How to Make a Long Distance Relationship “Work”

For months, friends and followers alike have asked me to write a blog on how to successfully make a long-distance relationship “work.”

The first attempt at this blog was back in November. All the talk of Thanksgiving travel plans had me reminiscing about my love affair with travel: my packing rituals, my airport stories, even my movie recommendations for long flights. More affectionately, I thought of the moments I was able to reunite with Aleksa in airports. And how nothing, not even the rest of the trip, can compare to that first celebratory embrace.

Would it be painfully obvious for me to suggest that a long-distance relationship requires travel? Probably. But I wouldn’t say that travel is the answer to making an LDR work.”

For devil’s play, let’s break down travel a bit more. To travel, you need to have a flexible schedule and the means to fund your trip. (These days, you also need proof of vaccination or a negative test, depending on where you go!) 

So what we’ve whittled travel down to is the bare necessities: time and money. Except for the entirety of my long-distance relationship, I have been a student — I have had neither the time nor the money. I’ve coordinated my long holidays off from school as opportunities to see my partner. And when I wasn’t seeing him or studying for class, I was working — mostly to afford traveling! 

So, how do you successfully make an LDR work? It’s travel, sure. Maybe it’s even having an end-date: the projected estimate of when you two will finally, permanently, get to be together.

If someone were to ask me what they’d need to make an LDR work, I’d tell them this: First, you need communication — like any relationship. Second, you need a reality check. 

COMMUNICATION 

I don’t believe anyone’s LDR is the same. I know couples who watch movies together online and couples who eat meals together over Facetime. Aleksa and I aren’t any of those couples. It’s partially because of the huge gap in our time zones, but mostly, it’s because it’s not in our chemistry. We don’t like watching movies online together — they glitch! And his lunchtime is my breakfast — so that’s a no on virtual meal dates.

Honestly, Aleksa and I can go a day or two without talking, just a few texts here and there. On the occasion I wake up very early, I may get to spend an hour on Facetime with him.

When it is midnight here in New York, I sometimes receive a picture of Aleksa’s 6 A.M Serbian sunset. If I’m shopping, walking, or cleaning, I try to call Aleksa and talk his ear off for a while.

Aleksa and I know that our day-to-day lives are very busy, so this is what works for us. And that sometimes means not talking as frequently as we’d like. What’s most important is that we are both aware of that, and not creating narratives of what sparse texts could mean. Google will tell you that this infrequency of communication means your relationship is doomed; your friends might tell you how they could never do that. Now and then even my mother will ask me, panicked, “You haven’t spoken since this morning? Are you two ok?!”

As always, communication is key. Your relationship doesn’t need to make sense to anyone but yourselves. If you’re on the same page, that’s what counts.

REALITY CHECK 

So then what did I mean when I said you need a reality check? 

It means being honest with what you both can handle. The events of 2020 showed us the detriment of travel restrictions on long-distance couples. Pandemic, war, and tragedy are things we might not like to think about, but could potentially affect two people in an LDR. 

When entering an LDR, you must accept that some things are out of your control. Sometimes, the reason you can’t see your significant other is in the hands of the CDC or the government.

And other times … it will be on you! You must also remember that personal emergencies happen. Family members suddenly pass away; passports expire, your appendix inconveniently ruptures. Or, maybe it’s on your partner: they don’t pass their tourist interview; they test positive for COVID and can’t fly. A lot of things can happen before a planned trip. It’s important that you and your partner address this and have a backup plan. A good LDR couple always, always has a backup plan!

But for me, the biggest reality check has nothing to do with what can happen before a trip. It’s about what happens in between the time you two see each other again. When you’re in your location, and they’re in theirs, the world can feel like a lonely place. You can’t call up your partner on a Friday and grab Thai food. They can’t just hop in their car and hold you when you’re sick. 

Are you the kind of person that can handle months without intimacy? Can you handle holidays and birthdays away from your partner? When your friends invite their boyfriends and girlfriends to dinner, are you okay being the “single” one at the bar? 

This is the actual reality of the LDR: you are apart from each other more than you are together. “How do I make a long-distance relationship work?” is the wrong question. The right question is, “How do I make our time apart feel okay?”

I’ve sought the internet once or twice for an LDR community. There’s a great deal of content online — Youtube vlogs to Reddit forums to Twitter threads — but for some reason, it’s never really stuck with me. Maybe it’s because I’m already living my happy-sad LDR life, and I don’t need to watch someone else’s. 

Unfortunately, there will be days when you and your partner feel crazy that you’re doing this LDR thing. Your friends will want to relate, but they can’t. Your family will make comments that upset you. On these days, it will feel like the world is against you. 

But what is crucial is that you seek your own reality — and don’t let anyone, not even family, give you their version of a reality check. This brings me to my final point:

CUT OUT NEGATIVE PEOPLE

This should be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many people can be opinionated and rude. One week into dating my now-husband, a coworker told me to have “fun while it lasted” because these kinds of relationships just don’t work. He even suggested I prematurely break it off to make things easier “because neither of you will stay loyal when you’re apart.” 

The classic “romance scam” was thrown in my face a few times. When I was engaged, the comments went from jealous to ridiculous — a former friend asked me if the whole thing was a big joke. I don’t know if it’s the uncertainty of LDRs that makes people act like an ass, or if they’re just that miserable. Some of the things that were said to me (and to Aleksa) were plain out horrible. Most of the time, it wasn’t the comments that hurt my feelings, but the person saying them. Friends and family broke my trust. 

In an LDR, you’ve got to develop a tough skin. And you must prioritize the people that show up and support you. Everyone else gets the boot.

***

In my next blog, I will be sharing my thoughts on how to make an LDR work when you are together again! You may think this is the easy part, but it’s easily just as complicated. It takes work to make things feel seamless and balanced again. Keep your eyes posted on my socials or the blog for the next post. 

Sincerely,

That American Girl

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