Sex + Love

Staying Close While Far Apart

How to handle a long-distance relationship.

Illustration by Ruby A.

If you should ever embark on a long-distance relationship, you’ll quickly be able to tell the optimists from the pessimists in your life. The optimists will comfort you with platitudes like “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” while the pessimists will come back with “out of sight, out of mind.” And for the duration of your long-distance relationship, you will most likely waver between these two trains of thought, alternately exhilarated and exhausted.

As someone who spent SIX YEARS in an LDR (that’s “long-distance relationship” from here on out, not Lana Del Rey), it has been my experience that the pessimists tend to outweigh the optimists. I had people give me sympathetic sighs as soon as I mentioned that my boyfriend (now my husband) lived hours—and, for a while, an ocean—away. “That’s too bad,” they would say, with more than a hint of doom in their voices. I’d hear stories from friends and acquaintances (and magazine articles and television shows) about LDRs gone horribly wrong: cheaters, people who simply stopped calling, people who became jerks after hanging out with a new and awful crowd, and people who just moved on. And all of these stories were completely valid: LDRs do not work for everyone. But they CAN work. The universe is throwing you a challenge, and if you choose to accept it, I have a few pointers for you:

Understand the obstacles.

An LDR requires you to set realistic expectations on how often you’ll be able to connect with your partner. When my dude and I were physically separated for those six years, we had to spend months at a time without seeing each other in person, which isn’t easy when all you want to do is make out or hold hands or just stare at someone’s face and say dumb things like “your freckles are perfectly distributed.” Staying in touch is imperative, but it can also feel impossible at times—life gets in the way, as do time zones, work, and school.

There will be days when dealing with all of this is easy: you’ll both be busy, you’ll have a sweet phone call, and you’ll feel good about things. And then there will be the hard days when you need a hug, when the phone call ends in tears, or when you simply doubt what you’re doing. Be prepared to be lonely, to crave physical contact, to get frustrated that things can’t be easier, and to miss someone more than you’ve ever missed anything in your life. (And if you are me in 2003, be prepared to repeatedly sob-sing “Transatlanticism” by Death Cab for Cutie on your bedroom floor.)

Your partner may be feeling the same way, and you both need to understand that the entire point of your relationship should be to make each other happy, not miserable. If finding the time to talk becomes more of a duty than a desire, or if the sad days outnumber the good days by a substantial margin, it may be time to reassess the situation. Even the loveliest things don’t always last. But you may find yourself feeling more secure as time goes on, and this is probably a sign that your relationship is getting stronger and adapting to the obstacles. And if you can plan trips to see each other with some regularity, you always have something to look forward to.

Keep in touch.

Unlike the lonely lovers of the past, you don’t have to send your beloved a letter via pony or pigeon or steamship and wait months for a reply. You’ve got texting, Skype, FaceTime, Gchat, iChat, Facebook, email, the good ol’ telephone, and even the postal service (sending a care package or snail-mail letter is a lovely and romantic gesture). So yes, there are more ways than ever to keep in touch, for better OR worse, because you have to be sure not to spend your entire day refreshing your screen or reading into silences when someone doesn’t respond right away.

The method of communication isn’t as important as the act of communication itself. Yes, you should talk about what you want/need/feel, but also remember to have normal conversations. It doesn’t always have to be super deep. Have fun! Be in love! Create in-jokes! Everything seems super dramatic at first, but after a while, you get used to—and look forward to—a silly pizza emoji.

You must, you must, you must increase your trust.

If you don’t trust your partner, or if they don’t trust you, it’s never going to work. This is true of any relationship. You may meet other people or decide that you need a constant physical companion. Things happen, but neither you nor your partner wants to spend all day and night worrying that those things are happening, and you can avoid that by being honest with each other.

Now, a HUGE red flag is someone who feels the need to “check in” every hour of the day. This is seriously uncool (and extremely unhealthy) behavior. If your partner has to know where you are, who you’re with, what you’re doing, and why you’re not Skyping with them at that very second, you’re dealing with someone who has boundary and trust issues, and if it escalates to the point where you feel threatened, please tell someone and find a way to end it.

On the other hand, if you’re the one who is constantly texting/calling/emailing your partner, you may need to check yourself. This is probably a sign that an LDR isn’t something you can handle, or that you aren’t secure enough in your relationship to allow your partner to live their life without constant surveillance. Love isn’t about ownership; it’s about partnership. If the person hasn’t given you a reason to doubt them, maybe you have your own self-esteem and trust issues to work on, and perhaps a relationship can wait until you are in a healthier place.

And if you find that you want to move on (or you’ve already done so), you need to tell the other person. Stringing someone along “just in case,” or holding on out of guilt, fear, or obligation, is only going to make the eventual breakup even more painful. If one of you messes up—because, like, you’re human beings—talk about it. Cheating is a tough thing to recover from, but if the relationship is strong enough to continue, great. If not, that’s OK, too. And if your ideas about the future start drifting from those of your partner, be upfront about that as well. You may be going your separate ways, and trying to ignore the signs is like trying to water-ski with your legs 20 feet apart (painful, perhaps impossible, and certainly not recommended).

Have a little faith.

One of the things that got me through the roughest times was a touch of faith (that sounds like a perfume that your grandma wears, no?). I’m not necessarily talking about religion, I just mean a general faith in the person, and love, and the universe, and yourself. My boyfriend and I never discussed breaking up when we had to be apart, because we loved each other, and we planned to take it day by day. Whenever we felt super bummed about the situation, we’d try to make each other laugh, or invent stupid personal jokes that kept us connected and made us feel like our connection was something the outside world wasn’t privy to. The fact that we led independent lives for so long has actually made us much stronger, because we know how to be a we and a set of mes. That is one of the benefits of an LDR: you can take the time to figure yourself out, as can your partner, and if the world brings you back to the same spot and you evolve together, then you’re both better for it. And if the distance makes you realize that you’re not meant for each other, have faith that the right person is out there, just waiting to make embarrassingly corny comments about your freckles.

Cherish your independence.

Perhaps most important: remember that your relationship is not your entire life. There may be days that go by when you don’t think about your partner that much—don’t feel guilty, it’s normal! You may find that you’re a different person when your partner isn’t around, and you may like that. Whatever the case may be, you need to hold on to YOUR life. See your friends and family. Focus on your schoolwork or other endeavors. Figure out what you like and who you are when you’re alone. Take your LDR as an opportunity to concentrate on yourself. When my boyfriend was away, I spent my time painting, writing, going to movies by myself, trying on different identities with hair/makeup/clothes, walking around strange cities just to people-watch, and doing a lot of bedroom dancing. I also kept two journals: one for myself, and one in which I wrote a dumb daily letter to him, telling him all of the fun stuff I’d done, because it confirmed for me that I was both thinking of him and living my life. When he finally returned, I gave it to him, and when we moved recently, I found it in one of his boxes. “Oh man, burn that!” I said, mortified by the gooey, emo writing inside. “No way,” he said. “You gave it to me.”

That’s the ultimate key, really: finding the person who sees your vulnerable center, and who shows you theirs in return. And if you do that, don’t let distance define your fate. Your relationship may grow or it may fall apart completely, just like everyone else’s—even the people who get to be together 24/7. But the two of you may also decide that some things are worth holding on to. ♦

39 Comments

  • Nishat December 17th, 2012 7:31 PM

    As someone who has been in (and is still in) a long distance relationship for over 5 years, I can say THIS IS TRUE. I’ve heard some of the meanest, most disheartening comments over the last few years from pessimists. Let’s just say if it is worth it, it is worth it.

    • Eliza January 3rd, 2013 11:40 PM

      Thank you! You are giving me hope! Gotta love Rookie-peeps! <3

  • hadley December 17th, 2012 7:33 PM

    Thank you! This article was really helpful for me as my boyfriend is preparing to return home to China for some time and again at the end of this year. That’s boarding school for you.

  • Erykaneisha December 17th, 2012 8:20 PM

    My boyfriends is currently in New Zealand and I’m in California. We’ve been away from each other for 2 years now & I can definitely agree with everything in this article.
    You do feel lonely sometimes, but you have to realize that you DO have a life of your own & you have to live that, too.
    Thank you for writing this. It’s SO nice to be reminded that the’re more people out there who are in my situation, too.
    :)

  • Cactus Woman December 17th, 2012 8:20 PM

    Damn. I really wish I had known this before my ex-boyfriend went away to boarding school. I was fully willing to hold on and keep it going, but unfortunately he couldn’t last more than three weeks. The distance was too hard on him, I think.
    On the flip side, though, I still wonder whether that’s really true because he got his next girlfriend at school just a month after we broke up. He’s had two other girlfriends since then. We broke up well over a year ago, and I’m still single.
    The sad thing is that our relationship was so awesome. We were perfect for each other, but we weren’t meant to be, I guess… :(

  • Sarah M December 17th, 2012 8:27 PM

    Man, this came at the best time. Thank you for my renewed faith in me (and us)! Rookie saves the day yet again. :)

  • thebrownette December 17th, 2012 8:33 PM

    Is is bad that when I read this all I could think of was my dream last night in which I was dating Josh Hutcherson? ……..Naaaaahhhhh

  • jill December 17th, 2012 8:57 PM

    THANK YOU SO MUCH ROOKIE YOU ARE SO PERFECT THIS IS JUST WHAT I NEEDED TODAY <3 <3 <3 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Starsplitter December 17th, 2012 9:04 PM

    I was in a semi-long distance relationship my freshman year of college (both universities were in California, could see each other by a two hour train ride) and we kept it going for over a semester. But we had issues before we went off to school and the long-distance just made them worst. Plus college changed him and he started to do things that he used to protest against in high school (i.e. partying, drinking). So basically I think this is a really good article if you and you’re significant other are in a stable, healthy relationship and that LDR’s can work for those couples. But if you’re like me and already had problems, an LDR will definitely add to it

  • brattydee December 17th, 2012 9:07 PM

    bless this article, thank you for writing it :)

  • babesauce December 17th, 2012 10:24 PM

    I’ve been doing SO MUCH bedroom dancing since my own LDR began 5 months ago (and yes, I’m writing this from the spare bedroom in his Mum’s house-just cause he’s on the other side of the country doesn’t mean I can’t go thrifting and drink wine with his Mum over the holidays!)

  • alylee December 17th, 2012 10:41 PM

    This article is basically everything I need to get me through each quarter without him. I do a ridiculous amount of bedroom dancing, with our without him, but it’s nice to also figure out how to be my own person.
    One thing that has really helped us are “FaceTime Fridays”. Two completely different class schedules led to us setting apart an hour or two every friday to talk over facetime and just reconnect. Easily the best part of my week.

  • missmadness December 17th, 2012 10:58 PM

    All so true. My so lived 2 1/2hrs away for the first year and half we dated, and I’m so thankful that I get to see his face every morning now. Cheesy, but true.

  • tangratoe December 17th, 2012 11:05 PM

    I really needed this article, I’m so glad you guys did this!! <3 It's so hard when you care about someone who lives (in my case, an ocean) away.

  • nutmeg_2994 December 18th, 2012 12:59 AM

    I listen to Transatlanticism all the time for that very reason too! Gets me every single time <3

  • mustachio December 18th, 2012 1:29 AM

    When my best friend moved across the country, we had a tradition of sending each other our screensavers when the time was 12:34. It was a quick little way to remind each other that we were going to get through this.
    So I guess my advice would be to come up with a random little ritual that reminds your partner you still care and that you’re thinking of them. :)

  • thefilmrookie December 18th, 2012 2:18 AM

    this is so great/helpful!

    http://www.pink-lantern.tumblr.com

  • herrolaurita December 18th, 2012 2:42 AM

    perfect article. My boyfriend & I have been in a long distance relationship for two years now (we just celebrated the anniversary last week with a special Skype date). I’m from California and he’s from Washington. One thing that has really helped us is seeing the visits as a vacation, just getting to see the best of each other’s states. hiking, going to shows, riding roller coaster, eating out, riding ferries. It’s like, when you’re away from each other, you save money and ideas for that weekend or couple of weeks in which the two of you are together and get to explore the surroundings.
    His band was on tour and played near my city, which led us to meet. It was actually love at first sight. His eyes SUCKED ME IN. and when he mentioned Mariah Carey and showed me a picture of his perfect dog i knew there was something special.

    If anything, our long distance experience has definitely helped us to better communicate. We don’t keep stupid things from each other, we know how to read each other and speak directly. It’s like the distance becomes practice for being good to each other.

    I am moving to Washington in a few days, Christmas morning actually. For a new adventure & for school, but he is a huge plus. Getting to “date normally” will be fun.
    I am the biggest christmas gift he’ll ever get in his life, haha.

    i am a bundle of emotions. Mostly excited because i love change and kind of see this as a huge adventure, but also scared and worried and nervous and all the basic human change stuff.
    Wish me luck my rookie sisters.
    xoxoxxx

    • GlitterKitty December 18th, 2012 4:30 PM

      That’s such a sweet story! Good luck!

  • Mabel December 18th, 2012 3:38 AM

    Embarked on 5 months away from my boyfriend 5 days ago and I’m so homesick for him. Feeling like an emo loser. Thanks Pixie for the article and Rookie for being my survival guide to life. xoxo

    p.s fuck yeah DeathCab!

  • prouddaydreamer December 18th, 2012 4:49 AM

    This is just what I needed to read! Thank you :) The deathcab thing definitely made me chuckle. So relatable.

  • A Fox In The Snow December 18th, 2012 6:09 AM

    Very beautiful article! Most of it applies to ‘normal’ relations too, I think.

  • riseagainstyourfate December 18th, 2012 10:51 AM

    i was in a long distance relationship with the love of my life for 1.5 years.. we met on vacation but lived 3500 miles away from each other. my mom didn’t agree with us being together so i moved into my dad’s house and started saving up to go visit him – four months later i spent the 10 best days of my life with him and his family. he came to visit me with his dad two months later, and then i waited a few more months before flying out at christmas. i saw him once more, six months later in the summer, my mom still not supporting the relationship – but with one major change – i had decided to move across the country to be with him. I transferred universities to one that was only 1.5 hours away from his house and when i moved into my new school he stayed with me for a few days. long story short i realized i needed a bit of space (he surprised me by renting an apartment and getting a job in the town i just moved in to) and when i told him this he faked cancer, death wished me and did so many terrible things i just wanted to die. so much work, so many dreams.. crushed. and now i was 3500 miles away from home registered in school. i still miss him – it’s been 1.5 years and he still asks to try again, still tells me he loves me and wants to get married. but i could never trust him again.

    long distance relationships can work out – i’ve seen it happen. but just be careful.. because sometimes they don’t, and sometimes, you’re left stranded. be safe and strong lovelies <3

  • landlockedblues December 18th, 2012 10:57 AM

    All the awards to this post! I’ve been in a LDR for two and a half years and it’s tough but it also has helped me learn a lot about myself.

    PS: I NEED YOU SO MUCH CLOSER SO COOOOOOOME ONNNNNN, COOOOOOOME ONNNNNN

  • stellar December 18th, 2012 2:34 PM

    mutual priorities in how u maintain yr relationship seems to be the bottom line.

  • unefillecommetoi December 18th, 2012 3:55 PM

    My boyfriend and I read this together, I live in Mexico and he lives in the Netherlands. Thanks Pixie! The two journals are a really good idea.
    Pd: Lol, Lana del Rey

  • whodatgal December 18th, 2012 11:05 PM

    finally a sex and love article! Good article too :3

  • neutralsoymilkhotel December 19th, 2012 12:52 AM

    Thank you so much for this!!!! I’m going away to school in about a month, and I’m completely terrified/stressed/in denial about leaving my boyfriend behind. I needed this.

  • chilimuffin December 19th, 2012 8:23 AM

    I feel like the hardest part about an LDR is taking the next step. Do you move in with eachother? But who moves in with whom? One of the partners will always have to give up their entire “old life” when moving in with the other, and that creates an imbalance of power in the relationship. One partner still has their familiar surroundings: language, family, friends, deep knowledge of cultural rules, specific knowledge about their country’s history and geography, while the other partner hardly has any advantages. Of course, you could just remain apart, but if you want to have children at some point, that doesn’t really work out.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’d be great if anybody had any advice on how to deal with taking an LDR to the next level, because I’m having a hard time doing exactly that right now.
    (me from Austria, bf from Sweden; been together for 3 years, been living together because of study-exchanges for 1.5 years; trying to decide what to do next).

  • Melissa @ WildFlowerChild December 20th, 2012 1:37 PM

    Thank you so much for this. I just started a ldr about 4 months ago and it’s certainly been difficult, but worth it.

    <3 Melissa
    http://wildflwrchild.blogspot.com

  • Eliza January 3rd, 2013 11:29 PM

    OMG, I am so happy for you!
    I was in a LDR for 2 years with my first boyfriend, and then we broke up–not really because of the LDR situation. But after that, I decided that I’m done with the difficulty of it all and I deserve life that is easier.

    But thanks to you, I’m considering it again. Six years of LDR culminating into marriage. That’s mind-blowing. It’s like the stories that people want to tell their grandchildren. And you can.

    Congratulations. :)

  • Imogen_Miss_Tutu January 4th, 2013 2:32 PM

    Pixie, I want to thank you for saving me from the end of an amazing relationship. You are so inspiring! You rock :D <3

  • Liloo23 January 10th, 2013 6:54 PM

    My boyfriend of two years just broke up with me on skype (actually, last saturday but is is still very fresh). He lives in NZ, and is a Kiwi, I live in France, and am French. I met him in France 2 years ago, and after 4 months, decided to take a gap year after 2 years of uni, to think about life and studies, and decided to go to NZ. We spent the best year and a half together, and when I came back to France, in september, we decided to do LDR, because i was sure we would find each other when our studies were done. Turns out my SO has been unhappy for the past 4 months and a half, and he broke down on skype on Saturday, crying(first time i see him cry in 2 years) telling me that it was the end of our relationship, that it had made him unhappy for the past few months and that he needed to stop it for himself. He loves me, and i love him more than anything, but he doesnt know where his studies will lead him, and i am lost too. I though we had each other but turns out i was wrong. He thinks that maybe, if/when we are in the same place at the same time, we can pick up things where we left them. I don’t believe it. The ldr was supposed to help us find each other. Breaking up won’t. We decided not to talk for 3 weeks “to let me accept this decision”. But i don’t wanna give up, i can’t. We had such big projects!I think he freaked out. Nothing i said could make him change his mind. I still hope, but i know i will be even more devastated when he says no in 3 weeks. It is true what you said, he told me that this LDR was becoming a chore, and he doesnt want me to become a chore.I’m lost.

    • Liloo23 January 11th, 2013 4:34 PM

      Do you have any advice for me? I think my (ex..) boyfriend lost it because of the pressure he had put on his shoulders. I am now trying to figure out what to do. Should I go over there, with, lets say, an internship , and figure things out (it is only gonna push the problem further in time, after 3 months i’ll have to come back), should i burn bridges (ho god. so painful) should i accept and cry all the tears in my body? i am torn. I know you are not my shrink, (i am gonna get an appointment soon. Yes!) but someone who has more experience, and LDR experience too. i would appreciate a word from you. Thanks a lot.

  • EarCat February 11th, 2013 8:43 PM

    This is so insightful and relevant! My boyfriend and I have recently gotten back together after breaking up in October – we’ve both just started our first year in college and it was incredibly difficult… I’m glad we took time part to realize how much we really want to stay together.

    Great article. Really.

  • ottilias February 13th, 2013 5:01 AM

    This was exactly what I needed!
    January 6th my boy moved back to NZ, after being on exchange in Sweden (where I live) for a year. I am going down there in June, so we decided to try and see how this LDR thing would work. Some days are just intolerable and other days, when I can actually think of other things, are okay. Reading this definitely help!

    Thank you!
    All previous comments help too.

  • eliselbv March 7th, 2013 12:24 PM

    “There may be days that go by when you don’t think about your partner that much—don’t feel guilty, it’s normal!”

    This sentence is just the one I needed to read !

  • Mary the freak March 30th, 2013 4:34 PM

    thank you so much for this! i cannot thank you enough.

    i am in a relationship with this utterly sweet boy, and I love him like crazy. but next year, he’ll go to university and we are about one hour apart. it’s not that much, but it is a huge distance for us. I am not afraid that he’ll cheat on me at all, i am just so afraid of all the love-sick-ness. i can’t stand it when he’s not here, i always miss him so much, it feels like my heart is torn apart, and i keep wondering what it will be like when we are in a long-distance relationship. we can only see each other at the weekend.
    this article was very encouraging and amazing. i also hope my dad will help me a bit next year as he has been in a very happy ldr for seven years now. (and they are four hours away!).

    thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  • Cutesycreator aka Monica May 7th, 2013 2:54 PM

    I like the way this article is like, if it’s meant to happen, it will, and that’s great, and if it’s not and it doesn’t work out, that’s okay too. Positivity! I enjoyed reading it. :)