Long Distance Relationships
I know this may seem as though it has nothing to do with photography but last week, a couple incoming college freshmen asked me to share some wisdom about long distance relationships. When I really think about it, a good portion of the couples I work with are headed in the same direction! This may not get many reads, but hopefully this will help at least one person out there navigate this difficult, yet rewarding time of their relationship.
Michael and I have been doing long distance for two years, going on a third (and last) year. Encouraging those who are in love and ready to be in a long distance relationship brings me joy and purpose so of course I wanted to give some advice! As I thought about what to tell them, I vaguely remembered starting a document explaining my experience being in a long distance relationship, and I checked my computer to find that I had already compiled a document including experiences, advice, and reflection! I made a few edits and thought I'd share...
How do you deal with long distance relationships?
Michael and I have been dating for about two and a half years now; two of those years we have had 2700 miles of distance between us. I remember when we first met. We knew what we were getting into and that we had about six months until I left for my first year of college but we also knew in our hearts that staying together was worth it. So we decided to embark on this crazy emotional, plane-catching, Skype-filled adventure.
If you know me, you know I am a planning maniac. It's taken some mind training to get myself to slow down, but just imagine having my brain for a minute. The fear that you think you may have just met the person you'd like to marry but don't know whether long distance would work out seeps through the cracks of the wall of encouragement you only got from a handful of people. There is a vast unknown that you can't even begin to plan for or prepare for. You see couples and marriages fall apart in front of your eyes and everyone around you seems to think you're crazy for attempting to be in a relationship of such uncertainty. I knew I had to do something! This guy I had only known a short time was everything I ever wanted in a best friend and life partner and I wasn't about to walk away! So we did the only kind of planning we could do: talked about it. A lot. The conversations we had were mostly of our our plan for keeping the relationship alive and present through our ever-changing life situations, and as meticulous as it may seem, it eased both our minds and created a sense of security we needed to go off on our own. The greatest thing we ever discussed was the topic of values, trust, and priority. Before our relationship could take the next step into long distance we had to make sure (1) it was worth 'going the distance', (2) we both prioritized our relationship, and (3) we had some agreement on interacting with the opposite sex (essentially the topic of trust). What made it a decently smooth-sailing journey for Michael and I that eliminated a lot of worry and stress is that neither of us were interested in fooling around. We love to have fun, yes, but we didn't have a desire to "experiment." Both of us understood that with time comes change, but I was in college to learn and grow (in other words, I didn't have a desire to party or drink much). Not saying that a relationship couldn't succeed with those things, but there needs to be an agreement of sorts on how to deal with those things.
First semester in college was tough on both of us. As an ambivert (smack dab in the middle of an introvert and extrovert), I had a hard time going to social events with more than three people. Instead, I spent all my time in my room watching Netflix, studying, or Skyping Michael. As a result, I had a slow start with making friends, enjoying college, and finding purpose in a place that felt like a summer camp that went on forever. Michael and I had hard conversations about balancing time on the phone and letting each other live our individual lives, and a huge amount of conversations about our needs in the relationship.
Every christmas or summer break it got harder to say goodbye, but easier to maintain a relationship and balance school, work, and fun. God led me to the most amazing group of friends and I was able to go out and experience life! I got a couple student jobs and was able to take part in different college events. But through all my experiences and busyness, Michael and I stayed connected. We still shared important points in our lives, ate a couple meals together on Skype, and found ways to "date" through a computer. Michael and I are now happily engaged and ready to tackle wedding planning long distance.
In taking part in a long distance relationship, our communication was tested and we were forced to discuss topics we would have otherwise not had to. We had to learn to ask for what we needed out of each other and have hard conversations about the future. It gave us time and space to grow as individuals and in turn bring more to the relationship, and it has taught Michael and I to be patient and authentic with one another. Being in a long distance relationship has shown us what we are capable of and how we are there for each other. I have never once questioned our calling to be together, and as hard as long distance is, I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to experience long distance with Michael.
There are a couple things I'd like to share that have helped Michael and I along this journey. Of course, these vary per couple, but hopefully you will find them helpful in some way. We have experienced the effects, both positive and negative, of long distance and we’ve had to make significant adjustments along the way, but the bottom line is that you are equally committed to each other. I can't tell you exactly how your own experience will be, but these are just a few of the things that we have learned from our time across oceans:
It's important to understand and accept that dating long distance is going to be sad. You'll miss each other uncontrollably and sometimes it will be hard seeing happy couples around you, and that's normal.
It may be helpful to set up a schedule of times when you will talk to each other, so both of you know when you will get time together as well as have a balanced life.
It is SO important to express your feelings and needs with your partner so there is no confusion (girls, this is not the time to be passive or expect he will read your mind...learned that the hard way).
Make sure that you both are clear and agree on boundaries with the opposite sex, values, and time.
The initial goodbye (and the anticipation of it) is the worst. Full disclosure, Michael and I say goodbye for at least an hour at the airport before I go through security. Whether this makes saying goodbye harder, I don't know but usually I have tears in my eye and am dreading walking through, but once I get to the other side and I can't see Michael's face anymore, it's done. I'm a little better, and I know we will be okay. It gets better.
COMMUNICATE COMMUNICATE COMMUNICATE! Talk about your worries and expectations of the relationship throughout your journey. I cannot tell you how important this point is in a long distance relationship. Different couples need different amounts of time together (on the phone, texting, Skype) and that is up to you as the couple, but if at any point one of you needs more or less time, discuss it with the other and work it out so neither of you feel neglected or overwhelmed. Likewise, couples vary in their thoughts on boundaries with opposite sex. Some might start feeling weird when their partner goes on a one-on-one with the opposite sex over food while others may not. Talk about these things so mistrust and misinterpretation will be much less of an issue!
These were just a few of the things I've learned from my relationship with Michael. I hope this helps and gives a better understanding of how to determine if you are right for long distance or how to make long distance easier for you. My relationship with Michael is one of my top priorities, and I would give almost anything to make sure that our relationship thrives. There have been good moments and bad ones, but at the end of the day, it was so worth it. Of course I cannot wait to marry Michael and finally be together but I KNOW we will both be much stronger individuals and a much stronger team because of the distance.
“If love truly exists between two individuals, long distance then is merely but a minor obstacle.”
- Michael Svetlichny