Long-Distance Love - Can It Really Work?

You just met someone amazing…but there’s a catch: Your new love lives far, far away. Here, a look at the issues that will arise—and how to keep your connection going strong.

by Caroline Tiger

ven if you’ve never seen the movie Sleepless in Seattle, there’s a good chance you’ve wondered: Could my soul mate be out there, many miles away… perhaps across the country or on the other side of the world? Ten years ago or so, you’d probably never find out: Your dating pool was limited to the cutie who worked in your office building or your neighbor’s single friend. But now, thanks to online matching, potential mates can be found just about anywhere, and long-distance relationships are more common than ever. According to California-based The Center for the Study of Long Distance Relationships, there are around seven million long-distance couples in the United States.

Granted, no one can argue that a long-distance relationship (or LDR) is easy. There are the long flights or car trips, the fleeting weekends together, and the lonely stretches in between. Plus, LDRs can be confusing. They seem to demand their own set of dating
Don’t start a fight hours before you have to leave.
rules—exclusivity and commitment come into play much sooner, as do those challenging “relationship talks.” Still, plenty of couples have satisfying relationships and even end up together for good. If you’re open to the possibility of long-distance love, here are some tips to help you reach happy-ever-after:

Ask yourselves: Would you ever be willing to move? Yes, right at the beginning—within a few weeks of when you start dating. After all, if both of you answer “No way, never,” then why proceed? Laurie Puhn, author if Instant Persuasion: How To Change Your Words To Change Your Life, suggests saying, “Listen, I like you and I’m not saying that we’re anywhere near being ready to move. Clearly we’re at the beginning. But I’m wondering if moving is something you’d ever consider.”

Negotiate your visits… If you want to keep an LDR going, it’s good to explicitly lay out how often you’re going to see each other. First, figure out how often you’d want to hang out if you were living in the same place. Pretend that the distance and accompanying cost and time restraints don’t exist. Would you want to see each other every weekend? Once a month? (This is where you might realize, if you’re the kind of person who needs to snuggle your sweetie on the couch five nights a week, that an LDR isn’t for you.) Now take that answer and bring your circumstances back into the equation to figure out how close you can get to that ideal while not going broke or spending most of your time on the road.

The next question is, who travels and who hosts? Some surprising info: You don’t have to divide the traveling equally—as long as there are good reasons for them, one-sided visits are not unfair. Puhn suggests a mediation technique to make this discussion go more smoothly: “Try stepping into the other person’s shoes and helping them be selfish by listing all the reasons you should come to their place, from their point of view,” she says. These might include: I often have to work on the weekends; I’m a student so I don’t have any income right now to pay for airfare; I have a child and/or a needy cat; or even, there’s so much more to do in my town than there is in yours. “Once you have all the factors on the table,” says Puhn, “you can rank them” and figure out when to go where.

If the visits tend to be at one person’s place most of the time, you can even out the score in other ways. Katrina, 34, flew from Portland, Oregon to see her long-distance partner (LDP) in Truckee, California, every few weeks, because he had never flown before and wasn’t anxious to start anytime soon. To make up for those expenses, he’d pick up the expenses during her visit and they’d split travel costs.

And renegotiate your visits as things heat up… You’ll probably find that your schedule of visits needs readjusting as your relationship develops. Broach the topic as soon as you feel things aren’t working: “I know we said we’d see each other once a month, but it doesn’t feel like enough to me. I miss you. Can we think of a way to make our visits more frequent?” If you never had a rule, maybe it’s time to establish one: “I think this is really going well, and I’d like to see you at least twice a month. Let’s make it a priority, because it’s so easy for those weekends to fill up with other things, and then we’ll never see each other.”

Leave your little island during visits. When you are together, avoid the temptation to act as if you are on your own private island. Don’t ignore the rest of the world: If you only see each other, your relationship will exist inside a fragile bubble, and that bubble will pop once you actually start interacting with other people. Double-date, see friends and family, and go to parties from the very beginning. As you get to know each other, you need to see how your sweetie operates in the world; also, facing the world together will build your bond.

Keep jealousy at bay by keeping informed. In between visits, it’s important to keep yourself busy, and part of that includes making new friends and continuing to go to parties, movies, out to dinner, to your
Broach the topic as soon as you feel things aren’t working.
weekly knitting circle or Scrabble club. But it’s also easy to get paranoid about how your LDP is spending his or her time. To assure each other that you’re not straying, be sure to fill each other in on all the folks you’re spending time with. Pepper the descriptions with, “I really wish you were here to meet my new friends,” so your LDP doesn’t feel threatened.

Avoid spending all of your time with one person—this could easily develop into a “stand-in boyfriend/girlfriend” scenario and lead to temptation. Hang out with lots of people instead. If your LDP is still having a hard time trusting you, even though you’re an open book about your new friends and you’re calling when you say you’re going to call, there may not be much you can do. Puhn suggests saying, “I feel like I’m doing everything I can to reassure you. I wonder if you would still have a hard time trusting me if we lived in the same place.” Ask questions to find out what is really the issue. For example, “Does it concern you that I have many friends and like to be social, or is there something in particular that is making you question my loyalty?” You can’t fix the problem till you know what it is. And while you might want to compromise on some things, spending time with friends may not be one of the areas where you’re willing to bend. You two may come to realize — or you may have to decide — that your sweetie isn’t cut out for an LDR.

Time your “We need to talk” talks. Let’s say you’d prefer to have a “relationship talk” face-to-face, but every moment of a weekend together seems too precious to bring up a thorny issue like “You really pissed me off last week when you didn’t return my calls for three days,” or “Why don’t we ever talk about the future?” You need to time things right. Makaylia and Neil (who now live together in Narberth, Pennsylvania) wrestled with this scenario before they moved in together. Their solution? “I decided that if we had to have a difficult talk,” she says, “I would bring it up on Saturday afternoon. That way, we still had time to salvage the weekend.”

Keep up with the little things. You know that you should talk often, but make sure to remember to talk about the small stuff as well as the big picture. It’s those everyday details, after all, that help you feel like you know each other inside and out. If you can, call, email, or text-message each other often. For some couples, that means several times a day; for others, several times a week. Find your own rhythm, but you will probably want to keep in touch this way more than daters who live in the same town do. Heather, 24, left her fiancé in Philadelphia for a summer job in D.C. used this tactic to keep in touch with her guy: “Once I called just to tell him that I’d found the Trader Joe’s.”

Don’t make parting harder than it has to be. There’s a very specific type of fight that occurs exclusively in LDRs. It’s called the acting-out-before-I leave fight, and it often happens a few hours before it’s time to say good-bye. Don’t give in to this common mistake. Realize what’s really going on—you’re not angry that he left the seat up yet again; you’re angry at the distance. You’re upset that you won’t see each other again for five or fifteen days. Katrina, who just moved to the same town as her former LDP, used to be guilty of picking these kinds of fights and savoring the silence that followed. “Honestly, it was less painful to have those tiffs and not to call him for 24 hours after I left,” she admits.

Move it or lose it. LDRs eventually have to end, either with a break-up or with a move and a change in status. If you start talking about which one of you is going to move, try stepping into each other’s shoes again. Explain to the other person why you think they should be the one not to move. When you have all the factors on the table, rank them. The person who does move can suggest a trial period—say, “I’m willing to move to where you are, but I’m not sure I want to be there forever. Why don’t we test it out for a year?” Agree that after a year, the one who moved has veto power over the next step.

If it’s time to break up, you do have a valid excuse—the distance. Instead of “It’s not you, it’s me,” you can say, “It’s not you or me, it’s the distance. I just can’t do it any longer.” And you know you’ll never walk into one of your favorite haunts and run into your ex with his or her new mate. And those frequent flyer-miles you’ve racked up? Treat yourself to a solo vacation—or put them toward your next long-distance relationship.

Caroline Tiger is the author of The Long-Distance Relationship Guide: Advice for the Geographically Challenged. You can find her at
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