It’s an all-too-common dilemma: You or your significant other is heading to college, grad school or a 12-month gig – across the country or across the globe. As Hamlet would put it, “To LDR or not to LDR?”
A move often signals upward mobility. You’ve been dreaming of joining that NGO in rural Bangladesh, haven’t you? It’s a time of excitement and tumult. If it’s your partner that’s leaving, he or she is likely experiencing a similar anxious euphoria. The unknown is opening its murky black maw and beckoning.
But distance and the unknown aren’t typical prescriptions for a fulfilling relationship. The prospect of giving up up-close intimacy for phone calls and awkward sexts can seem like a daunting sacrifice. Absence “can make the heart grow fonder,” but it’s no substitute for a warm body.
Is It Even Possible?
In my experience, there are always at least two friends to play devil/angel’s advocate and sit on opposite shoulders of your conscience. One friend staunchly opposes all long-distance relationships. “They never end well. Never.” Friend A says. Friend B believes in the triumph of love over all, including land, sea and multiple time zones. “It will be so romantic!” Friend B insists. “Haven’t you seen The Notebook??”
Like most aspects of the love and relationship game, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the predicament. Whether or not you and your S.O. can successfully maintain your passion, commitment and focus without all the physicality inherent to “normal” relationships depends on factors unique to your situation.
Here are a few crucial things you need to consider as a couple and individually before deciding to take your love long-distance or sever ties.
- How long have you known/been with your partner?
As a rule of thumb, the less you know someone and the longer you’ll be separated makes for more of a gamble.
That’s not to say that if you shared an exhilarating week with a foxy French tourist before she scampered back across the pond that you two aren’t meant to be. It just lowers the odds. After all, it’s easy to be infatuated with someone you haven’t known long enough to argue about bills with, whose quirks haven’t lost their charming newness.
While distance affords a great opportunity for a unique type of connection – pure, unadulterated conversation without physical touch– it shields you from dealing with many of the most trying aspects of a relationship, including relinquishing personal freedom and comprising your needs for the needs of another. It can be difficult to predict whether someone you get along with great with on the phone will translate into a feasible IRL relationship.
If you’ve been dating your partner for a year or more before you part ways, you have a better chance of picking up where you left off when you return. You’ve already invested legwork into creating the framework of the relationship; you know your partner’s core values and habits, and (hopefully) have learned to accept them.
- How long will you two be separated?
Making a decision based on the amount of time you’ll be separated seems like a no-brainer, but romantic ideals sometime cloud our judgment. Six months of separation is a lot easier to manage than several years, especially if you plan on staying faithful and/or have limited opportunities to visit each other.
If there’s no guaranteed reunion at the end of the LDR tunnel, that should raise red flags.
- What’s your endgame, bruh?
Sacrifice is relative. Playing Skype tag and learning to passionately cuddle a pillow may be frustrating – emotionally, physically and otherwise — but if you and your far flung sweetie can eventually see yourselves saying “I do”, or at least saying “I do…take you to be my live-in girlfriend,” it’s all in the name of noble struggle.
If you’re on the fence about your S.O., if things have been rocky for some time or you don’t see yourself sticking it out with them for the long haul, then the sacrifice may be for naught. Remember: Wanting to be with someone and simply not wanting to lose them are entirely different things.
Can’t Win Without Goals.
If you two do decide to stick it out for the LDR, be sure to set goals and stick to them.
Set a timeline for when you’d like to move back into the same city – or apartment. Plot milestones and celebrate when they’re accomplished.
You can always return to the timeline and make adjustments, but missing goals or delaying them significantly can be cause for concern. If your sweetie went away to get her master’s and hasn’t even mentioned moving back six months after graduating, it’s time to have a conversation.
Setting a timeline before the big separation will also reveal whether you’re both on the same page about the relationship. If you find yourself unwilling to commit to a return date or demurring over visitations, it may mean you’re not as committed to making things work as you initially thought.
Some folks are cool as cucumbers. They never question their partner’s dedication or whereabouts. They’re uninterested in philandering and would never be caught dead dillydallying in a forbidden bedroom.
But us non-super humans usually have a few weaknesses. Some of them are particularly ill suited for long-distance romance, including:
Jealousy can easily poison an LDR. Naturally distrustful guys and gals will have a particularly hard time not jumping to conclusions when their partner is out of reach for hours, perhaps days, at a time.
Those that need constant affection and validation will have difficulty going long stretches without cuddle sessions and all day “I love you more” exchanges.
- A Roving Eye
There are attractive men and women everywhere. It is much harder to resist temptation when you’re S.O. isn’t there to fulfill your physical needs.
- Free-Spirit to a Fault
Living in the moment can be exhilarating. It’s not a weakness per se. However, a successful LDR requires both parties to schedule phone or video calls. Sometimes it means missing out on a night on the town in an exciting new locale. Those who live and breathe spontaneity may find an LDR stilted.
These personality traits don’t necessarily preclude a healthy, happy long-distance relationship, but they do pose red flags. Discuss constructive ways to maintain trust, passion and communication while you’re separated.
What’s Your Tech Game?
This might sound like an odd question. I mean, we’re talking about romance, not gaming, right?
Long distance love requires creative lines of communication. There are tons of apps designed to keep lovers close during periods of physical separation; Without, Couple and TouchRoom are just three come to mind. For less frills and whistles, there are always classic virtual connectors like Skype, WhatsApp and email.
You have to have enough tech know-how (or a desire to learn) to stay connected no matter where your partner roams. This is of particular importance for folks who will be countries, not cities, apart, and may have limited opportunities for visits or lack access to unlimited phone minutes.
If you’re unwilling or unable to translate your emotions via technology, an LDR may be unfeasible or fizzle quickly.
What’s your experience been with long distance relationships?
What advice would you give?