To many people, a long distance relationship is a daunting prospect or an impossibility. The idea of spending even a week apart is horrifying to many couples. There are some who would even fear the days before modern communication, where you each went to work in the fields at five in the morning and didn’t see each other til six or seven in the evening.
But, for many reasons, couples do have to sustain long distance relationships, sometimes for a few weeks, sometimes for decades. Maybe your partner works on an airplane and spends months at a time away. Or maybe your mother fell ill and you’re staying with her until she’s better. Or maybe you’ve just met someone amazing and are dating or courting, but they live halfway across the country and neither of you is ready to uproot. These things happen. And they can’t be the end of the world. They often have to be allowed to happen to guarantee you a better relationship or a better future together. Imagine if your partner left their job and were left unemployed for months or years, you fell into debt and lost your home and belongings. Imagine if you weren’t there for your mother because your partner couldn’t take time off work to be with you and then she passed away. Imagine if you left everything to live with someone you’d been seeing for a week, it went wrong and you were out on the street. Your life, your relationship, your future rest on your ability to sometimes live apart.
And it isn’t really as impossible as some people make it out to be, or as many people fear it is. A couple often only needs to live separately when one or both are so busy with work, study, family or other engagements that they can’t move. Think of the above three examples. One is busy with work that keeps them on the move and the other, like most people, can’t afford to live permanently on the go. One needs to be there for their mother and the other can’t take time off work for an in law. Neither feel comfortable enough with the longevity of their relationship to put everything aside for each other yet. If your partner is encouraging a long distance relationship with no obvious barriers in place, then that’s a warning. Imagine that you would happily move to their town, you’ve known each other a few months and feel comfortable, you’re willing to rent your own place and they’re usually in that town every day, but they insist they don’t want you nearer. Something unhealthy is going on under the surface. Either you’re pushing it too fast and they aren’t sure about you yet, or they aren’t serious, but want to keep you to themselves. Either way, the dynamic is not matched and your interests are in too much conflict.
On the flip side, if your relationship can’t survive a physical separation in the age of communication technology, then ask yourself why. Maybe it’s just that the separation is too long. Humans are social animals, after all. We crave physical contact, attention, communication. And we don’t get much of that from friends and family, at least not as much as our tribal brothers and sisters do. We’re often lucky to get a hug a day. So separation from our partner for too long could have the same effect on us, emotionally and hormonally, as a child being separated from their parents. But relationships can survive this. In this case we fear for ourselves and our partner. What if they get lonely? What if the lack of contact leaves us depressed? We aren’t worried about the relationship per se, just yourself, each other, your time together. But if you’re concerned that a physical separation would be the end of your relationship, then you need to ask yourself what makes you think that. The physical side of your relationship shouldn’t be so important that seeing each other once a week or once a month means you need to see other people. And, if you give it some thought, the physical side probably isn’t quite that important. After all, long distance relationships are perfectly possible, long distance hookups are all that’s impossible from the get go.
I’m not saying it will be easy. Your relationship may survive the lower or absent physical contact, but it won’t be nice. As mentioned, your body craves intimacy. And in more traditional societies most of that intimacy is non-sexual friends and family intimacy. Hugging your brother when he gets home from work, sharing your woes with your mother and best friend, giving your little sister a piggyback ride. But we often don’t have that. So when we finally get physical intimacy in the form of a partner, it can be even more exciting than it would be in a more natural setting. And, of course, when we lose that we can get withdrawal. That longing for love, closeness, intimacy and physical contact is painful. It hurts to be separated from your one reliable source of love. A lot of it can be alleviated thanks to phones and the internet, as you can still talk to each other, but for the most part that need for tenderness and hugs can only be rebalanced by adding close time with friends and family back into your life. If you talk regularly and are close with your friends and family, there is so much less pain. You still want to be with them in particular, to hug them, see their face and hear their voice next-to you. But at least adding a little more balance into your social life makes you feel less overwhelmed and suddenly alone.
And, to be perfectly honest, a long distance relationship doesn’t really improve your ability to live apart. Even in cases like with Jon and myself, where we started interacting online, moved onto a long distance relationship and them moved in together, we still miss each other when we’re separated for over a day. If anything, saying goodbye for longer than usual hurts even more with the memory of when he’d be gone for weeks or months and we’d only talk over the phone. I guess in practical terms it teaches you a lot, though. You learn to reach out when you really need company, to keep self-sufficient and to really enjoy your own company. You can be left alone in the house and be trusted not to just become a shut-in, let it turn into a pigsty, neglect your diet and health or go slowly insane.
And, to be honest, your own company is quite a nice thing. Few people take the time to sit back and actually appreciate themselves. But it’s very pleasant. All those little “what ifs” in your head become imagined conversations and situations, preparing you mentally for troubling eventualities. All those ideas become concepts, plans or art. Any gaps in yourself as a person are recognized and, where you have the time, filled. You find yourself feeling a little unwell so you put some time into fixing your diet or making an extra hour of sleep. You find yourself noticing a lack of something in your world understanding and researching to fill it. You find yourself not doing as much creative work as you would like and sit down to it. More is done in your own company than in any other company.
And not only do you learn to appreciate yourself more, you really learn to appreciate your partner more. When you live with someone it becomes easy to take them for granted. You learn a lot of “justs”. Just do the laundry a day early. Just get the kids up this once. Just take the rubbish on the way out. Just find me that folder. Just call work and tell them I will be late. Just, just, just. And it can be easy to start thinking of someone in those terms, whether they’re mum, grandpa, your siblings or, indeed, your partner. But all those little things really do add up. When you’re splitting the workload and supporting each other, this isn’t an issue, whatever the balance or ratio of work is. You don’t feel horribly put out by turning the washing machine on and they don’t feel horribly put out by having to feed the cat. But when you’re on your own, you realize how the division of labour actually benefits you both, how much quality and time they are adding to your shared life by taking some odd jobs from you.
It’s like that in terms of human interactions, intellectual stimulation and emotional support as well. These aspects are heavier on you both than odd jobs are, but the burden you feel when one of you withdraws support is far heavier than the burden of supporting them. When you’re struggling with bereavement and they’re developing anxiety disorder from overwork, it is lighter on you both to support each other. When you want a cuddle or some quiet time with someone, it is lighter on you both to share it than to actively seek someone else. When you want a deep conversation, a debate or just to discuss some recent findings with someone, it is lighter to exchange information than to try and process every detail on your own.
And when you’re apart all these things slowly start to weigh on you. Sure, you’re self-sufficient. You cook your own meals, tidy up after yourself, get ready for work and keep on top of the household chores. You bear with your own emotions, exchange thoughts with others, ruminate on concepts and seek out friends and family to chat with and find emotional connection. But it all is so much slower and heavier when your partner is not in your life. And it isn’t that you have become so weak and dependent that you just can’t manage. It’s that they have added so much to your life that you were taking it for granted. Life alone now is the same as, if not easier than life before them. You might take a while to adjust, but you have the same skills, knowledge and more. They just make life that much better. And this realization really helps you avoid taking them for granted. Which is why the reunion is always so sweet.
What are your experiences or thoughts regarding long distance relationships?
TTFN and Happy Hunting!