What was time apart from your significant other like for you?
July 7, 2012 6:58 PM   Subscribe

Help me make a decision: What was your experience living abroad without your partner for a year or more?

I'm looking into jobs that would involve my working abroad for 1 or 2 years (the best jobs are 2 years). The jobs would fulfill various personal and professional goals that I don't think I could fulfill otherwise, would improve my chances for better jobs when I got back, and so on. Unfortunately, it's impossible for my husband to come with me because of the nature of his job and other things. (This is non-negotiable.)

Anyway, he's okay with my going, but we're basically best friends and partners who spend most of our free time together. We really enjoy being around each other, not to mention physical contact and so on. We've never really been the "you do your thing in one room, I'll do mine in another" couple, by mutual impulse.

We're both keeping in mind Skype, watching movies online together, and other good ideas that have been listed on AskMeFi for a sense of closeness. What I'd like to hear about is how things actually went for you if you did this.

So, did you and your (established) partner live in separate countries for a year or more? How did it go? How did you feel about it and the decision afterwards?

Your experiences would be useful data that would help me clearly think about my problem of whether or not to pursue my goal of working abroad. Thanks!

(I hope this isn't considered chatfilterish. It was the sort of thing that I thought might be on be the green, and that I think might be useful for other people. Basically, I'm trying to put into practice advice from various researchers on decision-making by asking people about their experiences.)
posted by wintersweet to Human Relations (36 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I've done it several times. It can work, but it can also destroy your relationship completely. You may not know which until it is much too late, when - for example - you fall in love with or discover your partner has embarked on an affair. Of course, a strong relationship should be proof against these things, but we are human, and being apart can get extremely lonely.

It's a high risk activity, in short. You have to figure out if that risk is acceptable to you and how it can be mitigated. But don't fool yourself that you can elminate it.
posted by unSane at 7:22 PM on July 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I can't recommend it, really. My now-wife and I did the year apart thing twice, once across the country and once when I was in Japan. It didn't kill our relationship or anything, but it's just no fun. I mean, if it's a short term thing and you think you would be willing to suffer through, ok, but be aware that it is a very different experience to doing things in separate rooms.
posted by tau_ceti at 7:26 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: (The timescale is very important. Anything over a year is extremely difficult. Your lives just become... different. [The now] Mrs U and I were as close and committed a couple as you could imagine -- and we had lived in separate countries for up to a year at a time -- but when she went back to Canada to do her masters for 2 years it broke us apart. We were very lucky to be able to put the pieces back again afterwards, but we were split for a year, and I put the blame entirely on the distance. I don't beleive that either of us would consider it again, for obvious reasons. Up to six months or so wouldn't really be a concern, and I think a year is doable, but beyond that you're sailing into the asteroid belt and hoping one doesn't hit.)
posted by unSane at 7:33 PM on July 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Have you ever done long distance before? One of my close friends was planning to be long distance with her partner for a year or two. They were a super good fit and really close and I had the impression they were a great couple with great communication and a plan for keeping in contact and visiting each other twice a year, and once for several months at a time. They broke up after three months.

my experience with long distance (3-4 months, twice) is that it's hard and it sucks and it puts any relationship through the grinder.
posted by oranger at 7:40 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I did this with my partner for a year (he in Australia, me in the US). It sucked a lot but we made it through it. I think the things that helped us were:

1. We communicated in some way every day. Usually it was a reasonably substantive email or a Skype call of at least a half an hour (often much more). Required quite a commitment but I'm sure that without a way like that of keeping up with the minutia of each others' lives, it wouldn't have worked.

2. We visited each other about three times over the course of the year. As you can imagine this got very expensive back and forth to Australia but it was absolutely vital and very worth it. The visits were about two weeks long each time, and one was a month (we were lucky in that we had fairly flexible work that we could do to some extent not in the office). If we had only been able to visit once a year, I'm not sure it would have worked.

3. We had had practice doing an LDR over a shorter distance before, so we had perfected some of the communication issues. Not sure how much this ended up mattering but it probably helped.

4. We are both pretty introverted loner-types, so we weren't being tempted by other people we constantly met and hung out with. We were still able to share many of our hobbies primarily with each other, for instance (e.g., we would try to watch similar shows on DVD and discuss the plots, etc).

Bottom line: it's really hard, and I think two years would be substantially more difficult than one year. There are ways to mitigate the damage, and it's doable, but it's still risky. After that year we decided we were never going to do that again if we could at all help it. Even though we survived it was a rather miserable year.
posted by forza at 8:03 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My bloke and I did long distance for 2.5 years: I was in Australia and he was in the SF Bay Area. Look, I won't lie, the trans-Pacific commute was tough. For the first two years we saw each other every 3 months (one of us visiting the other for 2-6 weeks) and whilst it was hard, it was managable. However, we weren't able to travel to see each other at all during that last six months and I think that was a mistake - we should have made it happen somehow.

Anyway, I think that if you're dedicated to making it work you can make it work. We are now VERY good at communicating with each other! We used to have skype dates where we'd sit down with a beer or two and chat for an hour or so. We'd use gmail chat a great deal to just gossip and chat on and off during the work day - this was pretty awesome actually because we got to have those incidental conversations you have when you live in the same city.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 8:05 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My husband and I have done this in various combinations a number of times-- altogether, our relationship (and even our marriage thus far) has been more long-distance than geographically together. This has been due to the military, my career requiring lots of medium-term international travel, and his new career being in a field hard-hit by the economy (and therefore it being difficult for him to find employment in certain areas of the country). Mostly this has meant him being in Alaska (sometimes rural Alaska) and me being home-based in DC but abroad a lot-- which is really tantamount to abroad, in terms of time and expense of travel, time difference, etc.

It has worked for us, but I can't see it continuing indefinitely, and we have plans to make it stop in a reasonable time-frame.

Here are some things that I've learned and some caveats:

People will make assumptions about your relationship. In our experience, mostly older people who have more "traditional" views of marriage. Not everyone understands that one career can't always be subordinate to the other (especially the female half's career!) or that living apart isn't a prelude to divorce. Some people have made really crude comments about us being apart. Some people have taken it as a license to hit on me (and him) despite the rings. We just shrug this off, but it's actually one of the more difficult parts of the whole deal.

Visits are great, but they can also be really challenging. While it's great to see your spouse and reconnect, visits can be rough, especially if you're not meeting on "neutral territory." Visiting spouse has traveled a long time, hosting spouse needs to get used to integrating spouse into routine, hosting spouse may have to work. As soon as you've ironed out the reintegration aspects, the goodbye looms-- for me, that's the worst part of it all. I feel much better once I've gotten back into my routine than immediately before/after saying goodbye.

Texting can be a really good way to keep in touch across time differences. International text plans aren't that expensive. We probably text more than we talk on the phone. It was really, really rough when he was without any cell phone access for several months (and with patchy internet). We don't actually Skype all that much due to internet access issues. Even when we both have good access, it's not our first choice. Just a personal preference, though, Skype really works for some people.

It is not a good way to save money. Double living expenses, travel expenses, international calling plans-- it all adds up. Even at times when he has had free housing, it's really been a wash for us. We're doing it for career development, not to save money. This doesn't seem to be a motivating factor in your decision, but keep it in mind.

Taxes can be complicated. Especially if you have difference residency statuses. You may have to file separately and face penalties. Even doing taxes is a nightmare.

If one of you gets unhappy, it will rub off on both. It's really hard to comfort and support your spouse from a distance. We've mostly gotten past this, but we've spent long periods of time in loops when one or both of us was really unhappy, and it was really hard to come up out of it.

And some things that make it work for us:

Having an end date is key. One way or the other, we know that this situation is going to end at a specified date. That keeps it manageable.

We're doing it for a good reason / we have a goal in sight. Growing our careers is really important at this stage in our life. Eventually this period will be over, we'll be geographically together, and we'll hopefully be working in fulfilling careers.

If it's not a war zone, it's not that hard. As long as neither of us is in a war zone, I sit back and count our blessings. Military families and others in separation situations where one or both partners are in real danger have it infinitely harder.
posted by charmcityblues at 8:23 PM on July 7, 2012 [12 favorites]

Best answer: I did this thing once for about 16-18 months, at the end of which I was sick and tired of the whole thing.

While we were kind of ok with talking regularly on Skype, most of the time we were too tired after work (timezone differences were a factor in our case). Also, we were craving the physical intimacy and sex - towards the end, we were feeling that we were losing precious time in our lives and after a few years we might not feel it was a good use of our time.

I moved back and we have tried to minimize such interruptions (max 2-3 months) - that is the one of the best decisions I have made.

I realize that your goals and circumstances may vary significantly, but I thought my experience may help you think through some of the things again.

Wishing you happiness in whatever you choose.
posted by theobserver at 8:27 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

If he doesn't have a strong friend network, or if he's introverted, help get him involved in a club or something before you go. I think it's the spouse who's "back home" who is most likely to get depressed -- and he may not even notice it.

This is from someone who's SO is working in another state 600 miles away. He's 4 months into a 12 month contract.
posted by amtho at 8:46 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I did the LDR thing with my first girlfriend. She broke up with me after a few months. (And we were doing daily phone calls, e-mails, etc.)

A close friend of mine did this with his wife. She cheated on him after six months (needless to say, they're no longer together). In fact, when I think about it, I don't have a single friend (that I know of) who actually made this work longer than a couple of months.

What I'm trying to say is if you decide to do this, your odds probably aren't anywhere near as good as you think they are. Whether the long-term benefit of taking this job is worth such a substantial risk to your relationship is up to you.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 9:06 PM on July 7, 2012

I was cheated on twice.
Besides that, it took me about a month or two to adjust each time.
But, it can work out great.
posted by KogeLiz at 9:13 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I did this with an ex, and it's why she is an ex -- it was ok for a while, but I think that there is just a basic human need for touch and intimacy and so on, and if you can't get it from your partner, well...

I'm not saying that this is inevitable, at all. People do manage it. But for me, even with reasonably frequent visits and contact, such a long separation didn't work. Shorter separations are no problem, though. We (meaning with my current partner) have been apart up to four or so months a few times, and it has worked just fine; it's almost a fun vacation and chance to do your own thing.

That said, the comment above about how it isn't cheap to do the two-household thing is very true. Oh god, and the taxes were intense misery. I think it is harder on the person who stays home -- the person traveling gets to have an adventure; the person at home deals with all of the chores and hassle of running a household alone, without any of the fun of experiencing a new place.
posted by Forktine at 9:16 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I really hated it and would never ever do it again.

I so much would never do it again that I may well end up leaving my current career because it seems almost impossible to avoid living apart from one's partner for significant periods. Given that my work is something I absolutely love, that it's the second most important thing in my life to me (second only to my husband), that it's all I ever wanted to do, and that I can't imagine what else I would do, and that living apart from one's partner is normal and expected among my colleagues, the fact that I would give that career up before doing this again shows how much I hated it.

(Details: I lived nearly 20,000km apart from him for two years, and then 300 km apart for three more.)

As a further anecdote: a colleague of mine who lived apart from her partner for 12 years then finally was able to live together with them five years ago, is now about to lose said partner to terminal cancer. She says there is not a day that goes by where she doesn't regret that lost time together now that she realises how little time they have left.
posted by lollusc at 9:27 PM on July 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

Oh, I forgot to mention the absolute most important thing that makes it work: we trust each other completely and are absolutely open with each other.

Cheating is something that is so outside my realm of anxieties surrounding the arrangement that I didn't even consider mentioning it. We're married, we made a vow to each other in front of G-d and the people most important to us on earth, and being separated for a chunk of time is not going to change that.

We're in it for the long hall, and we know that years down the line this period is just going to be a blip on the radar.
posted by charmcityblues at 9:41 PM on July 7, 2012

Best answer: I'm far away from my fiance right now- and one of the hardest parts ended up being the difference in time zones. basically neither of us sleep decently because we're always trying to steal each others sleeping hours for skyping hours. this is not sustainable. at all. unless i want him to lose his job.

anyway so i'm moving back to be with him. can't handle it anymore. it's only been like, 6 months, but it's taking its toll. we have vicious fights that we wouldn't have if we were physically around each other. half of these result from misunderstandings from chat texts since we couldn't hear each other's voices and inflections. blah.

that being said, if not taking this assignment would turn your heart inside-out (dunno if that makes sense but you know what I'm trying to say), then if your relationship is going to last it may have to find a way to accomodate that despite torturous states of being that may result. basically decide which is riskier in terms of damage to the relationship and ultimately follow your instincts/heart after chewing through the options.
posted by saraindc at 9:48 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

From a poster who prefers to remain anonymous:
Yes, it can work. I don’t exactly fit the framing of your question as my partner and I have been long distance since the beginning of our relationship, but we are going on one year now with no end in sight, and though it is challenging our love has grown steadily stronger. And contrary to most advice on these matters it has not become more difficult – or rather, it has become more difficult but we have simultaneously gotten better at dealing with the distance, so our coping strategies keep up with the increasing difficulty and the net increase in pain from our first parting to today, 11 months later, is zero.

Despite not having been in an established relationship prior to embarking on a long-distance period, I want to answer your question because I believe there are a few things we have going for us that are key to making this work:

1. We are both working towards goals which keep us in our respective locations. It is not a matter of one partner pursuing a dream while the other sits and waits for their return. Both of us are advancing our careers/education and growing as individuals.
2. We both have incredibly strong support systems. He lives with his family (as is traditional in his country) and confides in a few trusted friends. I have three incredibly close friends and a larger network of good friends who support me on a day to day basis. Given the time difference and the necessity of keeping our relationship secret (at least in his country) we are only able to talk once a week, so being each other’s primary support is not possible. Our friends and family keep us strong and together – whether they know about us or not. ;-)
3. We see each other every 3-4 months, for more than one week but less than two. I think the length of visit is as crucial as the interval. You need a few days to vent the passion and soak up the other person’s presence before you can start connecting about real issues (life goals, updates on family, mental health, etc.), and you need a few days’ buffer at the end when the goodbye looms over your time together. Thus, any visit less than 8 days does not leave enough room for the “good stuff” in the middle. However, any visit more than 14 days runs the risk of you becoming accustomed to having each other around, falling into a routine together, and this makes the goodbye and subsequent loneliness 10 times more difficult.
4. Texting. Get an international texting plan. When I just need to hear from him and know that he’s thinking about me I can text and get an instant response (during overlapping waking hours). Relying on email for this kind of reassurance keeps me chained to my computer, obsessively checking, agonizing over why he hasn’t written. It’s vicious, painful, leads to doubt and hurt and guilt. Text.
5. Phone sex!
6. We don’t have too much contact on a day to day basis. Maybe this is unique to our situation and not applicable in general, but we’ve found that saying hi on gchat every hour or talking at every opportunity throughout the week makes it harder on the days when one of us isn’t online or available to call, and leaves us staring at the computer/phone, waiting, unable to focus on our lives. So we stick to a routine of one long skype call a week, a few texts back and forth each day, and the occasional email. Your sweet spot of communication may involve more or less contact, but this is just to say that more is not always better for everybody.

Finally, a few encouraging words about how distance might be good for your relationship. A friend of mine recently told me that she would never marry someone from a culture other than hers because her parents married across cultures and have spent much of their marriage arguing over who sacrificed what for whom. You don’t want to look at your husband in 10 years and resent him for the career he cost you. So follow your dreams and trust that the person who vowed to love and support you is just as happy to see you achieve your goals as you are.

In addition, I’ve found that this is a good opportunity for me to work on personal issues that would be more difficult to explore with him around –depression, a tendency to be co-dependent, self-esteem, etc. I also have time to study and focus on my work, time which I would certainly be inclined to spend cuddling were we physically together. It might be possible to view this separation not just as an opportunity to advance your career, but also as a chance to improve yourselves and, correspondingly, your relationship.

And last, and admittedly least, I eat crackers in bed, leave my dirty clothes on the floor, and fart when I need to. There are a few perks to living alone, in the end.

I wish you luck in disregarding the naysayers, trusting your partner, and pursuing your dreams. May you have a wonderful, long, and happy marriage.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:55 PM on July 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: These are really interesting and thought-provoking answers. I'd love to read more (if you think your experience was too close to someone else's, please don't hesitate to share it anyway).

To answer one question above, I spent 3 months studying a language abroad during grad school. But this is really about your experiences rather than mine...
posted by wintersweet at 10:15 PM on July 7, 2012

Best answer: We did it for two years, from just before our fifth anniversary, to a little after our seventh. We followed a lot of the standard advice--had an end-date in sight, talked daily, included one another in our daily lives and friendships as much as possible, and visited about once every two months.

We were okay. We didn't break up like some of the nay-sayers predicted. However?

I would never, ever fucking do it again. He's my best friend, and if nothing else, it showed me how important it is to have him in my daily life. I experienced a lot of anxiety and depression due to the distance (nightly swirling DEATH THOUGHTS that have essentially disappeared since we've moved in together). In some ways, I think it made us both a bit more inflexible about compromise, a little more self-centered, because we became fairly use to not needing to accommodate the other party in our daily interactions. And it just felt bad for our friendship. I don't know. I wouldn't do that to myself or to him again. I value him way, way too much.

and last, and admittedly least, I eat crackers in bed, leave my dirty clothes on the floor, and fart when I need to. There are a few perks to living alone, in the end.

Highly personal, this. My husband and I are pretty compatible as housemates, and I do all of these things plenty, even the farting.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:42 PM on July 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm doing this right now with my fiance. If this distance weren't necessary for our future I would never choose a long distance relationship. It's only been four months so far but we went through a lot of difficulties for those first few months. She was studying abroad and did not have her family or a support group. We're lucky that we both have responsibilities and duties to take care of before we are reunited. For now the time zones are not a big issue but its very expensive to visit.

In the first few months we went through a trial by fire of topics and issues that we had not even dealt with. It has made our relationship stronger and forced us to deal with our own issues we were not willing to deal with when we were together.

I wish we could visit each other as often as these other people have suggested. I'm not working yet and we have a lot of expenses on the horizon but it would really make the distance easier if we could visit. We maintain our communication through Skype chats, Skype calls, and Kakaotalk messages. Sometimes we send each other care packages or letters through the mail.

I have faith it will work out because the payoff is excellent.
posted by andendau at 11:45 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: we're 27 years together, 21 married and have spent 8 years apart at different stages of that. I feel almost like the Elder Lemon in this discussion in the sense that I've read many of these accounts with a sense of "that relationship is probably going to survive, this one isn't".
If I could favourite charmcityblues a hundred times I would because several of the strategies they've used worked well for us too.

But I have to say it depends entirely on who you are as individuals and the particular nature of your relationship.

The separation gives you very valuable information about who you are as an individual which you would generally not get by staying together in a more traditional way. It's a stress test. This is why some relationship break through the separation, because something about one or both parties is inherently damaging to the other or to the relationship. In that sense it's a bit like the challenge of severe economic hardship or serious illness, so I think it is very useful for the long-term health of your relationship to discover these early on. Has your relationship ever been through a difficult phase? How did you both respond? Was there anything about each other's response that might cause problems with the additional layer of distance? Example, if you have a disagreement and either your partner shuts down communicatively which annoys the other person.....well discuss what you'll do if that happens at a distance. Have a plan for the things which are a mere annoyance now. (on the bright side the silly annoyances like squeezing the toothpaste will be gone)

In our first one we had been together for 3 years. There was no Skype, no texts and we didn't have enough money to see each other often. I'm intensely social and very physical while my partner is very introverted. I found myself very attracted to a man and discussed it at length on phone calls home to my partner. We realised that a lot of my nature was absorbed by my large family and wide groups of friends back home and in the new place cut off from all those sources of hugs, affections cuddling babies etc., it was being channelled into my sexuality if that makes sense so in dealing with that issue I learned a lot about myself and we learned a good bit about what we expect of each other in terms of honesty and also what fidelity means to us. Those lessons stood us in good stead over the years, in the same way that the lessons we learned when we were in serious financial trouble did.

Later on when I had our first child and then our second child, there were two more long periods while we were apart and that brought a whole other set of challenges but the honesty and communication we had developed by then helped us get through them.

and definitely having a time deadline is critical.
posted by Wilder at 3:19 AM on July 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Cheating is something that is so outside my realm of anxieties surrounding the arrangement that I didn't even consider mentioning it. We're married, we made a vow to each other in front of G-d and the people most important to us on earth, and being separated for a chunk of time is not going to change that.

I'm afraid to say that none of those things are proof against cheating. You always think you're proof against it until you aren't.
posted by unSane at 6:52 AM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My parents did this for the better part of a year when I was in high school and I never thought much about it because my dad travelled a lot the whole time I was growing up (60s/70s/80s). Then I had to do it when my husband took a job in metro NYC and we were trying to sell a house in Houston. Whoa nelly I hated it, and we only were apart for three months. We had IM and phone calls and emails and were running an email game together so had regular together activities planned, but it was still very difficult.

As a couple, we're the in each other's pockets type, and I think that made it more difficult for us. I'm capable of coping alone, but I missed my husband a lot, and I was the one who stayed "home".

(Timing for us involved one visit for me to him and his return so we could drive across the country with three cats.)
posted by immlass at 7:03 AM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It sucks, it sucks, it sucks, it sucks. Did it with SO, but not a spouse. Don't know if I would have had the will to do it if I'd known how hard it would be.

Don't be fooled. When people say "watch movies together" that's like someone asking "I'm in the wilderness and have gangrene in my foot - what to do?" and someone answers "cut off the leg so it doesn't spread." It helps, yeah, but you can hardly say it makes things good.

How important is your job? How often will you see each other? These are years you'll never get back. Are they worth losing for what you would gain in their place?
posted by resiny at 7:12 AM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yes, they're years I'll never get back, but they're also years I'll never get back if I don't travel, or if I'm unhappy here. That's pretty much the nature of time! It's not simply about "the job" for me; it's about things I've never gotten to do (live alone and develop as a self-sufficient adult for a limited period of time, improve the language I want to work on, live in this particular place, and so on). But I'm reading responses and thinking about alternative ways to fulfill my goals, though it's hard for me to figure out viable alternatives. Live abroad when you're young and unattached, kids!

And again, to some of the other responses, I'm not looking for advice on how to handle being away from a partner. I'm looking for a writeup of YOUR experience of being away from your partner. Thank you! :) Very helpful (if a bit painful to read!) responses so far!
posted by wintersweet at 10:31 AM on July 8, 2012

OP, I've never been in a LDR but I'm in a very similar situation to you - I'm in a relationship, planning to move overseas for work next year (for two years at a minimum, possibly longer) and have wrestled with the ramifications. I did seriously consider staying put (despite the fact that living abroad is a lifelong dream of mine) but ultimately decided that, considering how hard I've worked to get this opportunity, I'm not quite ready to abandon it. I'm instead looking at this as a test: either we'll endure the time apart and come out stronger, or we'll drift apart and split (in which case, it probably wasn't meant to be anyways).

Besides, there's advantages to being in a LDR - you have more free time, you can do all those things you love that your SO hates, you get a break from seeing them all the time, etc. Not all bad things in my opinion.

Also, an anecdote: two friends of mine have been in similar situations recently and both had it end surprisingly well. One was separated from her SO for over two years - I get the impression that it was hard at times but apparently it worked out; they're now back together, got married and just had their first kid. The other friend has been in an LDR for 1.5 years and counting, but he seems to be handling it pretty well - I think they plan to marry and end the "long-distance" part of their LDR within the year. In both cases, I think what helped is that both partners did a good job of staying in touch, but continued to live their own lives. Both were also okay with the fact that the LDR might not work out (which, yes, is a very real possibility).

So my suggestion to you is to do what you really want, which to me sounds like travel. Yes, LDRs are hard but they are doable - much worse to sacrifice your dreams.
posted by photo guy at 3:37 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

My parents had to live apart for a time when I was young. It lasted a few years. My father flew home every couple of weeks and my mum visited him a few times. It was really hard on all of us; the only reason it worked out was because him being away was for the greater good of us all. At the time there were no jobs where we lived/my mum worked and this was the only decently paying job he could find. So it was a sacrifice by all, for the good of all. I think this is what keeps many LDR's going, everyone is losing a little but everyone on the "team" enjoys the final rewardsand recognizes the current situation is the ONLY possible situation. A situation where one person basically prioritises their (not necessary but it would be fun!) goals over the "team" goals? That sounds like a breeding ground for resentment in the person left behind, who will feel an absence in their mundane routine life that the away person doesn't feel due to new experiences/people.
posted by saucysault at 5:10 AM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I haven't given all the details on the situation and wasn't asking for your opinion on whether it is fair; I'm asking for your personal experiences being away from your partner. Thanks. :)
posted by wintersweet at 8:15 AM on July 9, 2012

Unfortunately 'fairness' is very large factor. From experience I can tell you that if one partner goes to another country to follow a particular desire, leaving the other partner behind, it is very hard not to have feelings of resentment, however much you might love them. Like someone said above, at best it's a grind, and if one partner is getting much more out of it than another, that can become a big problem. It's very easy to be big-hearted in the abstract: after thirteen months of loneliness it can be much less easy.
posted by unSane at 8:46 AM on July 9, 2012

Response by poster: Let me be a little more blunt. If you don't have a personal experience to relate, please don't comment. Thank you!
posted by wintersweet at 9:08 AM on July 9, 2012

Response by poster: (I think unSane is relating a personal experience, with or without details, which I appreciate ... but no one can judge the fairness of my personal situation since I haven't told you about it. Thanks again to everyone focusing on my actual question!)
posted by wintersweet at 9:10 AM on July 9, 2012

Best answer: The point is not how other people judge the fairness but how you and your partner will judge it.

In my case my (now) wife, who I loved very much and had already asked to marry me, decided to go back to Canada and do her masters. She had my full blessing to do that. However the separation was simply too long, and the experience was a miserable one for me, and I began to resent having to bear the brunt of it. She started to feel like less and less part of my life. We had regular, long, phone conversations and visited each other once every three to five months, but it really didn't make any difference. I ended up having a very intense but ill-advised affair with someone, and I now realize the problem was that when I said 'go ahead and do your masters' my heart was writing a check which my ass simply couldn't cash.

So I am saying, from the perspective of the person who has been on the other end, that a person saying they're fine with, however much they mean it, it is not a guarantee of anything unless they have actually done it and know what's in store.

I personally think that I was in the wrong for what I did, but several friends of mine took a (not very helpful) different view, opining that my partner should have known she was rolling the dice on the relationship when she made her decision.

There is another aspect to this as well, which is that for some people a person in a LDR can become an almost irresistible target for romantic feelings. I believe it's too much to ask an LDR partner to eschew all opposite-sex friendships, but it's very easy for those friendships to get unexpectedly intense in the absence of your partner. I've always spent lots of time with my (platonic) female friends, more so than my male friends, but boundaries can get pretty blurred when your partner is away and you're spending a lot of time with someone else, even if you have no romantic intentions.
posted by unSane at 9:37 AM on July 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I really, really don't recommend it. I did this for a few years with a man I loved completely and madly. He was Australian, I'm an American. We met at work, I fell desperately in love with him, waited and watched for a year or so until he was ready for a relationship and finally figured out that I loved him... and then he immediately thereafter got offered what was essentially his dream job writing in Europe (for very little to no salary, but free room and board and travel). I, knowing full well that this was his dream and he'd resent the shit out of me if I discouraged it, sincerely encouraged him to go, and I 100% meant it. I still think I made the right decision to support it, and that he made the right decision to go. It was supposed to be short-ish term - a year, maybe - but there was nothing really completely definite about it. And it was terrible but tolerable at first. We'd visit each other a few times a year, but for a few weeks (or even months) at a pop, and that part was very intense and very romantic, like a giant whirlwind of "FINALLY I get to see the person I dearly love!" + 'awesome long European vacation', all wrapped up in one. He'd come and stay with me in New York for a month or two in the summer. It was always just enough time to completely re-solidify the relationship bonds and fall fully and madly back in love. In between these visits, we wrote each other extensively, beautifully, and constantly over email (I'm not a phone person, skype wasn't around - but I don't think that part makes any difference whatsoever). I don't think either of us ever cheated -I certainly didn't. And I didn't want to. And he wasn't the type to wander in that way, and though everyone thought I was a fool for thinking so, I never worried about him straying. And I honestly wouldn't have minded if he did, frankly, as long as he was in it with me for the long haul. I would understand cheating, in this situation, if it was just sex. But I don't think either of us did anyway.

Once it got rolling, it became a different animal. There seemed no clear end in sight. He never appeared to have any solid plan for getting us on the same continent besides me moving whereever he was at the time, and I wasn't willing to leave school (which was hard-won for me as a non-traditional, older student) and my job, my friends, and my entire life here to move overseas (which I actually really wanted to do, but not just ten - not when I was almost done with my degree), particularly when I had no solidly marketable job skills for a foreign county and he had no actual salary to support us with. And I imagine my balking on that front inturn made him feel insecure in the relationship, and to wonder if I really wanted him. And then I was even more uncertain of the whole thing because despite living together for a few months a couple times a year, we never really had a chance to try it longterm, to get comfortable in it, to wake up beside each other every day, to do things together like a nomal couple. The killing crux of this is that when you need someone, they are not there. When you want a kiss, you have no one to kiss. When you want to go out with your partner on a Saturday night, s/he is not there. And won't be there, not for a long time. No amount of Skype or watching movies together online makes up for the fact that you're really quite alone - except with all the restrictions and turnmoil of a full relationship, and absolutely none of the benefits. For me, it always felt like a vacation fling - a very intense, very long term, very unrequited-love type of all-encompassing fantasy that came to crashing, fulfilling fruition when we managed to be in the same place for a while, which sadly happened often enough to string us both along in the worst possible way.

I will never, ever do this to myself again. I loved the unholy shit out of this man, and I absolutely know he loved me just as much if not more, and the whole thing wound up being one of the most utterly painful experience I've been through (and I've had some doozies). He's married to someone else now, with a son, I understand. It's been about seven years since I broke it off, and it still hurts like hell to think about it. I still resent the shit out of him for leaving me behind for a job.
posted by involution at 4:09 PM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

(Christ. The typos! Yeesh.)
posted by involution at 4:11 PM on July 11, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the thought you guys put into your answers (and I'm sorry for dredging up some painful experiences! yikes!). I've been simultaneously working on some other stuff and I think between the two personal and professional crises I'm probably going to go down another path. If I go overseas, right now I'm thinking I'll do whatever it takes to find shorter assignments, even if they'd be less satisfying in some ways. I think there would be other payoffs in terms of sanity, emotional wellbeing, keeping our connections whole, etc. All that stuff I kept worrying about and wondering if I was silly or weak for worrying about...

There is something that's a max of 4 months that I might apply to (we've already managed 3) or might not if more rewarding things here come along. And he ever (!) gets that tenure-track job, we'll keep our eyes firmly on the chance of sabbatical someday. I'm pretty sure we could make a good case for studying how his subject is taught in the country where I want to live, and what I'd actually like most in the world (developing my independence aside!) is to live there together for a while!

Thanks again, everyone. I'm going to go do some other fulfilling stuff for now like sign up for a couple of classes and find out if I'm too out of shape to start learning a new martial art. :p
posted by wintersweet at 12:31 PM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you have thought it through, Wintersweet. If you can swing the 4-month or sabbatical idea, that sounds like it could work well for you. Whatever you decide, I wish you the best.
posted by unSane at 5:10 PM on July 12, 2012

If I go overseas, right now I'm thinking I'll do whatever it takes to find shorter assignments, even if they'd be less satisfying in some ways. I think there would be other payoffs in terms of sanity, emotional wellbeing, keeping our connections whole, etc.

I'm one of the people above who reported less than ideal outcomes from long separations. However, we have had multiple shorter (one to four month) separations, and if anything they have been great for our relationship. That's a short enough time to be a mild inconvenience to the person left behind, so that they are happy to see you come home, but haven't built up lots of resentment. It's long enough for the person traveling to have a fully immersive experience and come back recharged and refreshed. And it's short enough that you don't really get into the crazy expenses of trying to run two households. (One key, though, is to make it ok for both parties to have the chance to be the one traveling. It's ok if one person doesn't want to -- they just need to have the full permission and support to go if they ever wanted to.)

So if my experience is at all relevant to your life, I'd say you are very much making the right call here. Good luck!
posted by Forktine at 5:34 PM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

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