I’m early. I am also nervous and I can feel the butterflies gathering in my stomach.
We had swapped numbers two days before and agreed on a meeting point. You didn’t know the area and so I had made a few suggestions. As I walked across the park I could see a figure standing towards one of the fences that circled the perimeter. I knew it was you, the obvious signaller being that you were the only person in the area on what was a fiercely hot day. You were stood under the shade of a tree wearing a plain black T-shirt and blue jeans, your hands deep in your pockets. I would later come to realise that this was your signature outfit. As I approach I recognise the huge smile and know immediately that with whatever happened on what would be our first date, it would certainly be memorable…
… And after what was a successful first date, Daniel* and I said that we’d really like to see one another again.
Excellent! The idea made us both very happy indeed.
But there was a catch. We lived in different countries… and he was heading back that very afternoon. Damn.
LOVE OR BUST
I am now in my second long-distance relationship; the first having ended partly due to massive differences in opinion about fidelity and trust, and ultimately the distance just exacerbated the problems. So when Daniel and I said that we’d like to see more of one another, we both knew that it was going to add a few extra hurdles to our fledging relationship. Certainly, I wanted to ensure that I had a fresh perspective, that I wasn’t going to bring some of the negativity to the table from my previous experience.
In the first few months, both Daniel and I were struck by how many people we knew were involved in or had been involved in a long-distance romantic relationship (LDRR) at some point. He himself having been involved in two since leaving university. Research published in 2013 found that up to 3 million married US couples were in a LDRR (Jiang and Hancock, 2013). The researchers also found that the area is largely unexplored indicating that this figure could actually be far higher.
Certainly in an international globalised context one that enables greater mobility, the notion that a LDRR is odd, unfavourable and simply a bad idea compared to a geographically close relationship doesn’t have quite the same negative connotations as in years past.
The researchers in the above study also cited that couples engaged in a LDRR were more likely to have a stronger bond with their partner due to the nature of the very thing keeping them apart. I know in my situation, Daniel and I have been keen in our periods of distance to make our communication meaningful and that we are present for it, i.e., we make the time.
So how do you know if it is all worth it?
Ultimately it’s got to be a big yes to this question to make the sort of commitment where you may not see one another for months at a time and only converse using mediums such as Skype and Whatsapp. Therefore I hope in this post to acknowledge the crap bits but also try to highlight some of the positives of being in a LDRR.
In any relationship communication is pretty crucial, but in one where you have to face the maze of confusion and head-fuck that is social media/internet/Skype and so on it can lead to massive miscommunication.
Some couples like to speak every single day and if this works that’s great, but most of the time, do any of us have a huge amount to say aside from things that are work related and what you ate for breakfast?
Forcing communication can lead to resentment on both sides of the relationship, as one partner may feel that they are putting more in than the other. Therefore some timeout enables you to do your own thing without feeling too concerned about what the other person is up to or feeling a sense of guilt about doing it too.
Daniel and I do text each day and we generally tend to chat once or possibly twice a week. A ‘system’ that seems to function well and suits both of us for now.
In my previous relationship we had both decided to make a go of it when we moved abroad separately for work. However when it came to getting in touch during the week, I was often the one who suggested times to chat and when we could try and arrange to see one another. So my ex wasn’t particularly organised, I know that is more of a personality trait more than his willingness to make the relationship work, but at the same time I found that I started to resent him for not making more of an effort. It was when I stopped pushing for time together that I realised how much I put in.
DO YOUR THING
For some people, the LDRR is almost the perfect scenario, you can have the confidence of knowing that you are committed to your lady/man love but also have certain freedoms away from it. I know some other long-distance couples who use the time apart to date other people (not my preference but this can work for some – whether the other person knows or not is another matter). In other cases people use the solo time to pursue a huge array of interests and hobbies.
Time apart is healthy, you just have (far) more of it in a long-distance relationship.
LOOK FORWARD TOGETHER
A friend of mine had long desired to work abroad and had repeatedly asked his employers about working in one of their other offices on the other side of the world. For years they kept promising him the opportunity and eventually they agreed when a position came up in SE Asia.
Wonderful, he thought!
However when the dates were finalised they told him he would be expected to move shortly after his wedding. This didn’t go terribly well with his fiance. It even meant postponing their honeymoon.
He and his now wife made the situation work to their advantage as best as they could. Whilst she remained in the UK, he moved to SE Asia where he was able to fulfill his dream of working abroad for the year. And it also gave them plenty of opportunities to travel in the region during their holidays together.
To have things to look forward to together gives you something to work towards, to get excited about!
THE END GAME
My friend from earlier knew that the contract in SE Asia was only to be for one year. This enabled him and his wife to plan appropriately, and importantly have something to look forward to: his homecoming and also to organise times to meet in between.
In my case, it’s not quite as straightforward. Daniel and I met whilst we were both on holiday and although the mileage apart isn’t vast, we are living in different countries, have time-zones and have our lives already established in our respective cities. Ok, so actually it does seem vast after all…
… Anyway, it has meant so far that we have had to negotiate our schedules to make time to see one another. It’s not a simple case of organising dinner or an evening somewhere and saying ‘Meet you there!’
Planning is pretty important as additional effort is required.
So what makes it all worth the additional effort?
Love in any type of relationship is a test of faith. That makes it sound pretty dramatic but for any relationship to work and to flourish, you have to put your trust in something that you can’t be 100% sure is going to work out.
The LDRR is compounded by distance, the potential fallout from miscommunication and the sense that you’re relationship at points is in a state of limbo.
Does that mean that the LDRR isn’t worth it?
- L. Crystal Jiang, Jeffrey T. Hancock. Absence Makes the Communication Grow Fonder: Geographic Separation, Interpersonal Media, and Intimacy in Dating Relationships. Journal of Communication, 2013; 63 (3): 556 DOI: 10.1111/jcom.12029