What are/were your tactics for dealing?
posted by fionab to Human Relations (18 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: fionab, i'm going through the same thing myself so i look forward to hearing the responses to this question. one thing that i've enjoyed doing is using skype to talk instead of a telephone. i hook my computer up to my sound system, so that my wife's voice is broadcast into the house rather than in a little piece of plastic beside my ear. (guess a speakerphone would work just as well.) my computer's microphone is good enough that i can range quite a bit and she can still hear me - it makes things just a bit closer to how they are when we're together.

another fun thing we did recently was draw together, using this site. it's a lot of fun; it feels more interactive than a phone call because you're modifying a canvas that either can change. like when you're in person, there's a give-and-take. also, everyone sucks at drawing using a mouse so the results are often quite funny. i find humour, laughing together, one of the hardest things to maintain during a long-distance relationship.
posted by louigi at 7:23 PM on November 7, 2004 [1 favorite]

I was in that boat too, but with longer distance (~1500 miles). Both of us were gainfully employed at the time, but I teach college, so I had college-ey vacation time.

What we did:

Regular trips, by air, about every six weeks. Length varied from long weekends to ~10 days.

I'd visit her for a few weeks in summer, then back here for a few weeks to catch up on mail etc, then a few weeks back with her.

Lots of email. Lots and lots. We'd met on a mailing list a few years previously, so this was both second-nature to us and normal.

Couple-three phone calls per week.

What can we do to keep the conversations alive, interesting and in tune with each other?

Keep the volume of communications up. Don't let the amount be small enough that you have to act like every little bit is soopah-important.

How can we ease back into each other's presence after so much time away?

Wasn't really a big problem. The first hour or two back together might be a little weird and giddy, but that's about it. Certainly a good shag settles that out! You might want to make sure that there's normal life while you're together; that it's not an endless stream of stuff you couldn't sustain if you were together.

We didn't write many if any paper letters, but then our habits were already firmly electronic. I have a 10--20MB file of emails archived that's our package of love letters.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:42 PM on November 7, 2004 [2 favorites]

one of the things that I've personally missed were the stories and explanations; they'd come out while cooking dinner, relaxing with books, or watching TV.

Get a decent, comfortable cordless phone, and call at unusual times (like when you're making dinner, for example, or watch TV together over the phone). Talk about ordinary things, like what you're cooking and how it smells and that sort of thing, you can really achieve that "togetherness" feeling to some extent if you make your phone calls as close to low-pressure, in-person conversations as possible (the cheap dial-around services like 10 10 987 really take the pressure off long distance calls). After 9/11 I spent almost every night on the phone with my long-distance boyfriend, just watching CNN "together". As to getting over the initial awkwardness, as ROU_Xenophobe says, a good shag helps a lot, but it's also good to find something (a topic of conversation, something you cook together, a TV show, whatever) that helps you get into each others' presence again. Also, if you just take the plunge and get back to being physical earlier, rather than later, it can help.
posted by biscotti at 8:04 PM on November 7, 2004 [1 favorite]

watch TV together over the phone

This works great. Or you can rent the same movie and watch it together the same way. Or go see a movie at about the same time, then call each other afterward and talk about it.
posted by kindall at 8:08 PM on November 7, 2004

suggestions for keeping a long-distance relationship healthy, happy, and fun

Phone sex. Sometimes weird at first, but it can be quite hot.
posted by scarabic at 8:14 PM on November 7, 2004

One note

As long as this is going to have a definite end - you have a chance.

One idea:
Get webcams. It allows you to SEE each other. I'm a big fan of ichat + isights. My 4 year old niece sees me 2x a month (she's in florida.) She KNOWS who I am when I come to visit.

It makes an uncle feel good.
posted by filmgeek at 8:30 PM on November 7, 2004

Second what biscotti and kindall said -- watching TV or a movie over the phone is great. Even if there's just companiable silence, it still feels like you're with someone. And it's especially great to watch a comedy, so you can laugh together.
posted by Vidiot at 8:35 PM on November 7, 2004

Best answer: I was in a long-distance relationship all through college (I'm not in it anymore). We wrote paper letters too, which was really, really great. Send packages, little gifts for one another, and other stuff too--physical reminders, that have passed from one hand to another, are wonderful. The post can really be magical.

My main advice, though, is not to overdo it. Make sure that whatever you chose to do, you can continue doing it for the duration. For example, in that relationship we started out writing letters every day--but after a couple of years that was hard to sustain, and it was emotionally pretty tough when stuff like our daily telephone conversations inevitably grew less frequent. Take it slow--think of it like a long distance run, like the tortoise and the hare. Don't make your long-distance relationship into a strain; make sure that whatever effort you put in can be sustainably enjoyed.

I don't know if you're in college, grad school, or what, but one thing that will definitely happen is that you and your partner will change as time goes on over the course of years. So be really aware of that--tell the other person what's changed in you, and try to keep track of them. It takes real conscious effort: for instance, if one of you really starts to get into a new type of music or a new author, or if you're having deep philosophical thoughts about some issue or other that matters to you, it's really important to let the other person know. When you get that sense of change from the other person, meanwhile, you need to put in some extra effort to grow with them. It can be surprising how hard and how conscious a process this can be.

Finally, I'd say, approach the difficulty and inevitable sadness of being apart pragmatically. From time to time, it's pretty inevitable that you'll be down with missing the other person. When this happens, you have to be creative about getting closer for that period. You want your relationship to be associated with pleasure and happiness for you--not with loneliness or only with missing the other person. So you have to make a conscious effort to get closer (with phone calls, or what have you) when you're feeling down.

Other ideas: make an appointment to do something 'together,' like take a walk outside at the same time. Exchange books in the mail. Plan a vacation every year. And make sure to introduce your partner to your friends--it may seem to encroach on your limited time at first, but it will pay off when you're able to tell stories about those friends to one another!
posted by josh at 8:36 PM on November 7, 2004 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Great question fionab! And great adivce all around so far. My fellow and I have been together 3.5 years and have spent most of the last two years 680 miles and an international border apart while I'm in school and he's back home working full time. Moving hasn't ever been an option for us either. We don't have some magic secret, nor do any long-distance couples that make it work. The difference is stubborness, honesty, and in the end, the strength and depth of your relationship regardless of physical proximity.

What made it easier or less painful?

Do your damndest to talk to each other every day in some medium: phone, e-mail, instant messaging, webcam, whatever. There are several reasons for this. One, it makes you think about each other for at least a little while every day. It helps remind you why you're putting up with the hurt of missing each other. Two, when you talk every day rather than when you just have big news, you pick up on what seem like menial details about each other's lives (like the name of his sociology professor with the gigantic forehead wart). Because my boyfriend already knows a lot of the detail when I mention the name of a friend or a particular class, we can have actual conversations, not repeated explainations.

Buy a webcam. I'm totally serious. Being able to actually see a smile that goes with the laugh can mean the world sometimes. Feel free to elaborate on that as you see fit.

The suggestions to watch movies or TV together are excellent, as are to call while doing things. Still don't neglect a little time each day where your focus is soley eachother, even if it is just by e-mail. You'd want to know he's thinking about you, right?

Send each other letters, and packages too. Share pictures of even boring events. Play online games together, the basic stuff like hearts, but can have lots of fun with Civilization.

When you can afford to do it, visit each other at the place you are when you're apart. Get grounded in his surroundings. Again, it helps you to feel like part of his life because you'll have seen the places he's talking about, hung out with the people he talks about, you'll have slept in his bed, and so on.

What were the things that made it harder?

Being jealous. Simple as that. Yes, you are not as physically integrated into his life right now, nor he in yours, but don't resent or hate those who do get to see him every day. Remember always that he isn't in a relationship with them, he is with you. This is harder to avoid that it sounds, and it's what made our first couple months apart a lot harder than they needed to be, mostly because I harbored those feelings rather than opening them up for discussion (of course I did eventually, and things hashed out nicely).

Honesty is the bottom line. When you are apart, all you have is your conversations and your words. Use them wisely and often. If you're going to make this work, and make it work for the long term, you must be honest with each other about exactly how badly it sucks being apart. Not so you can comiserate, but so that you can be frank about that fact that someday it may become too much. That's not fatalistic, it's reality. My boyfriend and I talked a lot about what my going to school in another country meant for us for a long time before I actually left. It helps incredbly for our attitidude to be "Every day we should be able to go to bed knowing what it took, and knowing it was worth it. And if the day comes that it isn't worth it, we should tell each other" rather than "You should be able to get through this because if you don't it means you don't love me" because that simply isn't true. You have to be on the same page with that.

You won't survive focusing on that future end date, or counting down the days between now and your next visit. Today is a day you have together, maybe not physically, but your relationship is still happening right now and today isn't wasted. Enjoy and share it any way you can.
posted by nelleish at 9:35 PM on November 7, 2004 [2 favorites]

You must have a goal to be working towards, like filmgeek says. Without it, you'll flounder.

Try not to visit each other's lives - it makes apart time harder. Instead, both of you go a vacation somewhere else, do something together.
posted by bonaldi at 10:43 PM on November 7, 2004

I've done cross Atlantic for 2 years. For my fiance, seeing is the most important - it was much better after I got a webcam. For me, it's hearing and talking - Skype is very good.
posted by jb at 12:09 AM on November 8, 2004

I've been in a LDR for 6 months. It's tough not seeing him all the time - my job requires that I travel a lot, sometimes to the east coast (where he lives) and sometimes not, so it's hard to keep a regular schedule. We vary from seeing each other every 3 weeks to every 2 months. The things that keep us sane and together: lots of phone conversations, lots of talking online, and occasional random "hey there's an airfare special!" visits.

Really, though, it's all about communication.
posted by bedhead at 1:38 AM on November 8, 2004

Best answer: I have done a few different LDRs over the years, here are a few tips that I though were fun/helpful

- voice mail suprises. we had a time difference so I'd be up way after he had gone to bed. I'd call his voicemail and read little stories into it so he'd get them when he hit work in the morning.
- enlist a pal to help. sometimes I'd send local folks that I knew lived near him over to his house with flowers/gifts/whatever
- postcards and postal mail but I agree, keep it manageable
- instant messenger. also other online things we could do together like playing scrabble, interacting on the same web sites, building programs together using AIM or talk or whatever chat we had to talk back and forth.
- phone sex. works for some people not for others, worth at least trying, it's fun when it works.

One of the hard things to do during times when you reunite is to not have together-time be a total vacation. I agree, it's fun to just get to see your sweetie, but when I'd visit [or when he would, usually once every 4-6 weeks] I wanted to hang out with his friends, at his bars, whatever. We'd have a vacation afternoon/evening [I'd often get to his house before he was home from work and let myself in] that was just us two, and then we'd spend the rest of the weekend doing his things at his place, or my things at my place, together.

Another thing that makes it harder is dealing with special events that, due to timing, you have to do apart. Holidays, special events in your lives, whatever. We would have regular times we'd set aside for eachother to call, and not get off the phone until we'd made a date for the next call, even if it was a week off. The toughest part for me was if something went wrong -- he said he'd call and he didn't -- trying not to worry or get fussy and say "there must be a good reason" since when you're far away those phone calls or interactions sort of represent your relationship so it's easy to get a bit wrapped around the axle. Jealousy is also terrible if either one of you is inclined that way, especially if the other one of you isn't. Lots of talking can help that. The good news is that all the time spent apart has made us a lot more relaxed about spending time apart and knowing how to stay connected
posted by jessamyn at 9:40 AM on November 8, 2004 [2 favorites]

if you both spend time in front of computers on an evening, say, then get skype and chat while you surf.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:50 AM on November 8, 2004

Response by poster: Great answers, everyone. Thanks for the suggestions so far. I especially like the drawing together activity! I'm going up there this weekend, so I'll look forward to sharing some of these ideas with him then.
posted by fionab at 10:36 AM on November 8, 2004

Best answer: I did this throughout college. It was tough but we managed and now we have been together almost 8 years! So it's manageable. You have to do two things in my opinion:

a) have definite end-points to the ordeal. When I graduate, I'm coming to live with you. Or, when I graduate, you're going to move out here and find a job.

I think that sometimes the relationship seems like it'll never really get started. But being in a committed LDR can be empowering (you both can grow seperately and together), while being in a not-so-commited LDR is a recipe for jealousy and general misery.

b) get to know their friends. And introduce him/her to your friends. This gives you lots more social opportunities while you're together. And it gives you plenty to talk about on the phone, "You would not believe what crazy-guy-in-my-class asked today...". No matter what crazy guy or bitchy friend or punk rocker does, it'll be a lot better of a story if your partner knows this person or has at least met him or her.
posted by zpousman at 2:32 PM on November 8, 2004 [2 favorites]

Okay, after reading through some of the other comments I wanted to clarify something I said in my first post. Several other people have pointed out that you should have definite end point to your long-term-thing, even plans for the time after it, and I agree with that whole heartedly. It's how my guy and I get though the day sometimes.

When I meant when I said you shouldn't focus on counting down the days was that you shouldn't bemoan the fact that there are so many weeks, months, years until you can be properly together. If you focus on "when I can be with you" rather than the here and now, it devalues the (unphysical) relationship you have, which is all you can have at the moment.

But that's not to say you can't daydream about the time you will be together, in fact I reccomend it. My boyfriend and I like to look at puppies on Humane Society webpages and talk about what cities we'd like to live in together. Those are very fun, very hopeful conversations, and they help a lot.
posted by nelleish at 2:56 PM on November 8, 2004 [2 favorites]

I'd like to second the webcam idea. And I forgot to mention that what made it easier for me was that I knew it wasn't going to be that way forever (I'm pretty pragmatic, so I figured one way or another the "LD" part was only going to last so long, either we'd be together or we'd break up - we're married now), and because I knew that, I tried to enjoy the distance aspect as an interesting experience in and of itself. You don't get the space and perspective that distance brings in a "normal" relationship, and this can really add to your experience of the relationship if you choose to let it. Also, keep a journal, it helps to have an outlet to help you consider what you're feeling, and reading it over after the fact is very interesting.
posted by biscotti at 3:38 PM on November 8, 2004 [1 favorite]

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