All relationships are different in their own way, but all long-distance relationships share the fact of being terrible sometimes, or at least terribly hard. There’s really no way to make it sound appealing: Living in a different city (or state, or country) from your significant other is lonely. It’s also a host of other unpleasant adjectives: frustrating, expensive, exhausting, emotionally taxing.
And, sometimes, great enough to be worth all the bad stuff. The Cut talked to 12 women about their advice for people dating long-distance: how to have some semblance of a normal date, how often to visit, and how to stay feeling connected to your partner across however many miles separate the two of you.
Share the boring things
As a school teacher in the U.K. system, I got a break every six weeks, so we planned to see each other regularly. We would never leave one another without booking our next trip. We talked for hours every night on MSN messenger (we weren’t on Facebook back then), we sent letters through the mail, and we talked on the phone. We would arrange to watch the same movie and then discuss it later. When we saw each other, we went out together with our friends so that when we were apart and would say to each other “I am going out with the guys/girls,” we could picture it and feel part of it.
We talked on the phone every day, which of course can be really boring. You have to talk even when you have nothing to say, and you just end up talking about what you had for lunch, the traffic you got stuck in earlier, a giant wasp nest you saw. It’s boring stuff, but if you were in the same place it’s all minutiae that you would be experiencing together, and that’s what makes a relationship (to me), so I think it was necessary.
It’s easy to fall into the “vacation” mentality if you only see each other on weekends. I found it was important to try to be with each other for longer periods, so you get to know each other as you go about your routines. I would always want to do “normal” couple things, like just hanging around the house and going grocery shopping. Trips to Target were something I really looked forward to.
I’ve always been a chronic texter so anyone I was in a LDR with had to be one also. I like communicating about random stuff throughout the day, like something funny I heard or sending a picture of something interesting I saw on a walk, and that’s even more important when you can’t see the other person much. I’m also a big fan of sending stuff through snail mail, even if it’s just a silly card.
Don’t forget to prioritize yourself
As a military couple for 13 years, we didn’t have any control over when we could see each other or even if there was access to email or phone. You can’t put your life on hold in those circumstances. As important as it is to invest in your relationship while apart, you also have to invest in your own individual lives. Prioritize time for friends and family, hobbies, and simple pleasures. That’s actually good advice for any relationship, but it’s particularly important when doing long-distance — you have to create happiness for yourself. It’s really unhealthy if either partner is burdened with being the sole source of contentment from afar.
Something people say you need in any relationship, regardless of distance, is good communication, but something not often said with long-distance is to not let it get in the way of personal goals. My fiancé and I both had goals that took us away from each other but we were always supportive of each other. You have to be strong as individuals and as a couple.
Get a little imaginative for dates
I fell in love with a Finnish Londoner at a castle in Spain 25 days after my house in San Francisco burned down. As I moved from friends’ futon to couch to houseboat when I returned home, I was also co-authoring a book entitled — ironically — Calm. I was also just beginning to write a book about finding your voice. I used Google Docs for both, and that’s where he could find me when he got off work in London.
Before his first visit, we started to go on “dates” in Google Docs, him helping me brainstorm for Calm, and later, doing my book’s exercises together — coming up with life lists, rating checklists of things we liked (including some rather, ahem, salacious ones not found in my book), chatting in the Docs about our results. When something was too personal, too raw, too scary, we’d protect it … inside parentheses. It felt like we were creating our own 36 Questions before it became a thing. We had fabulous visits other every other month for the year we were long-distance, but in many ways, the distance — and the accidental Deep Shit conversations it enforced — is what helped cement our relationship. Almost six years later, we now have no idea how couples — LDR or otherwise — don’t start out by creating these lists together.
I live in L.A. and my boyfriend lives in Seattle. One of the things that brought us together was our mutual love of classic movies. We came up with a way to go on “dates” by making a list of movies we’ve always meant to watch individually, and then we alternate choosing one to knock off the list. We video chat and hit play at the same time, and it packs a one-two punch of seeing each other as well as giving us a common experience.
I think the hardest part about being in a long-distance relationship is finding ways to have those common experiences on a regular basis. You can’t build memories with dates in the same way that couples who live in the same city do, so you have to get creative.
Have a routine
Prior to my leaving our home in San Diego, we made a plan that worked with both our sanities and schedules. We visited each other every three weeks, so we never had to constantly discuss about the next trip or visit — it was just an expectation that whomever’s turn it was to fly would already have a ticket on the expected date.
We had a few things in our favor that made it work: flexible work schedules and a relatively small distance physically between us (being in the same state), but since we set expectations up front, it was clear when we would see each other. When we visited each other, we made the entire weekend about us — and had no other plans other than to explore our prospective cities (and each other). That way, we could devote the few days we had together entirely to our relationship.
My boyfriend and I made sure to create routines in order to stay emotionally connected. We talk on the phone at the same time every night (9 p.m. his time, 12 a.m. my time), make sure to send each other snail mail once a month, and most importantly, make an effort to see each other once a month. Sometimes I visit him in LA or he flies to see me in New York and other times we use our once-a-month visits as an excuse to go on a trip somewhere.
Having tangible things to look forward to was really important — planning our next visit before the current one ended, having a routine of when to talk. We didn’t have an end date in sight for most of our LDR, so breaking it down into smaller parts made this huge, overwhelming thing seem more surmountable. We’d talk for about an hour daily during our commutes and tried to see each other every other weekend. I spent a lot of time on Amtrak and would take a 5 a.m. train back to D.C. on Monday mornings.
I definitely didn’t appreciate it at the time, but in hindsight, there were definitely some silver linings. We were both in competitive jobs at the time, with long hours, and it forced us both to set aside time specifically for each other. Now when we’re both sitting at the dinner table in the same apartment replying to work emails on a Friday night, I kind of miss that.
Talk everything out
We met through friends and were long-distance when we started dating, so we both put a lot of thought into whether or not we wanted to get involved, knowing that for the foreseeable future it would be a struggle. We built our relationship on strong communications and from the beginning we were open with each other, which I think is why we survived the distance. It was always important to me to talk to him when I was frustrated or upset about the fact that we couldn’t just hang out, even if there was nothing that could be done.
Sean and I met right before we graduated college — he already had been accepted into a prestigious video production internship in L.A., and I found out about a week after our first date that I was accepted into a graduate program at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. We really had no option — it was break up or make it work. And crazy as it was, given we’d known each other all of a month by the time we made the choice, we knew there was something too special to give up on.
Honestly, the majority of the time was really hard. We emailed each other all the time — long rambling monologues as well as little notes to share funny things that came into our heads. And we really tried to have phone dates almost every day, although the eight-hour time difference often made that hard. As this was back in 2007, our laptops weren’t just equipped with video cameras and, frankly, as an intern and a grad student, we didn’t even have the money to put towards those. So we literally didn’t see each other for months on end. It was our voices, often crackling and distorted over Skype, and our emails.
But, at the same time, looking back on it 11 years later, it’s also one of the best things that happened to us. When you’re an ocean and a continent apart, there is no kissing and making up or snuggling past the issues. There’s only talking it out, or not talking it out, using your words to make it work or calling the whole thing off. We had one huge fight that we both remember very clearly where we got off the phone and neither of us knew if we would be together still the next day. From then on, we realized the only way to get through this was to talk about everything whenever we could, however we could, and however hard. And it’s a lesson we’ve kept to this day.
As for visiting, it simply wasn’t much of an option. We saw each other before I left, in August, and then saw each other at Christmas, and then when I came back. And then the next time was when I moved out to Los Angeles in October 2008 to live with him. Driving across country to live with a guy I’d spent a total of maybe three months with in person was terrifying. I had no idea if we’d get along as well as we did over Skype or in writing. But, again, I think that foundation of honesty and talking about everything kept us going even through the growing pains.
Honestly, in the end, I think staying connected was sheer force of will. It sucked. It would have been a heck of a lot easier to go make out with some random Irish guy at a bar. But I knew he was worth it, and he knew I was worth it, so we did what we had to do. In a way, that connected us more than anything.