Transitioning to a long distance relationship
June 21, 2014 2:09 AM   Subscribe

My husband will be moving from where we live in the NYC area to Boston for work for a minimum of three to five years and I'll be staying here. I'm looking for suggestions on how to transition to a long distance relationship and then how to maintain it. Best practices, things that worked, things that didn't work, and any ideas for how to survive a difficult transition.

We've been together for a bit less than a decade, married for a couple of years. We are doing this because I have my dream job here and he's been offered his dream job there. Neither of our jobs lends itself to telecommuting.

I'm pretty apprehensive about this and am hoping for good advice from the hivemind.
posted by sciencegeek to Human Relations (19 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I am nearly two years into a similar arrangement and we decided at the beginning of all this to have a firm end date, which is two years so I am negotiating with my employer to work from home or I will be moving on. This end date helps keep morale up when you are just too tired to make the same journey yet again. We have been married 11 years. I won't lie - it is very hard, and the expenses are very hard to justify - I work for a NGO. There are times when I appreciate my own space and get to work on my hobbies, but there are also times when I am lonely.

What works for us: Facetime while we are just pottering around doing normal house things. Having visits locked in the diary ahead instead of scrambling for flights/trains at the last minute. Going out with friends in both cities. We have missed being able to travel to places other than the ones we live in - we used to do a lot of weekend breaks and that's been replaced by commuting. So you might also want to meet elsewhere than NY or Boston.

Don't shy away from arguments on visits but don't pick fights because you want to not miss them when you are apart - our first year this happened a lot until we sat down and had a really good talk acknowledging that it was ok that we were sometimes sad or lonely, but not ok to take it out on spouse.

Good luck!
posted by wingless_angel at 2:30 AM on June 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

There's an app on the iPhone called Perch that sets up a constant video stream between two devices. Get some old iPhones or iPod touches and hang them in the place in the house you like to hang out. It'll be more like you're hanging out together since it's always on and there's little effort in using it.
posted by reddot at 4:13 AM on June 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

Multiple-nth'ing wingless_angel's point about having an end date.

Don't think of one person's place as the "real" place where YouAndHe live, while the other is "just" a temporary apartment (even if his plan is totally to come back to the place you currently live). There's a whole category of arguments where (to use you as an example) your husband thinks you think your reason for being in NY is "superior" to his reason for being in Boston. It can be very corrosive.

And so, tying together those two things: Don't be afraid to plan for what happens after the LD part of the LDR is over, but don't feel like that's locked in, either.
posted by Etrigan at 5:05 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

My parents did this exact long distance set-up for a couple years after grad school and before they got married. They survived, and this was in an era before facetime or skype or even cheap long-distance phone calls. Boston-New York is a short enough distance that getting together all or most weekends is entirely feasible, assuming your budget will cover gas/train tickets/bus tickets. For something like two years, my Dad bundled his elementary school-age son (my half-brother) into the car almost every Friday evening and they drove the 4.5 hours down to New Jersey. (Of course it helps that my Dad kinda likes highway driving, and thinks nothing of hopping in the car for 5 or 6 hours or more to get somewhere.)

And speaking from my personal experience, the most important and difficult thing about going long distance is making sure that you keep up the constant stream of small to medium deeds and words of love and affection that nourish a relationship. When you're living together these things that make your partner feel loved and valued (an affectionate pat, a compliment, taking out the trash even though its not your turn, etc.) just sort of happen as the opportunity arises. When you're long distance you both have to make your own opportunity for these things, and it requires frequent conscious effort, to find those little things you can do, even if it's just spending ten minutes surfing /r/aww so that your partner can wake up to an email with a lolcat that will particularly strike their funnybone.
posted by firechicago at 5:09 AM on June 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

I would absolutely have not only an end date, but plans to be together every weekend. it doesn't cost all that much to go from NYC to Boston, and you can take turns.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:49 AM on June 21, 2014

Have you thought about moving to CT and both just having very long commutes? I grew up in West Hartford, CT, and our next door neighbor commuted into NYC every day - it's doable.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:50 AM on June 21, 2014 [13 favorites]

I live with my partner of 21 years and our three kids. But I also have a long-distance girlfriend, and before that I had a different long-distance girlfriend for awhile. Recently, my current girlfriend and I were navigating the tricky transition from New Relationship Energy to Sustainable Ongoing Less-Intense Thing, and in the course of that I wrote a whole thing about the elements of a long distance relationship. Which I will now share with you in case it's helpful.

I'd add that it always helps to know exactly when your next visit will be, so you have something to count down to. We find it very challenging when we don't know when we'll see each other again.

My topic this morning is not that girl's Three Point Model of Long-Distance Relationships.

*clears throat, adjusts glasses, looks professorial*

The long-distance relationship, or LDR, is maintained through three forms of contact. The importance of each of these forms of contact can vary from relationship to relationship, even to the extent that one may be absent or near-absent, but it behooves the thoughtful person to consider their role and importance.

TYPE A: Low-impact daily or near-daily contact.

Type A contact is accomplished through things like texting good morning or good night, asking questions like, "how was your day?" or "what are you up to?" or reporting on on-going minor life issues like, "my cold is much better," or "I finally got the washing machine fixed." Sending phone pictures of your tasty glass of beer or the cute thing your cat is doing would also fall into this category.

The live-in relationship analog for this is daily life maintenance: fixing and eating dinner, watching a little TV, talking about how work went, making sure somebody calls the landlord about the leaky pipe, taking care of kids, and so on.

This type of contact often takes place in between or during other activities, and is prone to interruption. A couple of quick texts from work that end abruptly when a meeting begins or someone comes up to you with a question, for instance.

Some relationships will have a lot of this, and some will have very little. I was talking to Live-In Sweetie about this at breakfast this morning, and he pointed out that he and his long-distance best friend do almost none of this kind of thing. Because of Lovely Girlfriend's problems with internet access, and because her job allowed for very little IMing, she and I rarely did more than exchange a text or two during the day, but we always texted goodnight at 10 p.m.You wouldn't think that would be a big deal, but we both really missed it when we broke up. It was usually just a couple of lines but was a way to remind us we were thinking of each other.


In a local or live-in relationship, this is things like (as Live-In Sweetie pointed out) our breakfast dates, where we have an undistracted hour or so just with each other, with no chores on our minds and no kids, work e-mail, or appointments to interrupt us. Whereas Type A contact is prone to being interrupted at any time by other demands, in Type B, you've got the other person's full attention.

In LDRs, Type B contact could be phone calls, non-rushed e-mails, Skyping, or even a long on-line chat by text or IM.

Live-in Sweetie was saying that he and his long-distance best friend do this, that they get on the phone every so often and the conversation is never less than an hour. It's their major way of keeping in touch between visits.

Type B contact requires mindfulness and effort. Unless you live some kind of charmed life, you have to make it happen. A place in your calendar has to be cleared during which you can focus.

TYPE C: Visits

There are two aspects to visits:

C1: how good they are. Do you feel the connection when you're together? Do you enjoy your visits?

C2: how often they happen. Do your lives allow for the time and expense?

Lovely Girlfriend and I felt that we could feel our connection slipping if the gap between visits stretched out to two months or more. We thought every six weeks would be ideal, though we never achieved that and didn't think it was an option. Of course, she and I had very weak Type A and Type B contact. More of that might have made longer gaps between visits more OK.

Live-in Sweetie pointed out this morning that the equivalent of "visits" in a local relationship are also hard to achieve once you have kids. A visit is a bigger chunk of time, and more removed from regular life--it usually involves doing things that aren't Activities of Daily Living, like hiking up a mountain or seeing a concert or getting a room overnight. What in a local relationship you call a "date." My current girlfriend and I observe that visits to each other's homes can be tricky because the one of us who is visiting is in Type C mode, away from home and more or less on vacation, while the one who isn't is still surrounded by their home, their chores, reminders of work that needs doing, and so on. We have found that visits where we both are away from our homes for a weekend are the best for really feeling our connection to each other and getting our tanks topped up to hold us over until we can see each other again.
posted by not that girl at 6:02 AM on June 21, 2014 [23 favorites]

Drat, my tablet rebooted in the middle of my comment... another ex-LDRer checking in. I also caution making this choice to begin with. My husband and I were long distance for the better part of four years, while he was in the military. I saw a lot of marriages end under the strain of separations that were shorter than the type that you are planning, and our separation periods (we saw each other about every 5-6 weeks) were typical for his branch and station.

The risk you're running is the destabilization of your most important relationship. Jobs, even dream jobs, can change, priorities can change - but marriage is a long haul plan. In the military, or seafaring communities, at least, you have people around you who understand what you're going through during separations, and "everyone does it" - you don't feel like a freak. You are planning to define your life by this relationship for three to five years, where every decision will have to take it into account. In a dating relationship, that might be fine, but in a marriage -- I wouldn't suggest it to my worst enemy, especially if they wanted or had kids or pets.

With a long distance relationship, you can either live separate lives, where the time you spend together becomes destabilizing of your "ordinary life"; or you can avoid dipping too deeply into another world, outside of your job, with your lives together lived only on weekends or in phone calls. Your relationship starts to be defined by, "When are we going to see each other again" instead of growing together. That juggling act of maintaining a connection but also having a life that isn't on hold until your partner's with you, is a huge challenge.

Ultimately, my husband and I each decided at different times that our marriage was more important than our careers - first, I left a lucrative contract in the city to join him at the rural port where he was stationed; then he left the military altogether. We did know someone who made the "long distance thing" work for years. His ex-supervisor's wife lived two hours away from his home port. Because my career took a hit in the rural location, I often wondered if I shouldn't have done the same thing. But then when he retired - he became a long distance truck driver. His relationship had succeeded in lasting, but by adapting so that the separations in fact defined it.

If you go through with it, then West Hartford or similar is the best choice. You will wake up together and be in the same place on the weekends, unless you choose otherwise. You'll have a place to grow together as a couple. The Acela train is out unless you can change your start times - otherwise taking a daily train, bus might work great for many couples, assuming they can do some work on the train/bus, and they'll save on the cost of maintaining two homes in different cities.
posted by mitschlag at 7:22 AM on June 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

We have missed being able to travel to places other than the ones we live in - we used to do a lot of weekend breaks and that's been replaced by commuting.

We've done the long distance thing for several interludes, and this is actually a big deal. We normally love traveling (both quick weekend trips and long jaunts), but it's really hard to find the energy and money for even a day trip when one person has just spent a day commuting by driving or flying. Long distance vacations ("Let's meet in Cancun!") sound like an obvious solution, but coordinating all the travel gets surprisingly difficult, as well as finding a place that is cheap from both starting points at the same time.

Although we've done it and made it work, I'd agree with mitschlag that the better choice is to not do it, or to do it for a very limited time. In addition to the relationship stresses, it also hurts other things. Good luck maintaining a good social life if you are out of town every weekend; good luck with your exercise and cooking routine when you are traveling irregularly; good luck looking like the perfect employee when you never get drinks with the boss because you are catching the 5:30 flight every Friday. There are a lot of costs, and not all that many benefits.

And, as noted above, maintaining two households is expensive, even if one of them is a very minimal studio apartment. That's two internet connections and all other utilities, all the travel costs, furniture for both places, and so on.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:29 AM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I kinda have to nth everyone else who's saying it's not a good idea. If the "dream job" was contracting/firmly only lasting for a few years, maybe, but I can see this kind of situation creeping on indefinitely. Especially since it's so hard to get another job in the first place, one or both of you may feel financially trapped into the job you're in now and never be able to move.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:50 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'll buck the trend a little here and say that it can be rather pleasant under the right circumstances. Hubby and I did this for 6 years and, although we were ultimately glad that he was able to move back here, it worked pretty well most of the time. I think LDRs are OK for capable and self-contained introverts who are happy doing their own thing without constant interaction.

Based on your username I'm going to guess that you might also be an introvert with some geeky solitary interests. If that's true, this situation might work OK for you too. In my case, I love having a lot of time alone to pursue my hobbies and interests without distraction. Also things I really should do but hate doing (e.g. exercise) - somehow there's always an excuse to not do them if there's somebody else around expecting my attention.

Factors that made it work: Hubby's job was flexible and his boss was very accommodating. Hubby was a field service rep so he was constantly flitting from one site to another and nobody expected him to be in one place from 9 - 5. He could also handle a lot of stuff by phone and email, so it often didn't matter where he was physically. Since he was on call 24/7 (which sucks, bigtime) his boss let him take a lot of lonnnnnng weekends, off the books, by way of compensation. So every 6 - 8 weeks he would come here for about a week. I went to his place for the traditional long holidays like Thanksgiving. In between visits, we spent about an hour on FaceTime nearly every evening, which is probably equivalent to how much we'd interact on weeknights before he moved out, except in one big block instead of little snippets. We also don't have kids.

Yes it's more expensive to maintain 2 households, and the plane tickets added up as well, but luckily we could afford it. We were also healthy and felt capable of handling most things without help (and the other things could wait until a visit). If you and your husband are also healthy, capable, and free of huge responsibilities (like kids, ailing parents, a house in constant need of repair, etc) it can be a nice arrangement for a couple of introverts: most of the benefits of being married with most of the benefits of being single. Good luck in whatever you decide!

Why we ultimately decided to live together again: a bunch of bullshit politics erupted at Hubby's job, plus we were getting older and I started to feel not so capable and healthy any more. No regrets, though - we both enjoyed our time apart, mostly, and don't feel like it had any long-term effect on our marriage. Maybe it even helped a little ;-)
posted by Quietgal at 9:06 AM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Additional data:

My husband's future job is a postdoc in a lab which promises to have a good intellectual environment, very good funding and access to many resources. There is no "fixed" end date per se, but it does have a limited lifespan. Of course who knows what will happen after that ...

We will not be able to travel every weekend due to financial and time constraints and we have looked into living in CT and it would not work. The commute would be awful for both of us. I have already spent a year of my life commuting between PHL and NYP and it was one of the worst things I've done. My job also requires that I be at work every morning at 7am sharp.
posted by sciencegeek at 11:42 AM on June 21, 2014

Based on your follow up - the job may not have an end date but you can set one nevertheless. Just something to consider.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:33 PM on June 21, 2014

Can he move somewhere on the outer south-western edge of a comfortable commute to Boston, and can you move somewhere else, on the outer north-eastern edge of a comfortable commute to NY, making the distance between you two as short as possible?

Can you plan now to check in regularly about how it's impacting your relationship, with an agreement about what you'll do if it turns out not to feel sustainable?
posted by daisyace at 6:12 PM on June 21, 2014

Oh, if it's got a limited lifespan, then I think you have a shot. From what I hear from my postdoc friend, they tend to last 1-2 years or so. I think a marriage can do that, hopefully! In which case, good luck.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:31 PM on June 21, 2014

What is the endpoint? What are the odds of you having your dream jobs in the same location in the future? If they are low, what do you envision your marriage looking like long-term?

I had a long distance marriage for a year, and it can work, but is not something I would choose outside of dire circumstances. Think hard about this one.
posted by metasarah at 1:18 PM on June 22, 2014

Our decision is not up for discussion. Please understand that I'm not using the term 'Dream Job' lightly. For reasons, I'm not going to go into detail why these are dream jobs.

While I appreciate that this is not an ideal situation, surely there are many other couples in similar situations - diplomatic jobs, jobs in long distance transit, military careers, NGO, professional sports, etc. I'd like suggestions on how to make the best out of a difficult situation.

I have been in one other long distance relationship in the past - he and I hadn't been dating long before it became long distance and for that and other reasons, it wasn't a good long distance relationship. I understand how difficult it is to establish and maintain a long distance relationship. I am extremely apprehensive about this and am looking for concrete suggestions on how to make this as functional as possible. The chorus of responses telling me that this is a bad idea and doom, doom, doom is really, really not helpful.

I cannot FIAMO because each person who responds 'doom, doom, doom' has coupled their response with a vague suggestion (endpoints and living somewhere in CT or MA), thus making it hard for me to say that they haven't answered the question.

If you read my question, you'll note that I mentioned being apprehensive and hoping for good advice. I'm already quite capable of catastrophizing the situation. Please help me de-catastrophize.
posted by sciencegeek at 4:52 PM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

De-catastrophizing: for what it's worth, initially I wasn't expecting to be happy about the LDR situation. Hubby decided unilaterally to take the job out of state, and I felt hurt and abandoned for a few weeks but eventually I found that I really liked certain aspects, as I explained above. You might find your own unexpected silver lining, too.

Best practices: probably the most important thing is regular video chats to talk about the day's minutia and share the affectionate silliness of married life. Beyond that, try to visit in person for several days at a time - normal weekends aren't long enough to accomplish anything substantial - and schedule visits in advance so you have something to look forward to. Also have a plan for emergencies and not-really-emergencies-but-it-would-be-good-to-get-some-help-here situations. Try to stay on top of things so that they don't become emergencies, so pay attention to car maintenance and stuff like that. Another reason for scheduling longer visits is so that you can take care of things together, since a lot of stuff is just easier with 2 people (home repair projects, medical procedures requiring a little post-op pampering, etc).

Lastly, try to give yourself things to look forward to in addition to your visits together. Are there things you've always wanted to try but your husband wasn't interested? This is your chance to take an art class, dabble in photography, watch some schmaltzy movies, join a book club, learn to play the guitar, or whatever else floats your boat (but not his).

There will be a re-adjustment period, no doubt about it, but you also had to adjust to living together in the first place and you made it through that. Some aspects of your new situation will be not so great but don't overlook the value of "me time".
posted by Quietgal at 9:14 PM on June 22, 2014

One thing that really helped me when I was in a Long Distance Relationship with my fiancé, was surprising each other with small unexpected gestures.

For example, when I missed him, I would sit down and write a letter to him, just talking about my day, what I had for dinner, silly things that reminded me of him. Then I'd post it to him and when the letter arrived, it would be a lovely treat for both of us! It's really important to have scheduled time to talk, Skype etc.... but it's also important to keep things spontaneous and unexpected if you can! Sometimes the smallest gestures make a difference. You see something you think he would like? Buy it for him and send it by mail, take a picture and text him that you miss him. There's always the chance to turn a negative into a positive.

I eventually moved to Canada for my fiancé, but we did the long distance thing successfully for 4 years so it really can be done. What worked for us was setting the expectations together BEFORE we went Long Distance... we knew what we expected from each other from the get go and that helped. If you two are good communicators and compromisers now, it's very unlikely that will change when you go LD..... and ultimately, that's what's going to make this work!

In my opinion it's never an ideal situation, but, well, what is?
posted by JenThePro at 7:44 AM on June 23, 2014

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