Help us meet in the middle.
December 16, 2011 8:31 PM   Subscribe

How can we ease our long-distance communication woes?

My boyfriend and I have been dating for about 4 or 5 months, 2 1/2 of which have been long distance (across the country). We were together up until the first week of October when we parted, and in general our relationship is very very good. We get along great, we communicate really well and we barely fought up until the last two weeks or so.

We have both been extremely busy lately-- him at his new job where his projects are picking up and he has been taking work home every night, and I've been working 60-hour weeks. He has a pretty active social life as well, and all of this combined with a 3-hour time difference has begun to put some stress on our relationship.

We've started fighting about how often we talk, which I hate because I always have felt like we have very similar communication needs. When we dated in the same city we spent all our time together, and when we were first long-distance we talked more or less every day, often for more than an hour. I realize that's a long time, but I like to stay in contact a lot and I believe he does too. It has always felt very natural, which was a huge relief after some past relationships where it was not.

I'm the one who gets upset about not being able to talk, and he said he is talking to me every free minute he has and he never feels like it's enough. We talked about this a lot last week and things have been good this week, even though he has gone out and not been able to talk much the last three nights. Tonight, I knew he wasn't going to be able to talk, but he called me when I got off work. We talked for about 20 mins and when I was about to walk into my house I asked him if he wanted to Skype for a few minutes, and he said he had to go. For some reason this upset me and we started to fight again.. we managed to stop after it got too out of hand but I am scared because I'm not sure it's getting better and he said he can't give me a time that things will get less busy. I had sort of assumed that this week he was especially busy, but he says he doesn't know.

I know because we are long-distance I have to be more patient and flexible, and I am trying to, and this week really has been better because we are both trying. Still, it's hard to not ever have him all to myself for a night, not to be able to be around him, and to have his full attention for a fraction of the time I'd have it if we were physically together. I don't expect him to stay in from a party to talk to me, but at the same time, it's hard to not get the attention I would get just because I am so far away, or to feel like I am not a priority in the same way. In my ideal world I'd like to Skype about an hour a day average (of course I know not every day), and talking on the phone is not quite the same as seeing his face to me.

What are some ways we can ease the stress of this? How can I stop myself from getting upset in the moment if he has to go? Is this normal for long-distance?
posted by queens86 to Human Relations (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I am scared because I'm not sure it's getting better and he said he can't give me a time that things will get less busy. I had sort of assumed that this week he was especially busy, but he says he doesn't know.

I think people make time for the things they want to make time for. You say he has a full social life despite all his working. He makes time for his social life but not for talking as much for you, because his social life is what he wants to make time for.

I'm sorry. But it sounds like maybe he is maybe getting more interested in other things than in your relationship.

I think all you can do is express to him your wants and needs (calmly, non-dramatically) at a time that is not emotionally fraught. If you keep finding that he doesn't meet them and "doesn't know" if/when he will ever meet them, I don't think there's much you can do. Because meeting in the middle, to me, is a situation you both are *happy* with and find workable. If he's just giving you what he wants to and it's not enough for you, I don't see how this can last.
posted by cairdeas at 8:45 PM on December 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

Gotta say I think you are in a pretty dicey situation. It going long distance after only 10 weeks or so. LD relationships are tough no matter what. Do you guys have plans on making this a non LD relation again in the reasonable future? If not... well it may be best to part as friends with a possible option to get back together if you are living reasonable close again.

Right now you are both expending a lot of energy during a stressful period of your life into a relationship that offers little other than talking, which may sound romantic on paper but practically offers little fulfillment.

The more you fight the easier it will be to just not call.
posted by edgeways at 8:53 PM on December 16, 2011

I am scared because I'm not sure it's getting better and he said he can't give me a time that things will get less busy. I had sort of assumed that this week he was especially busy, but he says he doesn't know.

He gave you his answer, it's just not the one you wanted to hear. You're sounding a little immature and unrealistic. You're going through an adjustment period where you have to figure out what works, don't come up with a plan beforehand. He has a new job, you work long hours and you're apart for the first time and in different time zones.

He may go out for drinks with friends at 9 his time after working late, but that could be midnight your time. Or his dinner with a buddy at 6 is 3 your time and you're at work. You say he has a busy social life, instead of sitting by the phone, why don't you work on your own social life. You want him to call because he wants to, not because you nagged or he feels if he doesn't it'll start a fight.

Accept some limitations, all the static seems to be coming from you. If you keep complaining, he may realize that a long distance relationship isn't doable with you. Send occasional texts during the day and not 'I love you, I miss you, I wish we could talk more' - share a funny picture, tell him you just saw a bulldog walk by wearing a tutu or about your weird co-worker. Don't mention how often you talk for the next two weeks, not one word, and see how it goes and learn what his natural communication is with you without the cajoling. This doesn't mean your needs aren't valid but so are his. You may have to adjust to less or different. You can say, people make time for the things they want to make time for, but that sounds kind of like 'you would if you loved me.'
posted by shoesietart at 10:10 PM on December 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is a grey area so I have a feeling the responses will vary a lot in this thread, but I don't think your expectations are unreasonable. I've been in a few relationships that were (temporarily) long distance and the only thing that's seemed to work is when there's either a lot of communication or frequent visits. I think people who haven't been in one may not understand the level of effort and communication they require to sustain.

Right now I'm in a long distance relationship and we manage to talk probably 2-3 hours every day. Then again, neither of us is that busy at the moment. But that makes it so much easier, and it's still not easy. Because long distance relationships inherently suck for everyone, and most of them don't in some ways they actually require more effort and devotion than a regular relationship.

I think you have to communicate to your boyfriend that he needs to prioritize communication with you if he wants the relationship to survive, especially if there's no end in sight to the distance. My advice is to explicitly express your needs (don't be at all vague). If he says he can't meet them or he's dodgy in his responses, be prepared to walk away.
posted by timsneezed at 10:58 PM on December 16, 2011

To clarify I'd calmly state your needs and then ask him what his needs are. If there's a disparity see if you can compromise. If not or the discussion feels unresolved, you have your answer.
posted by timsneezed at 11:00 PM on December 16, 2011

In my ideal world I'd like to Skype about an hour a day average (of course I know not every day)

FWIW I would not feel like this was a reasonable expectation. I could maybe do this once a week but any more and I would suffocate under that expectation and under the sheer imposition of the logistics of that.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:19 PM on December 16, 2011 [8 favorites]

For another point of reference towards your third question... For me your expectations would be totally unreasonable. Mr. newsomz and I started dating long distance. At first we *might* have talked everyday, however, that had to give as we were both busy with life. Email worked well for us to keep in touch because of the asynchronous aspect. We could each email when we got a chance. To this day our most heartfelt communication is probably through email!

When we got married we were again long distance for about a year with a 6hr time difference. During that time we talked about 2-3 times a week on average and for 30min to 1.5hrs per time. Currently he's on a work trip (3hr time difference) and I've skyped with him 3 times in the two weeks he's been gone (about to skype again). We do keep in touch via twitter, email, etc everyday. Anyhow, for the long term there is no way I could skype an hour per day (average) with him.
posted by newsomz at 4:32 AM on December 17, 2011

Best answer: One thing my wife and I learned when we were living in Paris and Berlin in 1995-96, when it cost over a dollar a minute to phone from one city to the other, is that the quality of the time you spend talking is more important than the quantity. It also meant that our 5-10 minute phone calls a couple of times each week were times when we really focused on talking, and nothing else. We did exchange emails regularly, though with dialup at home that was also harder. In hindsight, I think that made our emails more interesting, because instead of sending off 5 short messages, we saved stuff up and worked it into an actual narrative.

Now, of course, communication is so easy and cheap that it seems like you should do a lot of it. That said, though, it still takes the same concentration, and it can get exhausting. I can't imagine Skyping an hour a day with my wife, even though there's no one in the world I would rather talk to and we easily spend well over an hour on a typical day just chatting about whatever is in our heads.

The thing about being together is that a lot of your communication goes on when you're doing something else--eating breakfast, watching TV, going for a walk, reading different sections of the newspaper and pointing out interesting stories to one another--in a way that doesn't require total concentration. There's also a big difference between talking about shared activities, where not everything needs to be said, and talking about what you've done by yourself, which often needs to be more fully explained and takes more time and concentration.

You might try scheduling regular times to talk, so that it's not something that needs to be squeezed into an already busy day. You might also try getting hands-free headsets for your phones and work conversations into normal activities: for instance, watch the same TV show or movie, or sports event if you're fans of the same team, at the same time and chat about it, or chat while you're doing chores, preparing meals, etc. The time difference makes this harder, but not impossible. Part of what sustains a relationship is having common interests and talking about them (which is not to say that you shoudn't also each have your own distinct interests).

And because common interests are important, I think a key to sustaining a long-distance relationship is to spend as much time together as possible. My wife and I were grad students during the year we spent apart, but we visited as frequently as our budgets allowed, and we saved money by taking the train (11 hours each way) instead of flying in order to make the visits more frequent. When you do visit, try to learn more about one another's social circles too--meet friends, go to the same places, maybe even visit one another's workplaces--so that when you talk about them, they seem more real and more engaging. Don't just cocoon together the whole time; doing so will just reinforce the notion that your time together is something distinct from everyday life.
posted by brianogilvie at 4:48 AM on December 17, 2011 [7 favorites]

... I always have felt like we have very similar communication needs.

"Always"? You've been together 4 months. Between a relocation, a new job, and adjusting to LDR status, there's no baseline for you to know what his communication needs even are.

Your boyfriend is making the most of his time (immersed in the new job, spending time with friends). What are you doing with your time? Do you go out with friends after work? Do you have hobbies? Or is it all work and skype?

....he said he is talking to me every free minute he has and he never feels like it's enough. ... he said he can't give me a time that things will get less busy.

He is telling you something very clearly here. You are expressing a neediness that he can't fulfill, and he is pulling back from even trying to anymore.
posted by headnsouth at 4:54 AM on December 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

I am in an LDR that really puts the "D" in LDR. We email every day and Skype or phone when we can on weekends. We both also have jobs that keep us pretty busy and we both try to maintain some semblance of a social life in our respective cities. I love him like crazy, but while the occasional 1+ hour Skype conversation is a really nice treat, trying to schedule that in every single night would be really challenging to our schedules and timezones and I feel it'd be unreasonable of either of us to ask that of the other. I think it's really good for our relationship that we do both have the chance to live our respective lives and continue to develop as individuals outside of just the two of us -- keeps things interesting, gives us things to talk about when we do talk, and means that neither of us ends up completely emotionally dependent on the other when we finally end up living in the same place. Give yourself a chance to get out and do fun things, too; don't sit at home waiting for him to call.

Are there other ways he could stay in touch with you that don't require him to block out an hour of time every night? Occasional text messages, nice emails, Facebook notes or wall posts, etc? He can let you know he's thinking of you even if you're not talking real-time with each other. I know it's not the same as hearing his voice or seeing his face, trust me, but it makes those times that you can all the more special.
posted by olinerd at 6:45 AM on December 17, 2011

When my now-husband and I were in a LDR (for the first year and a half of our relationship), we would do things like watch TV together on the phone, or something like that. But it is seriously unreasonable to me to think that you can average an HOUR a day of time on the phone (?!). I do not think that is an achievable goal (or at least it certainly wouldn't be for me, I have a busy life and there is just no way I could manage that, no matter how much I wanted to). The only time we even came close to that was in the days following 9/11. Talking on the phone is not something everyone is good at, or likes, no matter how much they love and care for the person on the other end of the line. My husband and I adore each other, and even so, we can spend maybe 10 minutes on the phone most of the time if one of us is out of town, before we run out of phone conversation. It is much more meaningful to send a quick, affectionate text or something than force yourself to spend an hour on the phone, growing resentful and bored. I suspect that the real problem here may be related more to you feeling alone and lonely and not getting enough emotional feedback from your SO, rather than how much time you spend on the phone. LDR's are hard, and you need a lot of emotional maturity and honesty to get through them. Part of what makes them work is often having a set end date, or at least an idea of how long it will be LD before it changes - if you do not have an end date in sight, or at least a germ of a plan, I might start considering why. To me, an LDR is a temporary state, if it's not going anywhere solid after 6-12 months, it might be time to move on.

I will also say that it sounds like you are relying on your SO/the relationship for most of your entertainment and social and emotional needs. This is really putting very dangerous pressure on your relationship and is unfair to your SO. You need to live your own life, get a hobby or take a class, go out with friends, read a book, something. As olinerd says, don't sit around waiting for him to call, go do your own thing! Even if you lived together, it is not fair (to you, your SO, or your relationship) to make someone else responsible for your happiness.
posted by biscotti at 7:10 AM on December 17, 2011

Just as a data point here, I was once in an LDR that failed, in large part, because of the expectation that we would have an hour-long phone conversation every night. My old roommate had one that failed in the exact same way.

I think the reasons for this are twofold:

1) You run out of things to say. When you're just hanging out together, you can just talk about whatever comes up, lapse into silence for a while, and then discuss something else if it occurs to you. On the phone, you feel like you need to talk all the time, and this tends to push you into a habit where the phonecall becomes about updating the other person about what's going on in your life. The problem is, if you talk every day, not much has happened since your last phone conversation, so what do you talk about? I think it strains a relationship to feel like you're struggling to come up with things to say to each other.

2) It gets in the way of living your life. I've been the guy who could never do anything fun because he had to get home to make his call. My roommate was that guy too. It sucks. It very quickly leads to resentment. It also hurts your relationship to have one partner start thinking of the other as the thing that's preventing him from having any fun.

So, in sum, it's not that your communication expectations are unreasonable, exactly, but they are probably untenable. I would suggest twice a week as a good frequency for phone calls.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:29 AM on December 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Being long distance is rough, and time zone differences make it even trickier. Of course you want to talk to your boyfriend every day - that's part of what being in a relationship is about; that you've found someone you like enough to spend more time with than anyone else. But with the distance, things are different.

I'm in an LDR (US/Europe) where we make time to speak to each other over Skype every day, but that's because we both feel it's what we need and want to be happy. And we both have to adjust our schedules - sometimes in major ways - to make it possible. It sounds like you guys are struggling to make time for each other, and you end up trying to talk at inconvenient times.

Have you talked about scheduling quality time just for the two of you? And talked about it when you're not stressed out or feeling terribly lonely? (Because at those times you'd naturally want to spend all your time together, which makes it difficult to set reasonable expectations.)

I'd suggest you try and set something up, with set times. Something reasonable, that won't take too much time away from your other responsibilities. The weekend is an obvious choice for when it might be possible for you both to have a chunk of spare time - what about a joint breakfast, for example? Grab a couple of hours before either one of you would want to head out to do things with friends in the afternoon, and keep that time open for each other while you have your coffee and browse the morning news.

If the one of you on the western side of the country would be willing to wake up extra early once a week, you could try having a Tuesday breakfast date, or something like that? Or decide to hang out for thirty minutes after you're both home every Thursday, even if it means someone has to stay up late (or take a nap waiting for the phone to ring).

I also agree with the previous comments saying that it's difficult to just talk; that it's different from hanging out. It is! It's just not the same - have you ever tried doing something together over Skype or even the phone? With my girlfriend, we watch our favorite TV shows together, and play games (there's on-line versions of almost everything), or make time for a movie we've both been wanting to see. We both eat in front of our computers, and sometimes we're each checking different news and social sites, not talking much at all beyond sharing occasional bits of interesting things we read. Maybe one of you has work you need to do at home - writing Christmas cards or something? You could both do that, and keep the line open between you for the kind of small talk you make when you hang out at home. You could schedule joint cleaning sessions, when one of you blasts music you can both listen to and catch up on laundry folding or dishes or whatever. Anything like that, just as long as it takes the burden of having to make serious conversation all the time off both your shoulders.

Good luck!
posted by harujion at 5:31 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

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