Going the Distance: Are long-distance relationships worth it?

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My short answer is this: nobody knows but you.

Long distance relationships (LDRs) are unbelievably difficult. Before meeting my partner, I swore up and down that I would never put myself through one of these horrendous, torturous, seemingly pointless relationships. But here I am, doing it. The reasons behind why many of us chose to put ourselves through this can simply be reduced to this: we love who we are with, and we want make it work.

Over time and through my many relationships, I’ve learned one thing for certain; the heart knows what it needs. If you listen to it with patience, acceptance, and openness, you will find all of the answers you need from the very beginning. Only you know the inner-workings of your relationship.

You can certainly last the strain of separation, if both partners agree to it on mutual terms. Any healthy relationship that is built on a strong foundation of genuine friendship, respect, trust, and loyalty to the commitments decided amongst you and your partner (polyamory-inclusive) can be navigated through most forms of struggle. With that said, the harsh realities that a long distance relationship entails are something to be seriously considered, and above all discussed by both partners, before making that decision.

I find that in many cases, partners go with this laissez-faire mentality that “it will either work out or it won’t,” but this is complete bullshit. As most LDR veterans will attest, your relationship needs a goal, an expiration date, a plan that you’re both working towards in order for it to work. Plans can change, so long as you’re constantly working towards the same future.

Based on my experience and the many conversations with fellow LDR peeps, these are a few questions to consider:

1. What’s the plan, and is there an end date? The average separation period for LDRs in the States is 14 months. Many LDR veterans say that having an end point to work towards can be extremely helpful for both partners. Since nearly a third of LDRS start off in college, it’s no surprise that partners tend to be goal-oriented. In fact, 70% of LDRs fail because of “unplanned changes.” So it seems, one of the most predictive factors of LDR success is whether or not you’re working towards what LDR experts call a “proximal relationship” – basically, being able to cuddle not through a screen.

2. How’s your communication? If you groan upon hearing the same old “communication is key” cliche, brace yourself; communication is by far the most important factor in making the distance work. The evidence now suggests that faulty attachment and “psychological distance” can impact communication barriers. Attachment refers to your bond with your loved one, and so, in laymen terms, this basically means that if your bond breaks, you psychologically experience the distance, and it can break down your communication. As it turns out, this indirectly affects your satisfaction and commitment- which means the more psychological distance you feel, the less you want to stay. Strengthening that bond through communication is essential.

3. Check in with yourself- how’s your anxiety? I’m not going to omit the truths here that due not just to separation but to unemployment, finances, and the general instability of life, I’ve had struggled with my fair share anxiety (including frequent panic attacks) in the absence of my partner. And psychologists have found that in fact, elevated anxiety can lead to insecurity about your relationship. In my case, I found it helpful taking steps I needed to in order to restore balance within my life, so that anxiety doesn’t negatively affect the relationship. There are plenty of ways of doing this: journaling, meditating, breathing techniques, yoga (which you can now find all over YouTube), to name a few.

4. How far apart will you be? The average LDR relationship has a separation of about 125-150 miles. While this doesn’t necessarily predict whether or not you’re gonna make it through, it does indicate how difficult it will be to travel to each other. Financial stress has been suggested to end relationships, and a longer distance means international phone calls, expensive plane tickets, travel expenses etc. While this seems trivial, it can be a huge hindrance to the relationship; if your partner gets sick, or has an emergency, or if you don’t have a job and you haven’t seen your partner in three months, the strain of that expense can inevitably take a toll on you and your relationship.

5. Ok, you miss him/her/them- but how’s your social life? Take it from the queen of isolation, socializing is both essential to surviving the pain of separation, and at times excruciating to do. When you have a reality you love more than anything that’s 5,000 miles away, nothing can completely take your mind aware from it. As juxtaposed as they are, there are two things to avoid: 1) Too much isolation, and 2) Too much distraction. The key, as with all things in life, is to find a balance between these two. While some say that replacing the time you would have had with your significant other is dangers, others say that isolating yourself too much can be equally hazardous. My advice: make time for your friends and get out of your routine, but make sure you’re regularly spending time with your partner in whatever capacity you can.

6. What’s the point? This is, by far, the most important question. What is the point? Though the dynamics vary between relationships, there’s no denying that across the board, LDRs can be excruciatingly painful at times. So ask yourself, why? Why do you love this person? What makes you want to commit yourself to this person acknowledging that you’re gonna sacrifice the many benefits of having a significant other? Was it a vacay-romance? Are you committing to the person, or the idealized version? I’m not suggesting in any way that the distance won’t be worth overcoming, or that it can’t be done, but I am suggesting that before putting yourself through hell, you might want to make sure you’re doing it with the right person, for the right reasons.

Why do I need to ask myself this crap if I know I love this person, you might be asking? Here’s why.

There will be days where he is too sick to stare at a screen and tell you if he’s okay or not, days where you won’t hear from him, days where those of us notorious for worrying too much will think the worst and begin sifting through news stories. There will be days where your friends will hear from her when you don’t, or taker her out to the pub and you won’t be able to. There will be days when a Skype call doesn’t replace that arm around your shoulder, or that big spoon to your little spoon, days when that stuffed animal your best friend brought to cheer you up won’t kiss you back like your partner used to. There will be fights that can’t be recovered from with a soft I’m sorry and a gentle kiss on your forehead. There will be no make-up sex to make you feel close again. There will be no sex, period. There will be no shoulder to cry on when someone in your family dies, no one to hold your hand when you’re freaked out about the future, no one to wake up next to in the morning.

These are the things you give up temporarily for distance, and you owe it to yourself to first explore what for. Going there doesn’t mean that you will chose not to, it just means that you’re legitimately weighing the pros and cons with your partner before going knee-deep into the Hard Times Valley.

Experienced LDR veterans – what have you learned having been through the mill? Or those of you in or about to be in an LDR, what questions do you have for those of us who are older, wiser, and arthritis-ridden?

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