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The author would like to note that the alternative title to this column was, and will always be, “How To Handle A Long D Relationship.” She stands by this wholeheartedly.
I have been in exactly one long distance relationship and the word that best describes how I felt about the experience is “conflicted.”
At eighteen, I took a hiatus from college and moved to a tiny town in the North of Spain to get my mind right. I was on a fact-finding mission, determined to better understand myself and not at all interested in stumbling into a long distance relationship with a man that lived across the world.
So, of course, in love I fell with a man that lived across the world.
In truth, all hope was lost the minute Taylor kissed me at that train station.
“I love you,” he whispered as “Let Her Go” by Passenger played over the station loudspeaker.
No one had ever told me they loved me before. I swallowed up his proclamation as if I was starving, desperate to taste the real thing. Which, at 18, I suppose I was. I thought it would warm me from the inside – like a Hot Toddy for my intestines if you will. And for a very long time, it did.
Over the course of that year we spent apart, I both loved and hated that long-distance relationship with equal fervor. I never thought it was possible to both adore and abhor a situation with such emblazoned passion until I got myself wrapped up in that damn transatlantic love affair. I would often wish that I felt one way or another about living hundreds of miles from my boyfriend. But, I didn’t. I was a long distance relationship flip-flopper.
“I have so much time to focus on myself,” I would gush one day, only to erupt into tears hours later. “It’s too hard to love someone you can’t touch!” I would sob into my roommate’s shoulder.
I was young and at a point in my life where I needed to explore my independence and be selfish with my time. So much of me needed and wanted to be alone. Not a drop of that necessary independence, however, helped curb the visceral yearning I felt for my first love (Is anyone surprised?). I missed him! Oh god, how I missed him. I missed him so badly that I barely recognized myself.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Even at 19 years old, I could see the irony in both prioritizing my independence whilst craving his presence – but love is a contrarian son of a bitch, isn’t it?
Only now, as I bathe in the warm embrace that is hindsight, I realize it wasn’t actually the distance I hated. In fact, (I never would have told him this), I was grateful for the thousands of miles that kept us apart.
The problem was that I didn’t know how to manage the emotional effects of that distance.
I didn’t have the tools to curb the longing or manage our communication. I wasn’t prepared for the massive effort that a long distance relationship demands, an effort no one really talks about.
I didn’t have the skills to manage our circumstance at the time, even though I was perfectly happy with the distance that separated us.
And that’s how I lost my first love to the Atlantic.
If Taylor taught me anything, it is 1) be careful not to fall in love in Europe (but also, do it!) and 2) there are certain circumstances in which a long distance relationship is healthy, or at the very least, tolerable – if only you know how to maintain it.
At age 19, I didn’t have the tools, but I have always wondered how I could have managed my relationship with Taylor better.
So, in case I fall in love with another Brit (or, I don’t know, maybe this time it could be a Frenchman?) I asked one couple about the trials and tribulations of doing the long distance tango and how they have managed to make it work.
Bon appétit (that’s French, like my future lover).
Carter and Bridget
Carter – 25 years old, Atlanta, GA
Bridget – 23 years old, New York, NY
Victoria: How do you two know each other?
Bridget: A friend introduced us while he was working in Philly, we hit it off immediately and knew there was something special there even that quickly. Three days after he left, I downed 2 fingers of whiskey and bought a flight to Atlanta.
Carter: I went to go visit Philly and our mutual friend told me, “You’re going to really like my best friend from high school, Bridget,” and I remember saying, “Nah, I don’t want to go liking someone in a different state” or something like that. When we met up, I remember shaking her hand. She made eye contact and twisted my wrist when she shook my hand, and immediately we both knew there was something there.
We spent this amazing weekend together, so when my American Airlines flight was canceled and rescheduled for the following day, it seemed pretty ‘fate-y.’ A few weeks later, she flew to Atlanta and we both affirmed that we were going to ‘go steady.’ (The boyfriend-girlfriend thing kind of freaked her out.) We went back and forth visiting each other for the next few months. Finally, in June, we were laying in my bed in Atlanta and I told her she was going to be my girlfriend now, and she smiled and said “fine.”
Victoria: I’m always amazed at the logistical hurdles long-distance couples overcome. How do you guys manage your time/schedules?
Bridget: We are in pretty regular contact, but if nothing else, we have a quick check-in call every night before whenever the first of the two of us goes to sleep. Many nights his face takes up the screen of my phone while I clean my room and he makes dinner and shows me music and I make dumb jokes and we are really just hanging out. We see each other in person about once every other weekend, sometimes more sometimes less, we try not to be too hard on ourselves if our schedules or bank accounts don’t accommodate making the trip.
I’m lame and use a countdown app, I think it makes the time easier to swallow. We alternate between my home city, his home city, and a new city somewhere else. We love to get drunk, and dance, and go to the movies, and drive around. We really just do life together when we’re visiting one another as opposed to planning anything special or extravagant.
Carter: Generally, free time is dedicated to visiting each other. It works out well because Bridget has grown to like a lot of my friends in Atlanta. I go to NYC probably once or twice a month. We’ve also tried to take advantage of times when our parents are willing to foot the bill for weekends or trips for the both of us with the parents. She’s come to Chicago, North Carolina, and Switzerland with my family, and I’ve been to Big Sky, Jersey Shore and Asheville with her family.
Victoria: Any advice to couples just starting out?
Bridget: Take it one day at a time. FaceTime is a godsend. Always have an upcoming trip in the works.
Carter: I would say if you have to force it, then it isn’t going to happen. Forcing something and working hard for something are two very different things. Bridget and I have to work hard at managing work, friends, family and our relationship, but neither of us are forcing the situation, it’s just natural.
Victoria: Long distance relationships mean you go for a long time without being physically connected. What is the hardest part about the physical intimacy aspect of a long distance relationship? Is it a hard thing to overcome?
Bridget: I hate going to sleep alone, I always have. Maybe not the healthiest thing in the world but as a hyper-extrovert I have yet to full grasp and appreciate the whole “alone-ness” thing. I miss him every night, and that’s totally okay, but I’m not sure there will be a fix to that problem until the AI’s learn to cuddle.
Carter: Not touching is very hard. It really makes you miss and appreciate the little physical aspects of being in a relationship like driving with her hand on your leg, smelling their head, kissing first thing in the morning, footsies under the table at dinner, buying two drinks at the bar, dancing with your person, and so on.
Victoria: What kinds of ways do you combat the physical distance?
Bridget: Carter and I both have a healthy sexual appetite so to go for long periods of time without being together is hard. I’m lame and a little self-conscious and don’t like the idea of my body on camera so we have phone sex – probably like twice a week, so pretty often. I’m pretty sure my roommate heard me getting hot and heavy one time when I was buzzed on Tequila, but she’s never brought it up so good on her.
Carter: We’ve definitely combatted the lack of sex with phone sex, pics and slutty texts which definitely helps.
Victoria: When you see each other after a long period of time, does it ever feel like the sex overwhelms the rest of your time together?
Bridget: This was a big problem at the beginning of our relationship. We would have marathon sessions as soon as we got to one another. If I arrived at 10 p.m. it wouldn’t be unusual for us to go at it until five or six in the morning. This made the next day tough because of exhaustion and because your genitals can only handle so much damn friction.
Carter: I think we do have a lot of sex when we get a weekend together after two or three weeks apart, but I also believe we are able to create a good balance of going out to eat, comedy shows, parks, breweries, concerts, bars, and sex when we’re together. We have found that it’s generally not a good idea to go straight from the airport to doing something without getting naked first, because last time that happened we ended up having sex in my friend’s bathroom, which we thought was fun but may not be ideal for many.
Victoria: Any tips or tricks for getting through the lonely nights?
Bridget: Keep a backlog of nudes. When Carter Snapchats me nudes that I particularly like, I screenshot them. No shame.
Carter: I’d say if the other person is in the mood, then indulge them even if you aren’t. The distance might be affecting them more that day and you have to be sensitive to that and help them get through that; a hot photo can go a long way for the day. There’s no such thing as being shy in a long distance relationship to me, the more open and graphic you are with the texts or phone sex the easier the distance becomes. You are trying to simulate physical closeness with pictures, audio or text and that requires a lot of description, exaggeration and probably filthier language than you would use in person to help overcome the lack of real touch.
Victoria: What are the emotional hurdles of being in an LDR? Do you think LDRs can only work if the two people eventually plan on moving to each other? What if both people don’t want to or can’t leave their city?
Carter: I think one of the hurdles is not being able to read the body language of your person. They could be feeling angry, sad or stressed, not say anything and you wouldn’t know because you can’t read your body language. You have to give more legible or audible hints to the other to convey emotions and feelings than you do if you’re physically with them.
Bridget: I think this question is different for everyone. But, for me, a long distance relationship can only work if there is light at the end of the tunnel. I wouldn’t CHOOSE an LDR over being in the same city with the person I love, I need to know that eventually we will get to have that “real” relationship.
Victoria: Are there ever any trust issues? Do you have to be attentive to each other’s emotions in ways you wouldn’t be if you were together?
Carter: There are definitely trust issues because often the other person is meeting and hanging out with new people of the opposite sex that you haven’t met yet, which can be nerve-racking. This often calls for extra reassurance from the other person. Sometimes each can be accusatory or jealous of friends that get to spend time with them, but again it comes back to voicing your feelings and opinions. I have the type of brain that automatically reverts to the worst case scenario when left alone with itself. I have told Bridget about that and she generally lets me know plans and always texts me or calls me before she goes to bed if she’s out late, so I know she’s okay.
Bridget: I am UNDER-jealous which I think has been a little bit of a problem for me. I think of Carter as way too overbearing when he waits up while I’m out to make sure I get home okay – but it’s part of how he shows that he cares. I think when I’m not concerned that he’s out with girls or that he’s getting flirted with at the bar etc it makes him feel a little UNDER-cared for. I think we need to find a middle ground that we haven’t mastered.
Victoria: Any advice or tips for a new LDR couple?
Carter: My only advice is when it’s worth the distance, you know. There really wasn’t much debating whether or not to do long distance with Bridget, because neither of us could move right away, but want to be together so we just are. I do believe discussing a future plan early on is beneficial for both, so you are on the same page and neither party is blindsided by the other’s plan. It definitely takes patience and understanding, and there are many nights spent missing the other, but if it’s supposed to work you’ll spend any time or money that you can to be with that person.
Bridget: Be patient and don’t feel bad if you find yourself questioning things or if it doesn’t work out for you. Relationships are HARD work, long distance relationships are HARDER work. I, obviously, don’t pretend to have all of the answers, it’s not perfect but it is worth it. Be honest, be kind to yourself, and happy masturbating. .