So I talked about yesterday how I decided to open up again to the idea of long distance relationships, and how I now have a few dynamics that are long distance. Today I’m going to go over some ideas I’ve come across or come up with, in making a LDR as functional as possible. I’ll split this into a few categories that I feel are helpful in making a LDR work well.
LDRs can be incredibly rewarding, but they offer a lot less in terms of actual in person contact then most relationships between people who cohabitate or live close by. For many people, a lot of a relationship is sharing experiences, intimacy, and moments of vulnerability as you go through the ups and downs of daily life. These can be a bit hard to recreate when someone isn’t there in person a lot of the time. I think its important then to make sure your expectations are reasonable. In a relationship with a nesting partner (person you cohabitate with) you may expect or want to depend on them to prioritize comforting you when you are not doing okay. It is reasonable to want this as well from a long distance partner, although the comfort might take the form of a phone call, text, or video chat instead. It is important to remember though, when you expect this of your nesting partner, you are also able to see if they are also going through a hard moment, or in the middle of something urgent, or just unable to provide that at the time. It can be harder to see those things in a partner who is not physically there, so limiting your expectations so that you are not getting upset with a partner for not being able to provide support, when you may not have the whole picture, helps minimize conflict. Of course if having that emotional support is important to you, and your partner is constantly falling short of providing it, you need to discuss if there is an incompatibility there. But as a whole it tends to relieve a lot of stress on long distance relationships when we remember that the other person is living their own life that we aren’t privy to every moment of, and being generous in your compassion if they are embroiled in something else at times.
Also, different people need different levels of contact to make a relationship feel fulfilling. Because you don’t have the convenience of knowing you live with someone, and at some point you’ll run into them on a mostly daily basis, it can be hard to know exactly when or how often you’ll connect and communicate. It helps to define this with each other, figuring out both what you want in regards to frequency and type of communication, and what your bare minimum is to keep the relationship functional, during times where time is hard to find.
It is important to remember that every relationship has periods of greater and lesser intensity. With a LDR, the lack of constant or in person contact can make it easier for insecurities or feelings of abandonment to take root and grow. It is normal though for a relationship to be very intense with lots of flutters of NRE (or ORE) and overwhelming emotions at some points, and at other points to be more of a comfortable steady connection with less extreme highs. This can manifest in periods of constant excitable conversation, and other times with somewhat less contact or contact that is more based in checking in and sharing your day than being overcome with rushes of emotion. Accepting the waves of intensity and low-key stability as they come and go, helps in keeping an LDR functional. Of course if you feel your partner is not keeping in touch and feel neglected it is important to speak up and ask if they can meet your needs. But don’t worry if your communication does not always have the same highs it did when starting out, or if the emotional intensity varies some as your focus shifts between your long distance partner, and attending to things in your every day life.
Relationships tend to develop rituals over time, either out of habit, or constructed intentionally between partners. Rituals can be especially helpful in LDRs, in having something to help you reconnect when you see each other, or in having something to do together during the time you are apart.
I try and say good morning to my partner Hoffy every morning, and good night before going to sleep at night. This is a ritual we didn’t plan, but that developed from how our communication took shape early on. It is something I can look forward to, I love waking up to a good morning message from him, or getting up early enough I can send one first. It helps me connect with him from the very start of my day, and that helps facilitate sharing more of my day in conversation as it progresses. When I say goodnight, though he often goes to bed a few hours before me, it comforts me to know we are thinking of each other at the start and finish of our days, even if we aren’t able to see each other in person for those moments. I feel like this ritual helps keep our relationship healthy and make it a little easier with the distance between us.
That said, it is important again to keep reasonable expectations, ones your partner is okay with, and to be compassionate when what they can provide or commit to does vary. In one of my very first LDRs as a young teen, I used to say goodnight to my partner Kyuu every night before bed as well. The difference there was that I struggled a lot with insecurity about the distance, so I elevated that ritual in my mind and clung to it for reassurance. It led to me being controlling, and getting upset with them if saying goodnight to each other was not the very last thing we did before going to sleep. I was trying to recreate the feeling of actually going to sleep next to each other, but instead I just made it so we had to constantly coordinate sleep schedules whether that worked for us or not, and prevented him from having other conversations once I was asleep, or else I would get upset. It was not something I would have taken to that extreme in an in person dynamic, but having that distance, especially because I had other insecurities at the time and was worried about abandonment or betrayals due to past experiences, I turned what could have been a lovely confirming ritual into a issue of control and tension. That is something to definitely avoid doing, rituals should be enjoyable and not create extra pressure or be a medium for exercising control.
These days, sometimes Hoffy falls asleep before saying goodnight to me. Occasionally I’m the one who falls asleep before I remember to text a goodnight. While we never agreed on the ritual as a specific commitment we made to each other, we usually apologize for this in the morning if it happens. There is an understanding that this is a thing we try and do because it feels good for both of us, and that we are sorry if we miss out on this particular shared moment. But there is also no control or upset outburst if it is not fulfilled, no massive significance attached to the ritual that there would be a -something must be wrong- moment of fear or anger if life happens and someone just falls asleep. This kind of understanding and flexibility within the structure of this little ritual helps to keep it as something enjoyable without any pressure or tension attached.
Other good confirming rituals are ones shared during the times you are able to be together. Shara and I always cook something when they visit, or go out to eat one of our favorite foods. Often we make onigiri together, one of my favorites, but a recipe I just can’t seem to get to taste quite as good without them here. We also often watch Love It or List It, a somewhat ridiculous guilty pleasure show that we enjoy poking fun at together. Having these comfortable routines we settle into with each other brings stability to the times we share, and creates the feeling of the same comfortable safeness that I feel with partners I do cohabitate with.
Ways to connect over distance
One of the hardest things in LDRs is how to connect over the distance. Many LDRs start with talking online, and progress through messaging, talking on the phone, or videochat, between the periods of in person contact. After a while things can get a little stale with what to constantly talk about. It makes sense, in person relationships are often built on shared experiences and physical intimacy as well as on conversation. It can be hard to figure out what else to build a foundation on over distance, aside from conversation, which can be hard to keep up to a very active engaging level during busy times. Here are some ideas of other ways to connect and share experiences over distance.
Watch tv or movies together – you can coordinate this by choosing a show or movie that you both have on DVD or on netflix and starting it at the same time while on the phone or videochat, or by using an app such as Rabbit, watch2gether, or gaze.
Write letters or share a journal – while texting or messaging is the norm in LDRs and you usually have the option of daily contact, there is something the just feels really good about reading a letter or written message from someone (assuming their handwriting is better than mine and you can read it). Writing letters to each other or having a notebook you each keep and write in for a few days or weeks before mailing it back to the other person, can offer a wonderful way to share your thoughts with a bit of extra excitement attached.
Play games together – My housemates are long distance at the moment while one of them is on tour, and they often play Overwatch together as a way to connect. They play while in person together as well, as gaming with a partner is often a great shared hobby. If you aren’t really into gaming, or the same games, there still may be some fun games you can try together. Facebook has some fun games like words with friends and draw something, which can just be a great way to enjoy something fun with a partner that you can play on and off throughout any day.
Have online date nights – you can get really creative with this. I like to suggest picking a recipe you can both make, making it together while chatting or on the phone, then setting up a videochat to eat dinner together and watch a movie or play a game afterwards. Really though, you can do a lot of creative things with an online date. Videochat on your phones and each go for a walk, showing each other the sites around your neighborhood. Bring your laptop or phone to a coffee shop and chat and send pictures over coffee and ask each other all sorts of dorky first date sort of questions, you may already know the answers if you’ve known each other a long time, but it can be fun to see how they’ve changed.
These are just a few suggestions for ways you can cultivate experiences together over distance. I highly recommend folks who are in a long distance relationship who are struggling with ways to connect pursue further resources as well. Here are a couple that have been recommended to me and that I’ve found useful. And good luck, I’ve found my LDRs to be incredibly fulfilling and I hope you find joy in any you pursue!