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Don’t Fear The Distance: You Can Make It Work

Don’t Fear The Distance: You Can Make It Work

Long distance relationships just take commitment.

We lived in different cities when we met. We lived in different states when we fell in love. We lived in different time zones when we got engaged. We lived on different coasts when we got married.

Most of our friends thought we would break up.

They didn’t tell us until after the ceremony. They were hoping we could pull it off, but they were nervous. Even though they were the ones to set us up, they thought it was a moon shot. We surprised them. We managed to make a long-distance relationship work for sixteen months. We didn’t even move in together until after the honeymoon, when we loaded the contents of his studio apartment into a shipping pod.

He said goodbye to his old life. We drove across the country, in different cars, to our very first apartment — in the middle of nowhere.

Five years later, we’re still together.

Don’t fear the distance.
Most people I’ve known cast doubt on long-distance relationships. We squint and nod, making a silent prediction. We think proximity is king. It’s hard to imagine being with someone if you can’t see see them every day, or reach across a table and touch them.

Google “long distance relationships,” and you’ll see what I’m talking about. The Internet is full of articles about the difficulties and stigmas. There’s anecdotes and diatribes. Everyone has an opinion, or a story about that time they tried to make it work but couldn’t.

Actually, long distance relationships have a 60 percent success rate according to some research. You might even feel more stable in a long-distance relationship. It depends on your personality.

My first long-distance relationship failed.
Every single one of my long-term relationships had to deal with distance at some point. It felt like a curse.

The first time, my fiance moved for law school. He moved a year into our relationship. It was already in trouble. A three-hour drive didn’t help. We’d broken up once or twice. He’d cheated on me. He wouldn’t even tell his parents we were dating.

I was always the one driving up to see him.

At first it made sense. He was in law school at a top university. It was brutal. Every day, he spent all morning in class and all night preparing for cold calls. Meanwhile, I was just trying to write a master’s thesis and teach five classes in order to pay my rent. The burden of travel fell on me. It wasn’t easy to give up ten hours a week, depending on traffic.

I put a lot of miles on my car for love. One time his parents showed up from out of town, unannounced. I had to hide. Then I had to drive home.

A few weeks later, he broke up with me over email.

My second long-distance relationship failed.
The second time, we were both already living in different cities. We met through friends. Honestly, I didn’t like him that much at first. But he was attractive, and he sure liked me.

Kissing him was incredibly fun. We kissed pretty much everywhere, all the time. Benches. Cars. Restaurants. Hotels.

Yeah, he lived with his parents — and his sisters.

In case you’re wondering, this is a terrible recipe for a relationship. We started having arguments almost immediately. He flirted with other girls. He accused me of cheating. He made fun of my career. Meanwhile, he floundered his way through graduate school and part-time jobs.

My friends regretted introducing us.

Distance isn’t always the problem.
Sometimes distance isn’t the killer.

If anything, it gives you relief. In my case, living hours apart was the only thing that kept my second relationship going.

Living in the same city, we probably would’ve killed each other. Instead, absence allowed us to gloss over our incompatibility and romanticize each other between visits. Just as we were starting to really get on each other’s nerves, it would be time for me to leave.

We dated for about a year. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore.

I met someone new.

Ironically, he also lived hours away. He drunk-dialed me on his birthday. The next day, I ended my relationship with the other guy.

You might be starting to see a pattern here. I’ll get to that.

My third long-distance relationship ended in marriage.
Given my track record, you can understand why my friends were a little skeptical. But things had changed. I’d spent a year in a kind of cocoon, working on my career and myself. It made a difference.

The third time, everything slid into place. Everything had an almost predestined quality to it.

We were both mature. We were serious. We felt comfortable around each other. We were weird in the same ways. On our first date, he started talking about squirrels and evolution. I thought to myself, “I think I’m going to marry this guy.” And look, I did.

Long-distance relationships need commitment.
Our relationship worked because we didn’t mess around. From day one, he knew I was about to move for a teaching job.

Almost right away, we had the talk. We weren’t just dating to pass the time. We both wanted to get married.

So we put in the work. When hundreds of miles separate you from someone you love, you have to engage in what experts call relationship maintenance behaviors (RMB). It sounds obvious, but a lot of people don’t do it. You have to text them every day. You have to call and video chat. You have to keep up with what’s going on in their lives, and do special little things for them to show you actually care.

You need to have a plan.
A few months in, he proposed. He said he was going to quit his job and come live with me. He was going to try grad school.

So I said yes.

I immediately up-sized my apartment. We picked out our first space while living on opposite ends of the country. The move doubled my rent. For months, that apartment remained half-empty, waiting for furniture that wouldn’t arrive until he officially moved in.

That’s what you do when you’re serious. You commit.

Successful long-distance relationships still struggle.
Getting married isn’t the the automatic happy ending of a long-distance relationship. There’s an adjustment period.

You have to learn different behaviors. You have to get used to seeing each other, every single day. It can be a lot. For someone like me, it was stressful and exhausting.

I’d spent most of my life enjoying the freedom of a bachelorette pad. I liked going wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, for however long I wanted. I liked waking up in peace and solitude. I liked spending three hours in a coffeeshop on a Sunday afternoon. I liked spending entire weekends by myself, working on projects. I liked driving to a quiet trail and hiking for an entire day to clear my head.

After marriage, sometimes I rebelled.

A couple of years in, I started reclaiming my lost autonomy. It didn’t work so well. I started getting texts saying things like, Where are you??? The answer would always be alone somewhere. So, we had to work on that.

We talked about how space and boundaries had evolved for us. We came up with a plan. I would stay home more, as long as he gave me some personal space and respected my time. Basically, no more showing me funny memes when I was trying to grade papers or write.

When you live with someone, or even in the same city, you can’t maintain the relationship the way you did when you lived hundreds or thousands of miles apart. The expectations change. It takes a while to sink in. Like always, communication and consistency help.

Some people are attracted to the distance.
Not everyone wants constant intimacy.

Some of us need more space. We need more time to ourselves. We need more autonomy and freedom than the typical romance allows. It’s hard to ask for that without hurting someone.

That’s why a lot of us wind up preferring to be single. It’s not necessarily that we want to be alone forever. We just can’t find someone who understands and respects our needs. That can drive us into preferring long-distance relationships, even seeking them out. If someone lives hours a way, they can’t exactly drop in on you. They can’t accuse you of making them feel lonely. You always have a convenient alibi or excuse.

This is why some people never turn their long-distance relationships into more traditional ones, and why some of them fail after they close that distance. It’s not because they fear commitment.

It’s because they don’t know how to articulate their needs. They want to put the distance back into the relationship.

They don’t know how.

You can make it work.
Long-distance relationships don’t fail because of the distance. They fail because we’re not ready.

They fail because we’re not right for someone.

When you’re right for each other, almost anything can work. You just have to put in a little more effort. You have to be a little more independent. You have to be okay with the unusual. When you close the distance, sometimes you have to put a little back in.

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Featured Image by: Olena Yakobchuk

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