Long distance relationships can work! And I am the living proof.
Everybody has an image in their heads when they think about long distance relationships. Maybe it is tearful reunions at the airport. Perhaps it is arguments because you are so far away that communication gets more difficult. Still, one thing is certain, most people you speak to will tell you that long distance relationships are doomed to fail. But they are not, and they are certainly not self-fulfilling prophecies unless you make them.
I have known couples that have successfully navigated the trials and tribulations that come with long distance and are now happily married, living their lives no longer an ocean away. More than that, my own relationship is a product of long distance love. My fiancé and I are now sharing a flat, planning our wedding, and no longer making tentative plans for the future with ‘what ifs and ‘one days’. When long distance is successful, it is a testament to the strength of the bond between your partner and yourself.
I was often complimented on my ability to handle the distance, to the point where I was sure that to the casual observer, the distance seemed like more of a minor inconvenience more than anything else.
When I told my co-workers about my relationship, their first response was a slow double take. They must not have thought it was very obvious, but it was. A small blink, a jerk of the shoulders—everything that could constitute as a surprised reaction.
Then they would ask me how we met. Perhaps I was travelling? Did I study abroad? Then I told them that we met online, through Twitter of all places. Their shock was palpable. It had a taste as it lingered in the air. They meant well when they asked if we had met in person, and I responded that we Facetimed every night.
There came a point when I felt as though I needed to justify my relationship to everyone I met, their well-meaning concern coming across instead as prying judgement. I felt as though I needed to prove to everyone that yes, my boyfriend existed, and yes, we were managing to keep our relationship healthy and strong, despite the distance. Apart from the ocean that kept us apart, the reactions of others were the most challenging thing of all.
Being together in person is difficult but being apart is even more so. With each visit, I would have to fight the urge to instantly start counting the days we had left and focus on the fact that we could do something as ordinary as walking down the street together. Each trip to see each other had to be meticulously planned, months in advance. Long distance relationships do not and cannot work without planning. Unlike traditional couples, we did not have the luxury of being able to spend a casual weekend together, and it was not easy. It was difficult being together and knowing that our lazy mornings drinking coffee together were numbered. Then going back to doing things alone made me feel empty.
The distance, a whopping 4,909 miles—seemed almost impossible sometimes. And there also was a six-hour time difference.
By the time I was waking up, he was going to sleep. We texted as consistently as possible, always letting the other know if something came up, but words on your phone can only take you so far. We sent each other Snapchat videos if we took a day trip somewhere, often fantasising about what it would be like to be together. The nightly calls through Facetime were the highlight of our days. We went into painstaking detail into our recollections, often taking forty-five minutes to catch up on just one day’s events. But what made it more bearable were the in-person visits. We were lucky enough to visit with frequent regularity, three months at maximum between seeing each other. Airports became a double-ended sword. On the one hand, it would reunite us, but on the other, it would separate us.
Even now, almost a year into living together like a regular couple, the airport feels like the enemy, and I need to keep reminding myself that this time, the goodbyes aren’t permanent.
Airports are usually an exciting thing, something to look forward to. Maybe you have booked a vacation, or perhaps a loved one is coming home. I remember the first time I dropped my fiancé off at the airport after our first in-person meeting. I watched him go through security, and once I couldn’t see him anymore, I dejectedly started my way back home. Every time I turned around, I expected to see him behind me. Every time I saw something, my instinct was to point it out to him, and I couldn’t. On the Heathrow Express back to Paddington, I pulled out the Polaroid photos we had taken together and shifted through them, feeling lonely. And when I came home to my parent’s house and unpacked the suitcase, nothing felt the same. Each visit progressively got longer, from four days to a week, to two weeks. Each time, saying goodbye became harder and harder.
Long distance relationships can work, but there will be moments where you will want to give up. You mustn’t!
I don’t have a magic answer as to why some long distance relationships succeed whilst others fail. All I can say is that communication is vital. You must know that you can have a rational discussion with your other half. Perhaps more importantly than that, you must know that you are both in it for the long haul. Otherwise, it really will crash and burn, just like your friends warned you it would.
For me, long distance made us a stronger couple. We couldn’t just hop on a bus, do any of the things that traditional couples could. Spending time apart meant we could treasure that time we did have. But it was worth it, and I would do it all again in a heartbeat.