I suspect that the saying “Absence makes the heart grows fonder” uttered by a well-meaning friend or family member to someone in a long-distance relationship has comforted that person exactly zero times ever. It definitely doesn’t do anything for me.
Of the past eleven months, I have spent two of them actually being in the same space and country as my boyfriend. Is that hard? Yes. Incredibly. Does absence make us grow fonder of each other? Maybe, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy the distance. Sometimes I find myself teary-eyed and silent at a casual pizza parlor with friends because I wish he could be there to help me tell the story about how we drove his truck into a snow bank and onto someone’s front yard. The same feelings of missing can be said for family events and when I get caught in the rain and want someone to run to shelter with, laughing. Sometimes I try to fall asleep at night but can’t because I know how much more comfortable it is when he’s there. I am fiercely independent, which is part of why I think we work, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy.
I never saw myself in a long-distance relationship, or, at least not one with so much distance. 2,930 miles between us.
Are we making it work despite the distance, though? Yes.
We first “met” through our respective work and social media accounts. I was living in Washington, DC at the time and he was, and still is, on Vancouver Island. Before I headed off to Europe for fifty days last summer, I sent him an email asking whether he would show me around his home for a day or two when I came back to North America. He agreed and we started a daily correspondence. Somewhere around July in Barcelona I realized that he was someone I wanted to talk to every day. He was also someone I could see a future with. Suddenly my visit to Vancouver Island in the fall meant a lot more.
Ups and downs are inevitable in any relationship, but a long-distance relationship has some added difficulties. After my first visit, which was wonderful, we had a down. A down that ended things for a while and hurt parts of me that I had not opened to someone in several years. Because, well, it can be hard to maintain a relationship with someone who is so far away.
Because, well, it can be hard to maintain a relationship with someone who is so far away.
You don’t get to see their face outside of a rectangular screen for months or weeks at a time and there are other, closer, people you’re going to see every single day. You can’t be there for their bad days, and, worst, you can’t be there for the good days. There is also an added maddening layer of, “If he/she were here, we’d be fine.” But, after our down period, we came back together and have been going strong since.
It takes a certain kind of commitment to another person and to yourself to maintain a relationship that involves a significant amount of physical space between.
So, how do we make it work?
We say good morning every morning and we say goodnight every night. Sounds simple, but sometimes it feels like the glue that keeps us together. Especially when you’re in different time zones and your wake and sleep times are usually several hours different. It’s not necessarily about being the first and last thing someone thinks about each day, it’s having a routine we can keep when we are and aren’t in the same place.
We talk every day. If a particular day is going to be busy, we let the other person know. “Hey, you might not hear a lot from me today because xyz.” Other than that, I know that if I need to ask him something important or just show him the stupid GIF I found, he’s going to be there to receive it and respond. He knows when I’m going to work at a coffee shop, I know when he gets home from work. We are aware of and present in the other person’s day. We video-chat fairly often as well.
We send a lot of photos. No, not those kind of photos (okay, sometimes…). We send each other pictures of the new book we purchased or the piece of clothing we’re debating buying. It helps with feeling like we are experiencing some of these little things couples living closer together get to easily share. We probably share more than couples in close proximity and that helps make us closer.
We pay attention to each other’s “stuff.” He has a drink on Wednesday since it’s the middle of the week and also his longest day at work. He knows that I have a hard time getting myself focused on Mondays, specifically. I know that the clothing cyclists wear are called kits and he knows that a pitch is a story idea I send to an editor. We take note of and pay attention to each other’s idiosyncrasies and lifestyles.
When we’re apart, knowing each other’s quirks and routines helps make the other person feel a little more connected.
We ask for space when we need it. You know what gets old? Staring at an iPhone like it’s your boyfriend. My friends have teased me when, in conversation about him, I will point at my purse. They’ll tease, “Does he live in there?” Sometimes it feels like he does. There are days where I need a bit of a break from my phone and I ask for them. He gives me them without worrying about any deeper meaning or a potential problem. I try to do the same. (I’m a hyper-sensitive lady. He knows this.)
We are honest with each other. And this has been the scariest part for me. I am not one to lie or cheat or deceive, but sometimes I find it much easier to not share how I am feeling for fear of consequences or discomfort. Recently, we had a conversation about marriage and kids. That was terrifying. But, we talked it out, and came out of the situation having a much better understanding of each other’s expectations and fears. Important conversations are easier in person, of course. You can watch the other person’s body language, see the color of their face, and listen to the inflection in their voice to get a full read of everything. If you’re suspicious of something, you have a whole lot less to go on when it’s a discussion through a text message or over FaceTime. This is where trust comes into the picture.
We trust each other. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be together. I can’t be there watching him like a hawk and he can’t be here as a guard dog. We have to believe the other person. We have to be a person to believe in.
When we are together, we make the most of it. Whether it’s a little weekend getaway or just an X-Files marathon, we enjoy our time together because we know it’s limited. Our first reuniting kiss is as meaningful to me as the one I get on the twentieth day when he’s smooching me on the way out the door for work. Nothing is taken for granted.
And, honestly, when we’re driving in his truck somewhere and he’s singing and I’m watching the world go by, it all feels worth it. Every one of those many miles feels like a small distance to go.