How to make this long distance relationship work?
May 29, 2011 4:47 PM   Subscribe

Long distance relationship: How can we make it work? How can we work it out so that we both feel fulfilled?

I met my current girlfriend of 7 months when she had come into the country from her parent's home in Vancouver to work in orange county on a TN visa. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond anyone's control, her visa was revoked.

Even so she stayed as a tourist with me, living with me for several months, taking the time to clear her mind and figure herself out. We love each other and our relationship is so strong, we are both passionate, hard working, and have similar goals and ambitions, and we can talk about anything. We have worked through lots of issues together in ways I couldn't have even comprehended in my past relationships, we have both grown so much. Just FYI I am 24 and caucasian, she is 30 and is an indian sikh with very conservative family.

Our relationship has grown past the "lusty" phase, and there is definitely still huge attraction between us. We have connected on much deeper levels, to the extent that we both talk about each other being "the one".

Now here's where it gets complicated: She has her masters in health admin, and wants to start a business of a specific kind in the health field, but to do so in the US for her is next to impossible, without an enormous monetary investment. So she needs to go back to Canada to get it started there, which could of course take months to years.

She has now gone to Canada, back with her family, and she has been there for about a month. We talk every day, and while I enjoy talking with her, I am feeling more and more unfulfilled. I am the kind of person who needs to see and touch someone in a relationship... I have tried communicating this to her but it is to no avail, she doesn't seem to understand and it just leads to arguments. We've tried skypeing but in all honesty it just makes it harder for me.

I am at a loss on how to make this work for both parties, other than moving up there which is not an option for me right now.

Ideas like writing letters, sending photos, etc. are good, so any input regarding that sort of thing is good too.

I am depressed without her here, I feel trapped and frustrated. One big thing exacerbating that is that she does not want to set a hard return date, because she does not want to feel rushed in her work, she doesn't want me to put "expectations" on her. I feel like she's being selfish and I've voiced that, but she is unwilling to budge on this issue. I've told her how important to me it is and it seems to just make her frustrated.

She has gotten angry at me because she was feeling unfulfilled, because I don't like the phone that much I feel I am constantly trying to get off of it. I've been working on it and now it seems to be better, but it doesn't do much for me.

She is returning in 2 weeks, but I don't know how long she is planning to stay. More than likely she will be going back within a week or two to continue her work. That means this is going to be a longer term long distance thing, and that means that we are going to need to figure this out.

Honestly I'm at a loss for what to do, I feel angry at the situation, and misunderstood, and unheard, and frustrated. I don't want to break up with her, the relationship was amazing when we were physically close, but now it is so painful I'm going nuts.

I love her and want to save the relationship if possible, there has been so much against us being together culturally, family wise, etc, that this seems like such a small thing in retrospect. Even though I feel like I deserve fulfillment in the relationship, the thought of not having her in my life is very, very hard to fathom.
Help mefi, any advice you have is appreciated.
posted by thegmann to Human Relations (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: FYI she was originally supposed to be gone for a month, then it became 5 weeks, then 6, I don't even really know that it won't be extended further out, she is saying it is "most likely" to be around then.
posted by thegmann at 4:54 PM on May 29, 2011

Maybe you should figure out how to get a job where she is? Or get engaged and get married.
posted by anniecat at 5:13 PM on May 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Um, Vancouver's pretty awesome, so why aren't you considering heading up to Canada if she's going to be there for the foreseeable future? This has to go both ways if you really want to have a future with her.

But yes, letter writing is a fantastic way of keeping the bond strengthened while you're apart. When my boyfriend went across the country for eight weeks, we actually grew closer through letters. It was because we were writing those little things that we think are obvious - the first time I started falling for him, how I like his smell, how I think his tattoos are so sexy, when I think of him I visualize him smiling and I love his dimples, what I miss about having him beside me. And spray it with your scent, however you can manage that (this is kind of a good reason to wear perfume, I can spritz the letter with the scent and he will literally associate that with the feeling of being cuddled up to me, and vice versa). And the letter covers several bases in the language of love - it is a tangible gift, it takes time and effort to make, it's communication, and it professes affection.
posted by lizbunny at 5:16 PM on May 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

The thing that strikes me is that (a) you are the one who is having the hardest time dealing with the status quo for a LDR--I mean, it's true they are sucky for everyone, but you are specifically saying you "need to see and touch someone in a relationship"; yet (b) you are expecting HER to make the bigger sacrifice to meet this need of yours, and feeling angry and calling her selfish to boot!

Honestly, if I was in an LDR where my BF was calling me selfish for wanting to pursue my long-term work/business plans rather than pick up and move to a different country on a few month's notice, it would make me think long and hard about the long-term prospects for balance and compromise were in this relationship. The subtle message you're sending her is that your needs are Important and whatever reasons you have for staying in the US are Valid, but her needs are Less Important and her reasons for not committing to a date for moving to the US are Not Valid.

Hopefully others will chime in with more practical tips for LDRs, but I think the most important thing you need to do if you want this to work out is to step back and stop putting your needs in the driver's seat. The irony is that you are more likely to get your needs met in a relationship if you put the other person's needs on par with or above your own.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 7:03 PM on May 29, 2011 [6 favorites]

Well, there's no magical solution. It is not a small thing-- lots of people break up because of long-distance issues, just as much as family background or values issues. Even if she's being selfish, you're being selfish too; hell, just saying 'you're selfish' is a selfish thing to say (in my experience). A non-selfish person's impulse would be to be understanding and non-judgmental. Saying 'you're selfish, listen to me' is not non-judgmental. So, there's that. Your feelings are important, but they're not more important than her feelings.

It seems you need physical contact to feel satisfied, and she's not into phone-sex, though honestly I think it takes a certain kind of couple to make that into a workable 'sex-life' even in the interim. A lot of women, especially conservatively-raised women, have certain ideas and expectations about the 'proper' role of sex in their lives, and would get offended if they're expected to be simply vulgar about it. I don't know her, or your situation, but regardless, if it was going to work that way, it would have to be mutual. However, if you could get to the point where you're not pressuring her but rather seducing her, it may be all right-- and it's a hot thing to masturbate over the phone together when mutual desire is present. Does she like your voice? It helps if she does. That's also another use of Skype, I suppose, but I think audio-only may put her more at ease, if she was going to do it at all. Further, you could start with something like instant-message chatting... y'know, dirty talk and the like. I don't know if she's the type who'd be willing, but if you laid off talking about your needs and just tried to have fun, maybe it'd be different. Even though she's from a conservative family, clearly she was part of that 'lusty phase' you spoke of, and she had sex before marriage, so it must not be impossible to get her on board with some erotic chat.

I'm not really sure how to initiate this sort of thing without offense-- just express your arousal in a non-pushy way. Tell her what you're dying to do to her. As a way of testing the waters, don't push her to 'put out' (or worse, pressure her to come fly over!), but rather describe her sexy parts, tell her your fantasy 'perfect day together', tell her what you'd like to do to her, ask her what her dream date is at that moment, etc. The only way to survive long-distance if you're a physical/sensual person is to have a very healthy fantasy life (I think) or an open relationship. One option is always to simply put your relationship 'on hold' until she's ready to come back, and then you could both reaccess and fall in love again. However, if you're both willing to have healthy shared fantasy lives, it may work well enough also.

Regardless, it's imperative you be able to relate to each other without resentment-- resentment turns to contempt, and that kills everything. So don't push her. Seriously consider putting your own life on hold and moving to Vancouver temporarily-- even if you're currently in school, either transfer or take a temporary leave of absence. At least consider these sorts of options seriously rather than saying you can't. If you even tell her you're considering it, she may be more predisposed to your side of things. If she's really 'The One', only a police order to not leave the county should be able to really keep you there, you know? If she's not worth it, it's not really fair to ask her for that level of commitment, is it?
posted by reenka at 7:26 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was in a long distance international relationship for 4 years and then off and on since. lets just start by saying ... it is not as much fun or physically satisfying as being in the same place. It is worse when you are the one who is left in the place with the memories. Because she is off in a place that does not trigger memories (we had our first date here, we did stuff on this very couch, etc) ALL THE TIME.

The most important thing is that everyone gets their needs met and is doing purposeful work in their respective places. And I recommend visiting every month and a half because you forget details longer than that. If what you need is clear dates of being done with school and returning to the US but she is not able to give that to you, ask for just your next date of meeting up (these small acts add up as commitment AND get you through time).

And sometimes phone calls, or skype or an email is just what you need, and sometimes you need to go masturbate by yourself, or actually be with people so go see a movie with friends.

as always, listen well, speak honestly and kindly, forgive small misunderstandings, have a project or something to look forward to for investment within the relationship; if this is "the one" then it will work out, and if it is not that will become clear.
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 8:05 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wow, what on earth makes you feel entitled to call her selfish for staying in Canada while brushing off the idea of you leaving the US as "not an option for me right now"? You haven't told us much about the constraints on you, but I see from your past questions that you own a business. So you've already got your company, but now she's selfish for wanting to start one herself?

You're the one coming across as selfish here. You tell her that this is important to you, that you feel unfulfilled, that moving isn't an option for you. You give the impression that it's her fault that you're depressed when she's gone, you use scare quotes to dismiss her feeling that you are putting "expectations" on her (hint: you are. Unfair ones.). Communicating about your needs shouldn't take the form of you declaring what you want and then expecting her to give it to you. If your conversations with her have this same tone to them, the same underlying assumption that obviously she should come be with you, it's no wonder she gets frustrated and upset. There is a very striking "me me me" tone to your whole post, and not a word of compassion for the woman you profess to love.

Also, I'm confused about the timeline: are you expecting her to be in Vancouver for the "months to years" that it will take her to get her business started (per your original post), or are you already feeling like 5-6 weeks is longer than you'd thought it would be (per your immediate follow-up comment)?

I've been in a couple of long-term, long-distance relationships that lasted well past their best-by dates. If you can't handle being in a long term LDR, and are unwilling to even compromise to put an end to the distance,* do this wonderful girl you love a huge favor. Please, please break up with her. Don't use declarations of love and soulmatehood to pressure her into abandoning her career goals just so she can come put an end to your suffering. If you're the one who's deeply miserable with the distance, and also the one who's not even considering moving, you need to man up and end it. By ending it amicably and soon, you might even be able leave the door open for a reunion should your paths ever cross more conveniently in the future.

*If the dealbreaker for you moving to be with her is immigration-related, could you consider moving to Seattle?
posted by ootandaboot at 10:13 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you don't like talking on the phone, Skype can be even worse, because you're forcing yourself to have this chitchat while you just STARE at each other. It can feel so bizarre and unnatural and just kills the vibe.

So much of what gets destroyed long distance is any shared life you had together -
conversations become an exchange about your individuals lives - what did you do today, what did I do today. Rinse, repeat, and over time you're just reporting in, instead of building anything together. This is the stealth LDR killer.

As a previous poster mentioned, you have to be actively making new memories. Maybe try keeping Skype on for much longer - and maybe even talking less directly. If you have anything to do - do it with her when you're both online and in the rough field of vision, and maybe more casual but more genuine interaction can happen - the kind that is also the basis for a better in-person relationship once the lusting wining dining phase has worn off and you can be more comfortable around each other. Prepare and eat a meal while she does the same for herself; watch a stupid show together while folding your respective laundry. Make a game out of capturing silly webcam photos of yourselves doing whatever it is you're doing together.

This is how, as a commemoration of the end of my own LDR and eventual in-person reunion, we made mugs out of a photo of him in a headset, somberly sticking a finger in his eye, and another of me giving him a tour of my left nostril as part of a lost bet. YM(and the memories you choose to look back on fondly)MV.

But none of this matters if she has no definite plan of return and you aren't ultimately (after a couple of regular visits, maybe) seriously considering booking a one-way ticket. When there's no ultimate reunion that you are both committed to and looking forward to, my experience is that the relationship ends in an inevitable painful fizzle that can take much longer to end that it needs to, because it feels like a damn shame and you've put in all this time and you've tried, but there's no more pulse.
posted by sestaaak at 10:25 PM on May 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: A couple of things come to my mind. First, people went years without seeing their love -- sea captains, sailors and their wives, soldiers, adventurers of many sorts were apart for long periods of time but were able to make the commitment needed to carry it off. They didn't have letters, emails, phone, nothing.

You and your sweetie, you're able to send letters to one another -- and letters are far better than email or phone, you have lots of room on a page, it's different for whatever reason, get some nice paper and a good pen and see her in your minds eye and off and running you go.

Tell her about your day, tell her you hope that rough situation she'd described had gotten resolved by now. Tell her you desperately crave her thighs, set your hand to shaking some as you write and tell her you're shaking just thinking of how amazing her thighs feel under your hands -- it's a full page, you've got room to lie a little bit, if you need to. Better, maybe it'd be happening for real; I bet she's a beauty. Tell her that, and lots more besides.

She'll enjoy reading about the things you tell her are current in your llife but she'll read what you say about her twice. At least twice. Hell, you might find out on the page that you're Lance Romance, might be she'll swoon her way to your side, even if you lived in Oklahoma, though that's getting a bit carried away maybe. Anyways. Getting a letter from a lover, well, there's just not much better than that.

And I doubt I'd have the courage to say it but reenka did already -- if your sweetie is open to it, phone sex can be really, really hot. Like, blazing hot. (You say you don't like the phone -- that could change hint hint.) I met Pamela about two months before I moved here from Houston, and in that two months we blazed bright, and so now I'm here, and she's there, and I'm not moving back there and she's not moving here, and we did have visits -- which were smokin' hot, Pamela's just insane in the rack, what a gal! -- but anyways somehow we picked up the phone(s) and started talking one night and .... We didn't end up reading the bible, I can tell you that.

And then after that, when I did see her, when I did go to visit, well, I'd get off the plane in Houston, or fly out the door of my pickup and up her stairs, well... One time we almost didn't get out of the airport driveway, right there at the pickup place, in front of god and everybody, and almost ran off the road on the way to her place. All that phone talk had *really* lit the fires, we didn't calm at all, hardly, she'd go out and stock up food beforehand.

So I guess I can safely say that I recommend that.

(Quite frankly, I feel like a big perv saying this here, and I felt like a big perv there at the first, when Pamela and I found ourselves in it, but hey, we sure had fun, and besides, I am a big perv so..)

My take on it, from what I read into what you've written? She seems like a fine woman. Try to find a way to make it work. Letters, to start with, and maybe don't tell her about the first one, it'll be there when she gets home one night -- fun.

Good luck!
posted by dancestoblue at 11:08 PM on May 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

You need to look at how to support her efforts to start a business.
posted by salvia at 11:59 PM on May 29, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the responses! Sorry I just got back home. So here are a few updates:

Salvia and others: I am actually an owner of a few businesses and I have helped her with hers and been very supportive - I hooked her up with my CPA, we talked to a ton of immigration attorneys, we've pounded the streets getting her set up.

To everyone regarding the phone sex: I completely agree, it is hot, and the bedroom is definitely not our problem.

To everyone regarding me saying she is being selfish, I was not calling her selfish for going and following her dream, I totally support it in every way, in fact it is part of why I love her, so I have no problem with her doing what it is she needs to do to do that. I was calling her selfish for refusing to set a hard date for her return, even if just to visit. Maybe selfish is a bit harsh but it is the one thing that would make me feel better right now.

As of today though the relationship seems a bit on the rocks as it is, she went out with some friends for her birthday, took some kind of drugs that her sister gave her when she has never, ever done anything like that in the past (I am not so fortunate.) Then she lied to me about it saying that her drink had been laced with something. Then she told me that she had given a guy her number, and hadn't mentioned that she had a boyfriend. But she did not express any guilt or remorse. I feel like she may be trying to get me to dump her, I am clearing my head and just not talking to her for the moment, but it is a difficult decision. It seems like such a waste to throw it all away but I feel completely disrespected. On the other hand she has been honest with me, even the drugged drink thing, she admitted after I questioned her about it for a while.

Sigh, this just became a whole different thread.
posted by thegmann at 12:34 AM on May 30, 2011

Response by poster: Also, neither of us is interested in marriage in general. Regarding my inability to leave, as I said, I run a few businesses, I would have to very much uproot my life and it would take a while before I could really leave for any longer period of time.
posted by thegmann at 12:38 AM on May 30, 2011

Response by poster: Also, regarding the timeline, I expect her to need months to years to get her business going, but she wants to come here eventually sometime in the near future to visit, and I want to go there and visit her. The problem is that in her culture her family basically can't know I exist unless we're getting married. And dating a white guy is pretty taboo as well. Should I feel dejected by the fact that she's unwilling to stand up to these social norms? I really could care less, except that it makes communication difficult at times.
posted by thegmann at 12:41 AM on May 30, 2011

Best answer: Wow. She's got an awful lot on her plate. I can understand her having difficulty in setting a specific date.

Have you considered that she was actually being honest and respectful with you by not setting a specific date in the midst of returning home to a family she probably finds stressful, setting up her own business (for the first time in her life), and trying to negotiate a long-term relationship with a man she can't tell her family about?

Even without those stressors, it's not always easy to set a specific visit date when you're in another country (unless you're both right near the border, which is not your case). Plane tickets, rental car (if needed), backup plans just in case anything falls through...

You mention you want to visit her too. Have you set a specific date?

Others have mentioned it as well, but is there anything keeping you from going up to Seattle? Seattle-Vancouver is a lot more doable than Orange County-Vancouver.

I see her drug thing as being more of an expression of stress and confusion as she embarks on an entirely new phase of life with an unknown future on professional, familial and emotional fronts. That's an awful lot to deal with, for anyone.
posted by fraula at 1:22 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

You both sound immature to me, and it's not being helped by the fact that neither of you are offering the other a commitment. Both of you are screwing it all up---her with the giving some dude her number because you're not acting serious enough for her and you with the not figuring out if you want a committed relationship. I think you guys should break up before you really hurt each other.

She may be being honest with you as a means of manipulating you, as in, "There are lots of guys interested in me if you're not. I have to fight them off with a stick."
posted by anniecat at 11:29 AM on May 30, 2011

Best answer: This question and the follow-up makes me feel on edge. There seems to be a subcurrent of control.

First is the sense of entitlement that several before me have pointed to. Just because something is important to you doesn't mean you'll get it. You complain that she won't come back on your timetable, but it sounds like you won't go there at all.

In your follow-up I can understand you being bothered by the lying, but taking a drug from her sister? You're her boyfriend; you should be on her side instead of judging her. It seems like she and her sister might be rebelling against their strict family? But you include the drugs in the list of wrongs? It seems like you're another authority figure for her to rebel against, between your sense of being entitled to have her come to you, and your quickness to judge. You say you think she's wanting to get you to break up with her... it sounds almost punitive? You feel "disrespected," which might have authoritarian overtones...

It seems to me, and I'm just one person who only knows you via this one question on the internet, that you have a strong sense of entitlement about having your needs met. When that reaches the point that you'll insult someone ("selfish") for not meeting your needs, you've crossed the line to behavior that I would label as verbal abuse.
posted by salvia at 12:12 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Should I feel dejected by the fact that she's unwilling to stand up to these social norms? I really could care less

I think you are already aware enough of what you want so I would not worry that you have other unmet needs or want to make new accusations about how she is falling short. Instead, I'd recommend you worry about whether you're being understanding enough and emotionally supportive enough to her.
posted by salvia at 12:28 PM on May 30, 2011

Best answer: In light of your updates, I would encourage you to simply end things. Don't think of it as wasting a perfectly good relationship, think of it as preserving what you had together -- rather than diminishing its quality in the long run by letting things drag out, and possibly growing unpleasant.

I've tried keeping an indefinite LDR going, but when I moved back home to friends and family and a busy life, I thought of him less and less as other things filled my time. And things weren't the same as they used to be, there was starting to be some pressure and neediness and hurt on both sides, so the idea of a visit started causing a little anxiety too. Knowing I'd only see him every few months at best, and it was going to be very expensive to do so, wasn't helping. Neither of us was willing to give everything up and move to be with the other person, not for a few years while we were laying groundwork for our careers. So there wasn't anything to work towards. It just petered out.

There were two other times where the guy and I ended things when I left. I knew I wasn't ready to choose this person over my career anytime soon, and he wasn't going to move to be with me either. So we made the most of our time together, and though we parted tearfully and missed eachother terribly, we parted on the best of terms and only have happy memories of our time together. It's not the destination, it's the journey, right?

My current bf will be moving away next month. This time, I like this guy more than I want to keep my career and stay with my friends and family. Fortunately he's moving a driveable distance away, so for the short term we can commute back and forth and I'll find a job there as soon as I can. But if he was moving farther away, yeah, I think I'd save as much as I can, pack my bags and just go. I don't believe in "the one" (hey, I'm already a divorcee) but I do believe in making calculated risks. He's a pretty solid bet.

So my point is, yeah you guys might have been amazing together but it's just not in the cards, so let her go while things are still good, preserve the memory and move on. You'll be ok, more amazing people will come along (you live in OC and you're 24. Opportunity and time are on your side).

p.s. I agree the cultural differences issue sucks, but don't hold it against her. Your situation wouldn't change even if she was open to her family about you.
posted by lizbunny at 4:43 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks guys, we had a good talk this morning and afternoon, I realized that I was thinking with a sense of entitlement, and I was putting my own needs before hers. Once I put her needs before mine it was obvious what needed to be done. We've now planned a series of skype-dates, we're excited to see each other, we've talked about her business and how to make it work, and attraction and mutual understanding have been rebuilt. I sent her some old photos of us, wrote her some nice letters via email, and she responded in kind. Mostly I think my attitude has been a problem, and once I turned around my thoughts, she took responsibility for some things too on her own.

She is going to be back around mid-june, and we are talking about travelling together and then figuring out how to move in together.

Thanks for all of the help.
posted by thegmann at 6:25 PM on May 30, 2011

Response by poster: Also thanks to those who were honest about my "sense of control and entitlement." You were completely right - it's something I've been working on but sometimes it just takes over and shows it's ugly head.
posted by thegmann at 6:26 PM on May 30, 2011

thegmann: " ... wrote her some nice letters via email ..."

Email is one thing, a real letter in the hand is just a totally different animal. It really is. It is delay of gratification, it is a gift to her, the gift of time, her knowing you thought of her as you held the paper she's holding, you've not just dashed off something from your puter. It's a gift to you, too, that delay of gratification is as much or more for you than for her, you say these things and send them off, you're not getting some instant payoff. It's just different, and good.

Just sayin'.......
posted by dancestoblue at 7:45 PM on June 1, 2011

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