Note: This post features an illustration dedicated to my beloved, as well as a response to a male reader’s question:
Do you have an article on how to make long distance relationships work well?
First off, I’m probably not the best person around to look for relationship advice, as I don’t have all the exact answers to ensure success for making relationships work.
But I’m gonna try by sharing a bit of my own relevant experiences in love, since this is on long-distance relationships, and me and my boyfriend have succeeded in it.
I started going out with him exactly two years ago from today. Going long across continents has, no doubt, its ups and downs. He was working here in Jakarta, and I was a 15-hour flight away in San Francisco. I was finishing my senior year in college until I would return for good in mid-August, 2012.
Way before that, I was single on purpose for more than four years.
I had two exes before those years, both of which are long-distance as well.
The first when I was 16 years old, back when I just went abroad to West Lafayette. Didn’t work for obvious reasons: I was super young, didn’t know what I wanted.
The second one came around not long after, didn’t work out for similar reasons as well: We were on a different page in our lives. We decided it’s better to part ways. I was super young still.
As to why I chose to be single for those years, let’s just come to a conclusion that I was slowly becoming extremely picky. The list of turnoffs just kept adding up, and long story short, I became such a hard person on myself today.
This is all you’ll ever need to know: Everything else is secondary if you center your long-distance relationship based on the #1 determinant to make it work – Commitment.
With all three relationships, I have never dealt with third-party intruders. And I believe commitment is the reason.
There’s is no going around about it – one way or another, especially when you’re the man, you’ve got to get your own shit together and establish some kind of agreement with yourself that you’re a grown man now. If you can see yourself with that girl somewhere down the road, make a silent promise to yourself that it’s going to go somewhere with the girl. Get to know her, learn as much as you can about her, and if she’s the one, earn her trust with time – no more winks, no more flirty texts, no more random butt slaps or booty calls. Notice when you see signs that she’s doing the same thing herself, then look up at the stars and dream and whatnot, and casually bring up the future.
In my case, I was already arriving at a point in life where I gave up marriage and have made a bigger commitment for purposes I can’t tell you. The future was like this: To quit college, did some volunteer work on the side, freelance, then save up. Everything will be based anywhere no more than a 5-hour flight from Jakarta. I made that clear with my mother, and on that very same night in the summer of 2011, I met Stanley.
Long story short, everything turned around.
His plan was work, here, in Jakarta. But by the time I met him I no longer believe in the made-for-each-other fluff and soulmate theories anymore.
I am all about effort.
When he asked me whether I’d like to be his girlfriend, somehow, I didn’t find it as difficult to picture a life with this person as I did during those four frolicsome years. He is authentic. We’ve already talked about our faiths even before entering the relationship. That alone has established trust.
After more than a year of dating or so, during one of those big fights that determines whether you’re sticking for the long haul or separate ways, he told me that he could picture his wrinkled face and my own side by side 50 years later, growing old everyday, drinking tea and eating cheese with no teeth.
So I drew a picture of that picture, without the tea and the cheese (see left picture).
Yeah, that’s what I meant by talking about the future: Somewhere, somehow, your plans and hers have to coalesce.
Which is why you need to commit: You need to get your own shit done first, brother.
Because if you don’t, and that you can’t see your life and yourself with her in the long run, going long-distance is close to impossible.
In fact, it’s going to be really, really hard.
Nonetheless, I broke down some of the best practices and routines my boyfriend and I have followed during our year, as well as some tidbits from my past experiences in going long:
#1. Communicate daily.
With all the vast means of communications available in this day and age, there’s really no reason for you to not greet each other somehow. Text each other, send smileys to each other, make a brief call during lunch break, exchange a private e-mail, poke each other on Facebook, or mention each other on Twitter – whatever it is, it tells her that you’re thinking about her. Ask how her day has been, tell her yours, just talk – even if it’s mundane, everyday stuff. Stuff like, “I just farted,” or “I wanna go poop,” or a straight “You smell.” This is important because you can’t see each other in person. So the more frequent you do get in touch with each other, the easier it gets to keep that intimacy alive.
#2. Skype is king.
Stanley and I had a weekly Skype Saturday. Usually it’s around 10 at night his time, and around 8 or 9 in the morning my time. This is as close as you can get to seeing each other face-to-face, so take advantage of these doe-eyeing moments. Get a new haircut, buy a new dress, watch a movie together online, make funny faces to each other, sing or dance or play the piano or the guitar for no other reason than just for each other. I do my homework while he’s working sometimes. In most cases I cook my breakfast while having my iPad on the apartment kitchen table, while he’s watching some DVD in the background. And then we’ll have our moments of “Hello? Hello?? Can you hear me? Can you hear me now? Hello?! Now? How about now?!”
#3. Solitude matters.
Growing individually is just as important as growing together as a couple. Guys get the privilege to play video games or read manga all day long. You can even take that language class you’ve always wanted to take, but has never gotten around to it. Whatever it is that preserves or outgrows your individuality, own it while she’s not around. Who knows, you’ll discover your inner Walden.
My boyfriend happens to be with someone who cannot not do anything. Besides reading, long runs I do around the city are some of the moments I treasure the most. Running in the misty pink skies at dawn by the Pier and evenings in the rain, they are all private moments I steal for myself and that only God alone sees. I believe it’s where all the growing happens inside-out of my psyche.
Here’s a little scoop I found useful for the ladies that I stole from the July 2013 issue of Women’s Health:
The findings of a new study in the European Journal of Personality imply that college-age women who pack their schedules and communicate less often are seen by guys as more desirable long-term partners than those who are willing to talk and aren’t constantly crazy-busy (those ladies were brushed off as flings). Call it playing hard to get, sure, but also call it confirmation of a long-held belief. “Being a good investment as a mate may be advertised through limited availability,” the study authors wrote.
#4. Avoid drama.
Technology’s advancing at lightning speed, allowing more ways to get in touch with each other. But do avoid drama at all costs, as a perfectly healthy relationship can run amok if you do or say something stupid, or get overtly jealous. I have a friend who has her beau watching her every move on Google Latitude. They didn’t do #1, and they didn’t have the #1 determinant in the first place. There were accusations, and things got pretty ugly.
My school is widely reputed for being ruthlessly strict on deadlines. I spent about a semester like most local students who had to pay for rent and for school tuition fee and the extra working hours outside school by ourselves, just to keep up as the months go by. Not to mention how high art supplies can cost.
No matter how hard life gets, remember that the one you have a relationship with is someone to treasure, not someone to vent on. Save your breath from venting by taking good care of yourself instead.
#5. Send gifts.
The romance of handwritten words never gets old, and any girl would smile twice the width when she received it by surprise.
Also, no girl hates receiving flowers. If a girl says she does, she’s fooling herself. Get the local florist to prepare a simple bouquet delivered by her doorstep on a random day, and she’ll come home smiling gleefully. Girls are nurturing and they love to have something to hold, to tend, to and to care for. It is at that moment she grabs the bouquet from the florist, that she’ll be thinking how she could’ve just grabbed you and peck you in the cheek instead.
Here’s a greeting card you can steal from me:
#6. Schedule visits.
Going in line with #2, it is important to have something to look forward to every few months.
Our long-distance journey began when I flew back to Frisco for my fall semester in August 2011, then I came back for a month’s holiday in December till January 2012. Because we knew I won’t be coming back to Jakarta for the next seven months after that, Stanley came over to the city in April last year, which coincided with my two-week spring break. We planned everything ahead and had a really great time :D
I thought, in five years living in the windy city I would never see the panorama atop the Twin Peaks vista point while holding hands with a special someone. I’ve actually been there twice before this. The first time was with a group of friends, and the second with my cousin and his buddies from LA. On both occasions, I promised myself not to get out of the car to see the view because I wanted to save the beautiful moment with some mythical, far-out, nonexistent future husband.
What do you know, I crossed the moment off my bucket list just months before I returned forever for Jakarta.
These scheduled plans create something to count on our calendars. The anticipation alone makes the heart grow fonder everyday till the day finally arrives.
#7. Have an end.
Every end is a new beginning. When the new month or the new year rolls around, you have to decide for yourselves where this relationship is going. Ask questions like, ‘Have I changed?’ and ‘Is this someone you want to grow old with?’
Just as with most relationships, long-distance romance will ultimately end in a breakup or a lifelong commitment. The answer would slowly unfold when you take the time to consider: How much are you willing to put other aspects of your life toward making this relationship into a short-distance one?
Perhaps she’ll move to your city, or you would make the big move to settle in her country. If you’re still doing #1, #2, #3, and #4 even after you realized you’ve spent over USD 2,000 one day only on tearjerking arguments and loathsome bickerings on the phone, then don’t bail out just yet. Cost and worth are very different things: The longest-surviving couples still get really mad with each other sometimes. What matters is they bothered long enough to argue even when they’ll always have the choice to remain silent, bitter, and hurt for a couple more months.
Yes, it’s tiring. Yes, not everything fits into a pretty picture. Yes, it gets messier with time and you’ll never know what will happen next. But even after all that the both of you are still willing to make things right, say do #5 or #6 once in a while, then she’s yours for life, brother.
If you know you’ll be missing each other more than you resent in the long-term plan, commit, commit, commit to the end.
Because that kind of love only comes once in a lifetime.
Bottom line: LDRs can work. But like any other relationship, it takes real work. Hope this helps.