Friendly but no-nonsense relationship and dating advice for women in their 20s and 30s, from the guy perspective. Come back for biweekly posts and "tips of the week." Skip to the advice...
If there's any good news about long-distance relationships, maybe it's that they suck equally for men and women. People who want to stay together when they're apart face universal challenges, regardless of gender. Still, judging by the messages I get, a lot of women are reluctant to pin their relationship issues on distance, looking instead for other explanations for struggles with trust, communication or fidelity.
The fact is, the more time you spend apart, the further removed you tend to get from the reality of a committed relationship. With few exceptions, a mature relationship should include some level of physical, present interaction and negotiation on a daily, or almost daily, basis. Instead, when you're long-distance, it's easy to get hung up on suspicions, guesses and predictions about what the other person is doing and feeling. This tends to skew the interactions you do have, and take up the precious time that's left with arguments that pull you apart instead of solidifying a bond.
Take my friend Katie as an example. Her boyfriend, Jake, is on the other side of the country for six months doing graduate work. Because Jake is in the lab until late and there's a three hour time difference, they don't get to talk every day. The other day Katie had gone two days without talking to him, and she was a head case. First, she had an e-mail from Jake that seemed to be saying he'd be away for an extra month. Then she got a weird, emotional text from him in the middle of the night where he didn't even mention the change in plans, and sounded like maybe something had happened with a female grad student. When I talked to Katie before their next phone conversation, she'd read the e-mail and the text half a dozen times, had hardly gotten any sleep, had a terrible day at work, and could only talk about how worried she was that Jake had cheated.
When Katie finally did get on the phone with Jake, she challenged him almost immediately, he got defensive, she almost hung up, and it took them over an hour to sort it all out. It turned out that in the e-mail, Jake had been trying to lay the groundwork to ask Katie to come spend a couple weeks with him on vacation before he flew back. When she didn't reply, he'd been a little nervous that something was happening on her end, so after having a few too many late-night drinks with his grad school friends after work, he'd sent her a rambling, emotional text where he'd mentioned a couple of the friends he had drinks with, including one woman. That was it. He hadn't come close to cheating, and while he did have to stay out there to work for an extra week, he wanted Katie to come see where he'd been living and then go on a vacation with him.
Things will probably work out fine for Katie and Jake: their six months is almost up and Katie has tickets to fly out there, meet his grad school friends, and take a two-week road trip together before they come back. But with over a year of being in a relationship before Jake left, they're a good example of how hard it can still be. Take an incident like this and multiply it by the number of weeks you're apart. The misunderstandings are often smaller, sometimes bigger, but they add up, and they're inevitable when so many interactions hinge on guesses and inferences that come from phone calls, texts, and e-mails -- instead of shared experiences and relaxed time together. It's exhausting. And especially when the anxiety about this remote person spills over into the life you're trying to live where you are, it can make you feel crazy.
So how can you survive the challenges facing a long distance relationship? First, acknowledge them. I often hear from people who are examining every text, e-mail and stray comment for signs of why a long-distance boyfriend is pushing away. What did he do that night you didn't get a text from him? What did you do wrong that's making you drift apart? Or maybe you're worried about yourself. Why do I keep thinking about other people? Why did I spend an hour talking to that cute guy when I was out the other night? When you acknowledge how hard it is to maintain a long distance relationship, you can start to give yourself, and him, a break from examining and talking about every other little thing that might be "wrong" with you or the relationship.
Second, don't forget the rest of your life. Your career or school, your friends and family, the things you do for fun, all have a huge impact on your emotional health, which in turn impacts your long-distance relationship. If you're cruising along doing the things you want to be doing, you're going to be much better at managing a relationship with a faraway guy than if you've given up because you miss him so much, or because you mistrust your own feelings. So it's inevitable you'll spend some time thinking about him and about the relationship, but don't let it get in the way of the rest of your life.
Finally, accept that you don't know what's going to happen. This is not always easy, but it can really help to step back and remember that when you decided to go long distance, you also decided to live with a certain level of uncertainty. Now that's what you're doing, and you can handle it with a lot of angst and anxiety or you can remind yourself to take deep breaths, keep focus on the rest of your life, too, and know that in the long run, you will be alright no matter what happens in this long distance relationship. The outcomes are infinite: you could push through and pick up right where you left off, you could decide to put the relationship on hold and reunite when you're back in the same place, you could break up completely and find someone who makes you happier. If you leave yourself open to the uncertainty and its possibilities, you might just find yourself enjoying your long-distance relationship a little more.