Tuesday Talking Time: Long distance relationships

Michaelyn here!
I don’t actually remember what JT calls this segment, so I made my own title. You know the drill, right? Every Tuesday we share stories and thoughts in the comments. Whee! [Edit: JT's been calling this Tuesday Conversations.]

Today the topic is long distance relationships. Have you tried it? Did it work out? Are you in one now? What made it work or not work?

You may be aware, JT and I have been living far apart during our entire relationship (I’m in Lawrence, KS and he’s in Columbus, OH). We have dinner dates and movie dates over Skype. Honestly, Skype has been the key to keeping us sane.Our goal for this year was to see each other in person at least once a month, but we’ve been together more often than that. It’s still really difficult, and we both hate being apart for weeks at a time. Having to say goodbye at the airport is one of my least favorite things. Still, we’re both terrible happy to have the other in our life, and we are of the opinion that that happiness is worth putting up with the distance.

About michaelyn
  • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

    I’ve been in several long distance relationships before. Some have been ok, some have been terrible. One was fine long distance, and when she moved down to live with me, it turned into a 6 year abusive relationship. I don’t think there’s really a trick or a formula for them. Like all things, it’s very much about the people involved.

    Also, to quote Barney Stinson, “Hey, don’t knock long distance relationships! I really think they can work. (..) I’m juggling four right now. There’s Lisa in Madrid, there’s Erica in Tokyo, there’s Laura in Denmark, and Kelly on 34 street.”

  • Rhubarb The Bear

    As a veteran of a relationship that’s been LD twice, both at its beginning and about 15 years in (and that interval lasted over four years)… I hope never, never to be LD again. Not only does it strain the relationship, but it strains the individuals. Then again, breaking up would have been an even worse solution, so I have no further wisdom here.

    • SabsDkPrncs

      My relationship was long distance 6 years in for about 9 months, and it was hell. I usually manage my depression pretty well, but after my husband had been halfway around the world for 3 months, I lost it. And when I lost it, he lost it too. Everything was mended once I moved around the world to be with him (I didn’t have a job to give up, but being away from home is hard), but I wouldn’t do it again. So no wisdom from me either.

  • RuQu

    Nancy (name changed to protect the innocent) and I met in college. She was two years younger than me. We were friends at the time.

    After I graduated and the military sent me away, we decided to start dating, long distance. We went a few months without any contact except paper letters. Then we had a good year of seeing each other once a month.

    Then we got married, still living in different parts of the country.

    Eventually I went to sea, and we spent three years of seeing each other only once every 4 months, plus a couple of visits around the holidays.

    By the time I got stationed on land again and we moved in together, we had been married about 3 years. It was the first time we’d ever lived in the same place since we started dating.

    What made it work? Certainly not frequent communication, since Skype and phone calls weren’t an option.

    1) Trust. I think this is where most people really struggle. While I was at sea, some shipmates saw her picture on my Facebook page and were shocked. “How can you have such an attractive wife and be at sea? What about all those other men available on land?” Somehow the concept of women saying “No” to the advances of men, regularly demonstrated to this guy by most women he approached when the crew hit up the bars in ports, was beyond him.

    2) Sex. Sex is great. Everyone should have it as often as they can find someone worth having it with. This should probably include your significant other. Sex is a powerful bonding force. If you haven’t seen your spouse / lover in 4-8 months, sex should be near the top of your to-do list when you next meet. Try and make sure it’s “good sex” and not just a couple of quickies. Quickies can be great to toss in the mix when you are having sex regularly, but if you might not get a chance for 4 more months…make sure you do it right. In females, Oxytocin is released during orgasm and generates strong bonding. So take the time together to take care of her needs!

    3) The grass is perfectly green right here. Everyone knows the tired jokes about sex ending when you get married. This simply isn’t true. Studies consistently show that married couples have more sex per year than single people. Yes, when you are single and finally meet someone to sleep with you might have sex 2-3 times a day, nearly every day, for 2 weeks. But that ignores the dry-spell between relationships, and ignores what it drops down to after that initial passionate period ends…assuming you even stay together. So yes, you might not get laid except every few months while in a long-distance relationship, but statistically speaking, you won’t as a single person either. I knew quite a few single people on the ship who went very long stretches without any action at all, one guy was pushing multiple years despite his best efforts. The “woman in every port” idea might work if your ship tours SE Asia and you are picking up prostitutes, but it doesn’t work nearly as well elsewhere. Don’t fall prey to the illusion that your relationship is what is keeping you from getting laid. The exact opposite is true, your marriage / long-term relationship is probably the primary reason you ARE getting laid.

    4) Be your own people. Too many modern couples are co-dependent. Have your own hobbies, your own interests, and your own friends. *You should complement each other, not define each other.*

    I know that probably seems like a lot of emphasis on sex, but, when we are really honest, that’s the truth of most relationships. Sex with someone else is the ultimate relationship crime (after murdering your partner I suppose). When a relationship dies, the sex is usually the first to go, with most people who get divorced reporting that they hadn’t had sex with each other in months or even years. Sex and trust are also inextricably linked, and when most people say “trust” in context of relationships, especially long distance ones, what they usually mean is “trust they won’t sleep with other people.” So really, that’s 3 of my 4 points that are all about sex.

    I really can’t understate the importance of the 4th point (the non-sex one) enough. If you are your own people, with your own lives, you have a support group beyond each other. If you need someone to talk to, and the other is out of contact range, you have someone else to turn to. Without this, feelings of abandonment and “you are never there for me when I need you!” can quickly drive a wedge between you. You may then start to look for someone who can be there for you and, before you know it, you are “in love” with someone new. Someone who can support you emotionally and have sex with you. With your own life, your own friends, and your own support structure, that need is already satisfied independently, which leads to far more security for the both of you.

    In retrospect, we really didn’t have that hard of a time with it, which is good since we will be doing it again in about a year. “Don’t have sex with other people. Have great sex together. Have your own friends.” It’s not that hard.

    • Heinrich Kruger

      I agree about the importance of trust, good sex and having your own life. Mind you, I think trust in any relationship should go beyond just “trust they won’t sleep with other people”. Keep in mind, not everyone here is monogamous (so “don’t have sex with other people” doesn’t necessarily apply) but trust is still vital. My fiancée and I are monogamous LDR, but even for us trust is about a lot more than just not sleeping with other people. I’m having a hard time finding the words to describe what I mean, but I suppose what it comes down to (at least for me) is trust that she won’t do anything to intentionally hurt me (there are many more ways to hurt me than just sleeping with someone else) but more importantly, trust that we can rely on each other for emotional support when needed (even if it has to be from a distance).

  • http://brutereason.net Miriam

    I kept up a long-distance relationship for about a year and a half, and it was monogamous for most of that time, too. It was difficult and sad sometimes, but I think it was worth it. When we ultimately broke up, it wasn’t really because of the distance; it was because we’d grown apart, which could’ve been because of the distance or any number of other factors.

    I’d do it again if I met someone I wanted to be with but who I couldn’t be in the same physical location with for a while. Not forever. People like that don’t come along all that often.

  • http://pzer0.com Dan

    Never done it myself, but have had several friends who have been or currently are in LDRs. I think that, as you have mentioned, Skype and other technologies make it much more feasible than it was in the past. You should just move to Columbus, Michaelyn. Lots of good people there!

  • hyrax

    For my last 2.5 years of college (in the U.S.) I was in a steady relationship. So, when I got accepted to grad school in Ireland, we decided to stick it out in long-distance mode. We thought it would work fine, considering that we had both weathered the other going on a semester abroad. For the first two years or so, it was ok. We chatted online and emailed most every day, and on weekends we would talk on skype. Eventually, though, after three years of seeing each other approximately 1 month out of every 12, we began drifting apart emotionally. Our lives no longer seemed to synch up. The emotional distance and the physical distance combined were just too much, and one day I just realized I didn’t love him anymore. Didn’t feel much of anything.

    So… I guess if there’s any advice to take out of that, it’s that being a part of each others’ lives is key. Seeing each other once a month sounds like a really good idea. Really, if you can see each other more than twice a month it’s barely long-distance at all in my book. :-P (I’ve since dated someone who lived three hours away from me; neither of us had cars, so we took turns taking the bus to visit the other on weekends. And I didn’t consider that “long distance” at all!)

  • Makoto

    My last relationship was LD – while it started off fine, with visits at my place or hers at least once a month to start, it went south after a few months, and only lasted a couple of months beyond that. She had a lot of trust issues, which were egged on by her friends and ex-boyfriend, and even though I was faithful, she was often angry and accusing me of things I’d simply not do.

    In the end, I think I was a rebound relationship for her from said on-again-off-again ex whom she’d recently broken up with again, and more or less doomed from the start.

    I’d say trust is definitely key for any relationship, and even more so for the long distance flavor. And totally agree, parting at the airport is the worst.

  • Heather

    I had two LD relationships in high school. One was good, except that he didn’t talk all that much so we grew apart after about a year or so. The other one roped me in with his constant flattery and somesuch, but about 6 months in it turned into a mentally abusive relationship because he required me to spend every minute outside of school talking to him or else he accused me of cheating on him. This went on my first year of college as well when he would “jokingly” call me a slut or whore because he was sure I was shopping around on the side if I was even 5 minutes late from class. If I ever go through LD again, I’m going to make sure of the person’s sanity first.

  • Anonymous

    I had a weird pseudo-long distance relationship. At the time, I was living primarily in Minnesota while flying to California for one or two weekends per month. I started dating a guy from California in the middle of that arrangement. Basically, we spent those weekends together, and it was non-stop hugs and happiness. Then there were the tough goodbyes. We would always Skype the moment I made it back to my home in Minnesota. Then came two weeks of feeling kind of unfulfilled until I could get back on a plane. We really cared about each other and we made it work, but it got hard at times. There were times that we each needed emotional support, and that need couldn’t be completely fulfilled without the physicality. He had chronic migraines, and I have to say it killed me that I couldn’t take care of him. During the summer of that year, we had a blissful two months of each other’s company. But I eventually had to leave for college. Things fell apart. He couldn’t deal with the idea of me going off and starting something so new in my life that could potentially replace him. I couldn’t deal with seeing him even less often than I had the year before. There was a slow, drawn-out breakup, and it was full of awkward. Probably could have been handled better by both parties. I’m really wary of long distance things now. I’ve seen successful long distance relationships, but I don’t honestly believe that I’m capable of that sort of thing.

  • http://www.twitter.com/nicoleintrovert Nicole Introvert

    I have had two long distance relationships. My first was actually my first “real” relationship when I was 18 (1998). We were on opposite coasts. It was more difficult than I wanted to accept. We had some rough times, and it ended after about 2 years. We had met on the interwebs because he saw my Angelfire Page! (haw haw!) Most of our communication was via email or postcards.

    My 2nd long distance relationship started in Nov. 2003, we moved in together in Feb 2005, and we got married in Oct. 2007 and are happily married to this day. I had established communication requirements which were severely lacking in the first relationship. Because of those boundaries I set, I think that is what got us through the first year and a half of being 2000 miles apart. This was before Skype was a thing, so we mostly talked on AIM or the phone. We had met on some forums that mostly were nerdy and music related. I was on the Green Day forum, which he infiltrated, but I liked him (but not his Techno).

  • Heinrich Kruger

    My fiancée and I have been in a long distance relationship for 3.5 years. She lives in London and I’m a South African PhD student in The Netherlands. We met when mutual friends brought her with when they came to visit just after I started working here. I was initially reluctant to get into another long distance relationship (a previous ldr ended very badly) but we just got along so well and fell very much in love very quickly.

    Being in a long distance relationship has really difficult. Email and Skype help a lot: we usually spend about an hour (sometimes more) on Skype every evening and we email each other throughout the day. Of course, we need physical contact too and we try to spend about two weekends together every month, taking turns to visit each other. Our weekends together always feel too short though, so we make a point of taking at least one two week vacation together every year.

    To me one of the most frustrating aspects of it is not being able to be there when the other person needs you. For example, I recently had to have surgery on my foot and she wanted to come over to help me through the recovery, but couldn’t and earlier this year she went through a bit of a rough patch emotionally and professionally and I couldn’t be there to help her cope. We also really miss doing things together – especially going out to parties etc.

    In many ways though, I think our relationship is much stronger because of how far apart we are. Although it is frustrating that we don’t get to spend as much time together as we’d like, it does make the time we do have so much more precious and we really appreciate every second of each other’s company. Since we don’t have as much time together physically, we tend to talk a lot, about everything. We realised very early on that we have to be very open and honest with each other about our feelings, needs and desires and I think we have learned to communicate better than many non-long distance couples. We also learned very quickly to trust each other completely. We have also never had problems with needing to give each other space, though that might change when we move in together next year.

    Apart from constant communication, frequent visits and as many longer vacations together as possible, I think the key aspect to making this work is that we knew from the beginning what we were getting ourselves into. Setting a deadline has also helped a lot. We decided from the beginning that we cannot do this indefinitely and decided that as soon as I finish my contract at the University here (6 moths from now! WOOT!!), we need to either move in together (or at least to the same city) or call it quits. This gave us a goal to strive towards and we’ve been working hard on planning things and organising our lives so that we can move in together 6 months from now.

  • invivoMark

    Actually, my only legitimate relationship was a long-distance one. I’ve never had a short-distance relationship (non-distance?).

    It sucked, but I’ve had worse.

  • Rebecca

    My first long-distance relationship was a disaster, but I like to think we both learned quite a bit from it, both about ourselves and our ability to relate to others. Flash forward several years in my life… My husband and I spent the first year we were “together” across the globe from one another, me in Arkansas and he in the Navy in Bahrain. Neither of us had digital cameras or Skype then, I literally didn’t see him for a year. I got an email nearly every day and frequent phone calls, and we married shortly after he came back to the States. That was nearly eight years ago now, and I truly believe that the time we spent apart was an invaluable foundation for our later relationship. It made our first weeks together when he got back a bit awkward, but we had an opportunity to get to know each other in a way few couples who spend every waking moment together do. It may sound a bit paradoxical, but I think most people who’ve been in a successful long-distance relationship can appreciate what I’m saying. It was incredibly difficult, but so worth the work and the wait.

  • Jiggity

    I”m currently in a long distance relationship and at college. We started actually talking to each other on a roleplaying site (TV characters, not a sex thing (mostly)) because our characters were in a relationship. We warmed up to each other very quickly and were soon very close friends, even though we talked almost exclusively over aim. We worked up to skype over the course of a couple months of talking through text. I was dating someone else at the time, but it was my first relationship and I chose poorly. We admitted to crushes on each other just before I asked out my second girlfriend, mostly due to thinking that a long distance relationship would be terrible and wouldn’t work. Fiveish months later after a break up, I made my decision to ask her out on skype. That was just over a year ago. I met her in real life for the first time in July, and again a couple weeks after that. We text constantly and call and skype whenever possible (My phone bill ran over by something upwards of a thousand minutes one month-got it cleared up but should illustrate well). However, I won’t be able to see her for more than one day between now and winter break, and even that day is questionable, given it’d be the day before thanksgiving and I’d have to drive roughly 200 miles in one of the worst days of traffic of the year. It’s very difficult at times, but she is about as close to perfect for me as I can imagine. Same sense of humor, many similar interests, and almost as critical of religious bullshit as I (she goes to a catholic school. You know how that goes with atheists.) All things considered, my best relationship so far and honestly think it’s going to last about as long as we are.

  • neatospiderplant

    Hubby and I started dating in 2000. We lived about half an hour apart. I wouldn’t say it was necessarily the easiest time distance wise in our relationship since neither of us had cars, but it was no different than my other relationship of mine up to that point.

    In 2004, I moved to Japan for a year. It was harder, but I think the hardest thing was really just working around the 12/13 hour time difference. Every day we would either call, talk over MSN messenger or Skype. So in a lot of ways, if we didn’t think about how far we physically were, it was a lot like having to talk on the phone like we did when we first started dating. He visited for a few weeks around Christmas which was the half way point. It was great that I got to show him around where I lived and worked. I think it would have sucked if I didn’t get to share that with him.

    Shortly after I moved back to Canada, we moved in together. We were a normal cohabitating couple for about a year, then he started traveling around the continent for work making us effectively long distance a lot of the time. At first, he was home just about every weekend. I thought that was bad, until he worked for a company where he was only home about 2-4 days a month. We got married in 2008.

    It was a really hard adjustment to get used to. But like others have said, embracing Independence has helped a lot. I had a friend in town here who was dating a guy from Annapolis. Since we were both (essentially) in LDR, we hung out a lot since it was nice to bond over our sort of similar situations. It was nice that we both were in serious relationships but had a high level of independence where we could just decide to go out whenever without worrying about how it affected our significant others. Then she went and married the guy from Annapolis (what a bitch, eh? ;P) and moved there so I’m left to spend my time with single friends where I don’t fit in because I’m not single, or other married friends where I don’t fit in because my husband is never home.

    We’ve gotten used to it for the most part. The sucky thing is that there’s not much chance that things will change. Most LDRs probably intend to be temporary situations, but he’s found a career he enjoys and that he’s passionate about and even though it makes our married life incredibly difficult, I wouldn’t want to take that from him. As technology keeps getting better, things keep getting incredibly easier.

  • SherryH

    I just tried to write a comment to this, but it got waaayy too long, so I’ll try again.

    I’ve been in LDRs with two different people, one of them twice.

    The first lived about 4.5 hours from me when I was in college. We called (a lot!), wrote, and occasionally he’d drive up to stay with me or we’d meet at an event that was somewhat central to both of us. I think the distance made the relationship last longer than it might have otherwise, because the better I got to know him, the more I realized he was a self-centered user with a loose relationship with the truth. So, um, try not to get into a relationship with one of those!

    When I met the man I ended up marrying, he lived about a thousand miles from me. I was still getting over emotional fallout from the last guy. I didn’t want a relationship, and especially not an exclusive one. He was okay with that. And so, naturally, I flew down to visit for a couple of weeks and came home engaged. I do think the fact that we communicated often and well and were accepting of where the other was emotionally at the time made it a success. (I’ve never dared to ask my mom just how high the phone bills got during that time, though!)

    And so we shacked up and got married and had kids and things went along reasonably well. Until I went back to school and the business we were counting on to support us through that time dried up. He ended up taking a job 4 hours away, coming home on weekends when we could afford it. It was rough, no lie. I think the fact that we went into it accepting that it would be rough, but it just had to be done, helped us make it through. We called a lot (thank Maude for cell phones!), emailed, and found a virtual environment where we could use avatars to walk together, sit together, dance together, explore, and otherwise stay in touch. That really helped. Whatever helps you stay in touch, do it as well as you can.

    But sadly, a bunch of other stressful things kept piling on. Deaths in the family. Deaths of much-loved cats. I graduated, but our plan to buy a relative’s house and move up there fell through. And then his job was downsized and he came home again – but I ended up moving in with a sick relative to help take care of her while she was on hospice care. So we were still mostly apart. And stressed. So stressed.

    By the time we were both back under the same roof for good, I was burned out and exhausted with putting out fires to keep everything on an even keel. I mostly wanted to pull into myself and be left alone. He was exhausted from scrambling to put some kind of work back together and keep us afloat. He wanted to curl up together and be loving and close, the way we’d been before. Needless to say, those two states of mind did not mesh well! So my final bit of advice is to remember that moving in together after an LDR does not automatically work out, even if you’ve lived together before, and to be prepared to still have to work on it.

    In our case, he moved in with a friend several months ago. I’m flailing, trying to put together a resume and the things I’ll need to get a job and relocate in the mess left from packing to move, not moving, inheriting boxes of random stuff which are piled high in front of other stuff and only he can go through. We’re planning to file for divorce after the year’s separation our state requires. In a little over a month, we’ll have been married for twenty years. I guess if I have any advice to offer here, it’s that life doesn’t end when a relationship does, though it sure is a shock to the system. Oh, and try to keep things on a friendly basis if you do split. It makes the logistics so much easier.

    Good luck, you two, and I hope it all works out for you!

  • Sandy

    My first relationship was long-distance, me on the US west coast, she a little ways north of Niagara Falls (more than ten years later I’m still a little reticent to talk about it–the whole “well there’s this girl up in Canada” thing, don’t you know. Positively reeks of adolescent insecurity). I didn’t care for it at all–I always felt so remote, and it was emotionally exhausting to maintain a semblance of closeness with someone I nearly never saw or spoke to; the same must have been true as well for her, because she met a guy up there after a couple of years. I was a little hurt and terribly disappointed when she informed me, but I understood, and I couldn’t hold it against her–our relationship was strained by the distance, and I think we both accepted that we weren’t doing ourselves any favors by trying to keep up appearances. Unfortunately, her new guy was clearly a waste of space who didn’t have any respect for her, and after a year or so–during which she and I still maintained a very warm friendship–she saw that as well and broke up with him. At that point I’d more or less moved on, but I was having trouble meeting anyone, and she was down about the breakup; so we’d try to keep each other’s spirits up, listen to each other kvetch about being lonely and miserable, and all that jazz. It was very awkward at times, but it was great to have someone understanding to talk to. We ended up losing contact altogether a number of years ago though, and that was that.
    But it did have its wonderful, beautiful moments. While we were together (so to speak…), I’d spend a week or so with her every summer. The first evening we spent together, we just stayed at her home–I forget what we’d been talking about, but at one point she played me “Ragged Ass Road” by Tom Cochrane, and shortly the conversation disintegrated into just staring at each other for the length of the entire album with enormous, elated grins (“Best Waste of Time”, indeed); playing Rush songs on her bed with my acoustic guitar and her bodhran (an Irish drum she settled on after trying her hand at many different instruments including a bass guitar she and her dad had built by hand); getting lost together in Quebec for nearly a whole day; her crazyass cockatiel and the macabre little dance it would perform…
    Of course now I’m rambling. So yeah, I hated the long distance relationship, but I loved her dearly and she’s still really special to me. I can’t help thinking things would have been better without a continent between us though. And I wish that the first time a woman told me she loved me hadn’t been in an email. Ugh.

  • Cunning Pam

    I met my husband while we were both playing a multiplayer video game online. I had been divorced for a little while, and had decided that I was just going to be happy alone, so I think when we started talking there was very little pressure or expectation on either of our parts. As we got closer, we decided to meet in person, and about three months after we started chatting he flew to my area for a weekend’s visit. Shortly after that, we decided that we wanted to be together, but my son still had two years to go to finish high school (he was attending a performing arts high school, one that he had to audition for and be accepted to, and I couldn’t take that away from him) and my husband couldn’t relocate due to his work. So we spent the next two years talking every night (still in game, although we moved to a different one) and getting to know each other better and better. We managed to get together for a weekend about every two to three months. Eventually the time passed, and we were able to be together, and the amount of time spent long distance made our relationship stronger than it may have grown otherwise. We learned a tremendous amount about each other in the long hours we spent talking, and when we were finally together it felt amazingly comfortable, like being around your best old friend.
    There are times when a long distance relationship can be very difficult. If the ultimate idea is to be together, though, it’s not something that is insurmountable.

  • http://www.therecoveringcatholic.wordpress.com ryanfinbarrc

    My wife and I were in a very long-distance relationship before we married. I was in the USA for a year while she was in the UK, then right after that I was in the UK and she was in France! But we made it through, and now we’re very happily married and loving being in the same country as each other for a change!

    The key to making it work is conversation. Phonecalls, letters, emails, Skype, whatever. Just keepin in touch with each other matters so much.