Help create more frequent long-distance communication
December 2, 2009 1:29 PM   Subscribe

How can I make it easier for my boyfriend to contact me more often while we are long-distance?

So, for the next 6-8 months, boyfriend and I are long distance. He is very good at communicating in person, so I'm not worried about this continuing once we're back in the same area, and I have no doubt that he cares about me, etc., but in the past, when we've been away from each other, he has been less communicative than I would like.

We've talked about it, and it's pretty clearly not an issue of wanting to. Part of it is his living situation (he lives with some good male friends and they tend to get caught up playing video games; he also has very little privacy and problems with the Internet connection extending to his bedroom) and part of it is working situation (he's currently working 2 jobs; 16 hour days). Talking on the phone has been more difficult because he has some sort of horrendous prepaid phone plan that he frequently forgets to refill (or, towards the end of the month, can't afford to).

I would like to talk 2-3 times a week; I have a more flexible schedule so when is within his control. We have been talking more like once every 2 weeks.

We are both on a low budget, me due to being in school; him due to problems finding a job that pays enough to live on. What can I do to make it easier for us to talk?

It's pretty clear after talking with him that it's not a lack of wanting to nor a sign of relationship issues; just...something that is not as easy for him as it could be. I am willing to be creative/spend a limited amount of money (because I have a limited amount) to help.

Complication: It is very important to boyfriend that he be perceived as competent and capable and he typically likes to solve everything himself, so whatever I do needs to be in such a way that it helps, rather than hurts.

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Email has worked very well for me in the past. You didn't really discuss his email habits, but when I'm the busy one in a long-distance relationship, I may not always sit down and write my sweetie an email, but I'll always reply to one from sweetie that I find in my inbox. There's also the whole paper-and-pen type of mail, which I approach in much the same way. You'll always get a reply if you send me something. Your bf may not work the same way though.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:34 PM on December 2, 2009

Best answer: My boyfriend and I are in a long distance relationship. I really suggest text messaging. Even if that means a new phone/plan. There are unlimited and cheap plans out there now that should give you both the ability to text message and to talk on the phone.

:( I wish I had more suggestions for you. My BF and I also do a lot of chatting online and over programs like skype - but if his internet is unreliable then it probably won't handle skype well.
posted by royalsong at 1:35 PM on December 2, 2009

Best answer: What about the mail? I'm in a long-distance relationship now and the mail has been a really great way for us to communicate. We send small packages (I usually send inexpensive food items that I know he'd like), real letters, and clippings or printouts from the news and magazines. Finding other ways to communicate has been key for us -- he just doesn't really like to talk on the phone much, which I understand. The mail is awesome. You can even find a super cheap tape recorder and send tapes of you talking back and forth. It's really not very expensive to send letters (44 cents each, yeah, it sort of adds up, but it's a lot cheaper than cellphone minutes and it's more fun) if packages are too much for your budgets.
posted by k8lin at 1:40 PM on December 2, 2009

I really miss my husband when one of us travels, so we do email and also schedule time to IM back and forth. Sounds as if your boyfriend could do the IM thing if not in his bedroom if he keeps it clean. It might help to schedule a time via emailing for IM chatting. Re making your boyfriend feel competent, maybe have him set up the IM for both of you
posted by bearwife at 2:02 PM on December 2, 2009

I would second Skype. If he could Skype you during his lunch breaks (if he has internet in the office), maybe that would work?
If his internet is very unreliable getting a cell phone plan together where you will have unlimited minutes is also good.
posted by kuju at 2:02 PM on December 2, 2009

Best answer: Can you text? A few texts throughout the day/week are nice to kind of keep in touch with the small details - things like "my prof is totally nuts!" or "this little thing made me think of you", nothing to deep. My former longdistance bf and I really liked webcam. We would make webcam "dates" to hang out and it was nice to see each other face-to-face, so to speak. Webcams are pretty cheap, so would likely work on a limited budget.

As for patchy internet, I have AWFUL internet access that cuts out regularly, which meant that he often got to see frozen frames of me making usually less-than-flattering faces, but we found it funny enough that we didn't really mind. Cute postcards are nice too. We generally talked whenever we could, which meant I spent plenty of times in grocery stores, driving, etc on the phone. That was nice because shorter conversations take some of the pressure off of having to talk about EVERYTHING all at once.

Good luck! This is totally doable and even somewhat enjoyable :)
posted by hepta at 2:08 PM on December 2, 2009

whoops, should have previewed!
posted by hepta at 2:08 PM on December 2, 2009

Some people find long phone conversations easier with a headset. Bluetooth devices start around $20, and wired ones can be even cheaper. If you can figure out the cell phone plan (find a better prepaid service or get a plan with free calling between your two phones), that could make a difference.

Also, I know some prepaid services like Tracfone have some kind of upgrade you can buy that doubles the units you get for the life of the phone (a 60-minute card gets you 120 minutes of time). I have no idea about the economics of it, but I know I've seen the cards at Walgreens and the like.
posted by tellumo at 2:15 PM on December 2, 2009

Best answer: My long-distance boyfriend and I used to have a deal where we would send each other brief emails (or longer ones, if we were in the mood) right before going to bed. Because I'm three hours ahead of him, this meant that I always got to wish him good night, and his emails always greeted me in the morning. One of my favorite things was to draw a little doodle in something like paint, or snap a silly picture of myself, and attach it to the email. Usually took five minutes, tops.

We've since dropped that plan, which was accompanied by a "date night" once a week where we caught up with each other and read to each other from various sci fi novels, when we realized that we kind of talk to each other all the time anyway, and 3000 miles is barely putting a damper on it.

I know you said that emails likely wouldn't work, but if you frame it as "just say hi and I love you and only put more into it if you feel like it", you may find he feels like it surprisingly often.
posted by shaun uh at 2:27 PM on December 2, 2009

Maybe a bluetooth headset? They're inexpensive and if combined with a better phone plan (or maybe you could send him minutes for his phone as a periodic gift) might make him more willing to talk on the phone. I don't like to talk for more than 15-20 minutes at a time if I'm on a handset -- trying to do other tasks (even trivial things requiring zero brainpower, like folding laundry or organizing paperwork) one-handed is frustrating. But with a headset I'll talk for hours.

When I first got a BT earpiece I had to go and push my cell plan up to an unlimited-minutes one, because I found myself using the phone that much more frequently.

The other thing I'd suggest is a standlone Skype cordless phone. You plug the base station (using a network cable) into the Internet router and then you use the handset to make Skype calls. It doesn't actually use the wireless Internet signal to communicate with the handset; it's a separate dedicated radio channel, generally good for a few hundred feet. That would let the two of you talk for free.

If you do go the Skype cordless-phone route, make sure you get one of the "DECT" models, not one of the cheap 2.4GHz ones. The latter will interfere with 802.11b/g wireless Internet and may not win him friends with his roommates. The DECT ones cost more but they won't interfere with wifi and are expandable for future use. Better investment all around.

Of course ... working 16 hours a day the problem might not be technological but just an issue of how much energy he has left at the end of the day; I know I sometimes just don't feel like talking to anyone after a long day of work, particularly if I've been talking all day. Not much you can do about that.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:33 PM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have been involved in a very happy-making LDR for the last year and a half. Having done the LDR thing several times in a previous century and early in this one, I assure you: you shouldn't have much trouble doing it on the cheap now (mean to say, in 1998 I at least once had a phone bill higher than my rent).

A lot depends on what "long distance" means here: if you're in Illinois and he is in Nebraska, the situation is different than if he is in Guam. Neither your question nor your profile hints at where you (and the boyfriend) will be, but at least in my country, you can get astoundingly cheap plans within the continent. I know have unlimited long distance in North America on my land line for under twenty bucks a month, and I understand that many cell plans in the USA have similar packages. And in my experience, some carriers allow free calls to other subscribers.

It shouldn't be hard to find a way to do this inexpensively.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:40 PM on December 2, 2009

Best answer: I've managed to make along distance relationship work for over 2 years (UK - Canada). The key for us was combining a lot of the great ideas here so you have a variety of means.

Your life will be much easier if you both have good internet connections. I would definitly try and get the internet sorted to his room, whether a long LAN cable or a cheap wireless router, both can be had second hand for 20 dollars or so. I think privacy for your communication is a big deal as intimacy can have a very important part to play in long distance relationships.

Skype is good, it worked for us, but calling cards can be cheaper. You didn't mention if he has a landline you could call and it wouldn't cost him anything? Letters and packages are great, there is nothing better than receiving them. Doesn't have to be expensive, we used to send dvdr's back and forth with music, cheap plastic toys and candy we both liked, if your into crafts then even better. Obviously email is great but I wouldn't try and rely on it for your only means of communication as waiting for a week to get a response sucks.

For sms to keep both your costs down see if there is a portal for the provider that you can send free messages to their network. My gf has a telus phone and there is one for her's. Although you can send sms for a couple pennies with skype using these free portals does add up to a good saving over a long time.

Instant messenger is really easy, especially if you are both in front of a computer often, it can be used at work without bother, although its somewhat impersonal. It can take a while talking with people to detect sarcasm without resorting to the use of emoticons..

Like tellumo said there are some good deals on prepaid to be found in the states at the moment (I presume you are there). I know you said that he values his independence but you could always send a phone to him pre-registered with his area code, that way you have the log in details and phone number and top it up if its in dire need. I found pretty good deals on Net10, they have a flat rate across the US for 10 cents and an international option. Also if you have a smart phone with a good data plan you can use something like Fring to call through skype using the data instead of voice. This means you can make international/long distance calls for only what you pay for MB. You would have to check your package to see whether this is cheaper!

Its totally doable though, and I wish you all the best.
posted by camerasforeyes at 2:55 PM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

In my current (extremely) long distance relationship, things happen as so:
1) Random short emails when we have something we want to share. Short is along the lines of two-to-five lines. Easy to respond to, no feeling of putting it off until later.
2) IMs when we're both online to talk (not actually that frequent, due to the 17-hour time difference).
3) Video calls on Skype when we are both available for a reasonable amount of time (at most once a week, some weeks don't match up due to weekend activities).

We don't talk a whole ton, and we don't have any set requirements on how often we talk. We had some spoken/unspoken requirements in the past and it just wore me out and I felt guilty if I didn't talk to him some evening and I felt stressed out if we were talking and I had nothing to talk about. Let him beg off if he's worn out--don't force him to talk if he doesn't want to. Suggest IM-ing or something less attention-hogging and see if he's up for that.
posted by that girl at 5:07 PM on December 2, 2009

Google voice is free and doesn't require a voip phone, unlike Skype. It works phone-to-phone, only using the computer to dial. It's a big help to me keeping in touch with my family in another state. They charge a small fee for international calls but all domestic calls are free. It's still invitation only, but it only took a few days to get my invitation from Google after I requested it.
posted by irisclara at 5:24 PM on December 2, 2009

If either of you guys are in the UK, I know this amazing Skype phone plan by 3 which costs exactly $0, really no costs, nothing (but $30 upfront).
posted by moiraine at 5:35 PM on December 2, 2009

Best answer: You could also set up a common Evernote account (i.e., you both have the same account id and password) and leave audio or video notes to one another. If he finds writing emails to be a chore, that would let him leave you a quick message that you could pick up when you're free, and vice-versa. Even if his Internet connection is unreliable at home, he could sync Evernote somewhere else and then listen/watch offline at home. If you use the free version you'd need to pay attention to bandwidth, but it should be fine for short messages.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:14 PM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I personally like hearing someone's actual voice- you can try making it clear that even literally calling and saying 'hey, I can't talk for more than 30 seconds but I just want to say hi because i'm thinking of you' would make you happy- so that he doesn't feel like he needs to block half an hour if he's going to call.....and you can communicate more heavily through e-mail, etc
posted by saraindc at 6:19 PM on December 2, 2009

I am in a happy and chatty long distance relationship (we're predicting about 3 years apart). I have to agree with shaun uh and that girl, that random short e-mails can be a fun, no pressure way to have constant communication. Me and my guy probably send upwards of 5 e-mails a day back and forth that are no more than one sentence sometimes, and it keeps me in the loop about what he's feeling / doing / reading.

Although there have been some great suggestions for doing it on the cheap, in my experience there is a financial investment in being in an longer term LDR, as you do have to invest in a good internet connection, a good phone plan, and plane tickets. It's part of the price of living apart.
posted by gillianr at 6:49 PM on December 2, 2009

Nthing Skype, especially with video. What an unbelievable difference it makes to see someone move and smile and gesture. Even if the webcam is crappy and has lag, it's still great. And the sound quality is a hell of a lot better than cell phones -- i didn't realize how much nuance of voice I was missing until my best friend and I started Skyping instead.
posted by desuetude at 8:13 PM on December 2, 2009

If the internet connection can't handle video chat, it still may be able to handle audio.
posted by oceano at 8:21 PM on December 2, 2009

Complication: It is very important to boyfriend that he be perceived as competent and capable and he typically likes to solve everything himself, so whatever I do needs to be in such a way that it helps, rather than hurts.

Not to buck the trend or be difficult, but you do have a lot of good answers up above there.

Reading your question though, to me it doesn't sound like it actually *is* all that important to your BF that he is (or is perceived as) competent and capable in solving this situation. That is to say, its good that the two of you have talked about it, but it would be better if it were him, not you, asking this question. If I were you I might consider making sure you've presented the problem and your concerns to him in full (which, frankly, it sounds like you have at this point), and then sit back and see what *he* does about it.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:54 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What allkindsoftime says - a thousand of times.

The objective truth is, his moving away was a life alteration for him. This might sound counterintuitive, and yet: avoid negotiating where you would be setting a schedule for conversations, or even the means of keeping in contact; avoid setting explicit rules. If his current situation is this busy, he will lean into taking the least-effort requiring offer, and see if those limits can be pushed further. This is not because someone is more/less committed to work on things, this is because such change of situation involves a 'natural' power imbalance. And imho, phone texting is one of the "coldest" means of communication, the fact alone that it is being used while you are so far from each other would soon sink into upset feelings.

If I can offer my experience as an example, the absolute best was running Skype simultaneously while working. We would not be talking (maybe a phrase or two per hour), but this allowed the distance to "shrink". Bonus: it was done by his own volition. But there was another side to that same relationship. When not in mood for "shared skype space", he would skype me once a week, on a designated time (negotiated by me as an absolute minimum for me, which I understand he took as an absolute enough for him), which was, to think back, convenient to his organization of the day, not mine. Sometimes the calls would happen every second week. At some point, I remember writing "after 10 days of no contact, it is understood that it is over by default". And a year later the day came. The relationship was 3+ years, with lots of wonderful things that had happened (to me, at least).

What I am trying to awkwardly explain here: you know your needs, what an adequate frequency of communication is for you. Do not convince yourself that you would be good with 2-3 conversations a week if in all truth, you would be happier with 2 quick ones every day. Explain what your needs are to him. Really, there your mission stops. Then just sit back and see, just like allkindsoftime said.
posted by Jurate at 6:51 AM on December 4, 2009

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