What Dating Long-Distance Taught Me About Relationships
My boyfriend and I spent our first Valentine's Day as a couple together via Skype. We looked at each other through the little cameras on our screens, raised our glasses, and toasted the air while grinning at each other’s blurred faces. It felt romantic; our modern-day Sleepless in Seattle.
We never planned to have a long-distance relationship. But breaking up seemed unbearable when it came time for me to graduate college and move. We weren't alone: there are around 7 million couples in the US doing the long-distance thing, according to Dr. Gregory Guldner, a researcher who's been studying LDRs for decades.
There's much to be learned from this kind of relationship. And after spending a year in a geographically challenged dating scenario of my own (and still going strong!), I've gained some important takeaways about myself, my partner, and relationships overall.
Trust and communication are important -- but in LDRs, they're required
Being open with your partner is essential; but especially so when your version of spending time together involves a computer screen and Internet connection. Some couples in LDRs choose to have open relationships, which are obviously complicated and require honesty, ground rules, and lots of communication. My boyfriend and I tried being in an open relationship for .2 seconds before realizing how much we hated the setup.
There's more than one way to keep physical intimacy alive
One of the most challenging parts of an LDR is managing your physical needs when the days grow old and nights gets cold.
“You know you are genuinely attracted to someone when you’re in an LDR because the only thing you want to think about is her naked body," my partner told me when we first discussed the subject. "Nothing else compares.”
LDRs force you to get creative sexually. While many people are weirded out by Skype sex, it’s actually pretty hot. Watching your SO gives you pleasure, having them watch you gives you pleasure, and imagining that your own touch is theirs can bring you closer in ways that physically present sex cannot. If that's too much, start slow with sexting and phone sex. Trust me: it's all hot.
Romance has to continue past the "honeymoon" phase
When my partner and I started our LDR, we had to find more creative ways to keep the romance alive. We wrote each other handwritten letters -- which, it turns out, have an important psychological impact that foster intimacy, according to Dr. Guldner. We sent other things to each other via snailmail, too -- like an aloe vera plant from my boyfriend, with a note that read: “Like a cactus, our love is prickly but strong. Also, it’s almost summer and I know how easily you burn, so you can use this plant to soothe your skin.” Yeah it was cheesy, but there's something hot and romantic in every little gesture when you're hundreds (or thousands) of miles away.
Actually, all kinds of otherwise forgettable moments take on deeper meaning when you live far from each other. Him standing at the bottom of the train station stairway, waiting for me, made my heart swell. Goodbyes were torture. Replaying every encounter over and over until our next reunion. Suddenly, every ridiculous rom com's inevitable, crazed scene of someone running through an airport or holding a boom box in the air was relatable.
Feeling sad? Suck it up.
There’s no feeling quite like when you’re walking down the street and you pass a couple holding hands. The tugging in your chest, the repulsion you feel toward these innocent strangers… you have to learn acceptance, and fast.
There will be times when there’s nothing you can do but feel angry at the distance -- seeing your partner once every few months takes its toll. We found some level of comfort just in expressing our longing to each other. And sometimes, that level of intimacy felt like enough to sustain us.
You still need your independence
My partner told me that whenever we weren’t talking, he would keep himself as occupied as he could. He read books, explored neighborhoods, built other friendships. But then there were other times when the thought sank in that we wouldn’t see each other for another three weeks.
There will also be moments of daily life that your partner can’t help you with. If you get into a car accident, have a gas leak, fall ill… They can offer emotional support, but it’s ultimately up to you to learn how to manage those situations.
Who needs QT when you have an unbreakable emotional bond?
LDRs do have one, major advantage: you develop an iron-tight bond because you have bested the quagmire distance creates for a couple's ability to communicate, connect and trust. LDRs make you confront the tough choices a lot of couples put off: where are you heading? Is there a future in this relationship? Is it all worth it?
If you and your partner can handle this, you can handle just about anything.
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