I’ve been in several long-distance relationships in my time, dating back to 1995 when I was seeing a girl who lived in Alabama while I lived in Florida. I’m not going to lie to you: they’re hard work, and they can be fragile… but, given time, they can bloom into some of the best in-person relationships you’ll ever have.
Here are six of the best things about them:
6. Communicating electronically is normal. When I was married, my then-wife and I would only text or e-mail every now and then about scheduling, if we would be late, what we wanted for dinner, that sort of thing. We did most of our talking in person, and we didn’t really communicate that much when we did. In long-distance relationships, you don’t ever have enough of that in-person communication so you make up for it by staying in touch all day — texts, IMs, emails, whatever. And then, when you get home and are going about your evening, you continue that communication. The need to stay in contact with the person you love makes you more inclined to talk about things that are going on — and, if anything is wrong at the time, things that need to be changed or improved — and more communication in relationships is always a positive thing.
5. You can see each other more often. Speaking of electronic communication, how awesome are video chat services? Facetime, Skype, Hangouts, even Yahoo… you can see the other person whenever you both are near a device with a camera, and most of our phones have those. Even if you’re not talking, even if you’ve got the microphone and speakers muted, you can put a little window of your partner in the corner of your screen, or stay connected with your phone. In some ways you can see your long-distance partner more often than an in-person one because you want to see that person even more so you find ways.
4. Openness and honesty are watchwords of long-distance relationships. Obviously there are bad apples in the world, but if you really click with someone online, you’re going to want to talk to that person as much as possible, learn as much as possible, become invested in the person’s life — and vice-versa. When you meet someone new in a bar, or through a friend, you might go on a couple of dates, learn a few things about the other person, and then make a decision as to whether or not you want to continue seeing each other. With long-distance relationships, you tend to be more open and forthright up front* because you’re going to spend more of your time talking in one way or another than the average new couple, who might go to dinner, or a movie, or jogging, or whatever.
3. You make time for each other. Long-distance relationships are all about scheduling. You have to know where your partner is (more or less) and what time you’re both going to be available, and also what time it is in your respective time zones (if you live in different time zones). In an in-person relationship, you aren’t always going to do that, but when all you have is video chats and phone calls, you’ll be damned if you’re going to miss out on that. And with shared calendars, like the one Google offers, it’s easier than ever to set these things up because the time zones are auto-determined based upon who’s looking at the calendar.
2. You value every minute together. When you do get that long weekend or multi-day visit to see your partner, you make every minute count**. You’re less likely to stick your nose in a book or reach for your phone because you only have a limited number of hours with the person you love and you don’t want to waste them. If you do anything electronic together, it’s literally together — checking a social network you met through (such as Tumblr), playing a game you both enjoy, watching a movie cuddled on the couch, that sort of thing. And even when you go out to meet friends, you go as a couple. There’s no “I just want to go get a drink with the guys” or “we’re having a spa day, bye!” because that’s time you’re missing with someone you don’t get to touch every day.
1. When the relationship becomes an in-person one, you don’t forget what you’ve learned. Not every long-distance relationship turns into an in-person one — falling-outs happen, or life makes it impossible***. But many do, and when they do, the people in them don’t forget the lessons they learned. They don’t forget that time is precious and valuable; they don’t forget that communication is vital; they don’t forget to set aside time for each other; they don’t forget how important it is to be open and honest. Sure, all relationships have their pitfalls, but in the end a long-distance relationship that becomes an in-person one is often one of the strongest relationships you’ll see precisely because both people know what they went through to get here and, if they can make it through that, they can make it through anything.
Let me get serious for a moment here.
One of the most intense parts of a long-distance relationship is when you get to be intimate after a long time apart. You may be working toward a time when you can be together in-person, or you may not, but keep in mind that you both have lives and you both need to be responsible.
That means using protection, and being extra-diligent about it. Especially if one or both of you are parents. The last thing you need to do is uproot your children because you weren’t responsible about reproductive health and safety.
I once had a pregnancy scare during a long-distance relationship. I used protection every time we were intimate and it still happened. She ended up not being pregnant, much to the relief of both of us — not that we didn’t love each other very much, but given the distance between us, it would have been a major change if I had to go live with her or she had to come live with me.
Use condoms. Use birth control pills. Use IUDs or the NuvaRing. Get tested. Follow all medical guidelines.
If you really love your long-distance partner, and you want to have children together, that’s awesome. It really is. I’m a dad, and having a kid is one of the most amazing parts of my life. But don’t have a kid until you’re ready, until you can be together in-person, and until you’ve made absolutely sure that that’s what you want.
Got an idea for a future “Six of the Best” column? Tweet it to me @listener42.
*** If you both have kids, live in different states, and the kids’ parents are still alive, one of you is going to have to uproot your children only to send them back every few months for a visit, and that may not be in their best interest.