Long Distance Sucks: How to Make it Suck Less

For two years, my partner and I lived across the country, on opposite coasts. It was totally worth it, because he’s awesome, but the situation was awful. There are really no two ways about it. I constantly felt like I was reevaluating my decision to leave the city we both lived in for a really fantastic career opportunity, making me wonder if I was ungrateful. Or I would listlessly watch airline prices go up and down. All in all, it was a super fun set of emotions.

Here are a few of the things that worked for me to make things suck a little less:

Know your tools

The Internet makes life a lot better. For example, just seeing a familiar person’s face on a screen can boost your mood automatically. And if it’s your partner’s face—even better! Skype, Google Calendar, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, AIM, Tinychat, Instagram, Snapchat: all of these are ways to informally and quickly stay in touch via the Internet. Relationships are not all about two hour heart-to-hearts. While those are great, I need to feel like my daily quota of small cutesy interactions is being filled. These apps/programs/services work super well for this. A good friend who is currently in a long distance relationship recommends the app Couple, which allows you to text, play games, make pictures, and “finger kiss”—a little cheesy, yes, but what isn’t?

Know when the long distance will end

But don’t necessarily keep a countdown on your phone if it’s more than a couple months, mmk? No need to remind yourself that there are 682 days ‘till you can live in the same time zone. However, knowing that there was a stop date sometime in the future made it so I didn’t slip into ennui.

Know when you’ll see them next

This is a good one to keep as a countdown on your phone, if you are able to visit during your time apart. My partner and I would always try to book tickets for our next trip when we were physically together so that there was never any “I don’t know when I’ll see you next” time. This wasn’t always possible, but was incredibly helpful when we could manage it.

Know your limits

Mine, for whatever reason, is 30 days. Exactly, like clockwork. After that, I better go to Costco for tissues. There is just something about passing that thirty-day mark where things get really tricky. This doesn’t mean that I bought plane tickets every month (because, damn, flights from DC to SF can be expensive), but I knew that I would need more support from my partner and my friends after the thirty-day mark. In fact, we typically saw each other about every three months, so I knew to make friend dates and phone catch-up nights more regularly during months two and three of apart-time. I learned to actively seek out support before things got hard. Speaking of…

Know your support network

Who can you call when you are at wits’ end about this stupid decision and stupid world that makes life stupid and hard who won’t say “Well, you chose to do long distance”? Hearing that when you are at rock bottom will only show you that there are actually a couple more special levels of hell you have yet to explore. Make a list of people who support you well (newsflash, not all friends are equally supportive) and tape it to your fridge so you don’t have to think hard when you already are feeling totally ragged.

Know your schedule

Worst for me was not knowing when I would talk to my S.O. next. Even if it’s only a 10 minute chat, knowing I got ten minutes of phone time at 7pm on Tuesdays was really comforting to me! Google Calendar is great for this. Try to work the time difference to your advantage, if there is one. Is there any chance your lunch break is while they are eating breakfast? Or your break between classes is when they are driving home from work? It’s definitely worth exploring to find the parts of your schedule that make for easy touch-base times. Share your calendars and give your partner permission to make changes to events. Maybe it’s me, but I always loved having a meeting with my partner pop up unexpectedly on my schedule.

Know what you need

Have really open and clear conversations about what you need in order to make it work. Does that mean you need them to respond to your texts within at least an hour or two? Fine. Does that mean you need to watch a movie together over Skype every two weeks? Talk it out. Daily mix tapes expressing your general mood? Okay, if you’ve got that kinda time, it’s definitely worth throwing the suggestion out there. Not every request needs to be honored, but it does need to be discussed.

Know what happens next

Do you move in together when you are back in the same place? Are you considering marriage? These are huge questions, I know, but they’re totally reasonable. Long distance is work, and I personally think that if you’re going to do it, it shouldn’t be just because you don’t feel like breaking up. This does not mean you have to walk out the door engaged or anything. But it’s good to know you are on the same page, whether the agreement is that you both think this might be a good marriage someday (if you decide marriage is a thing you both want to do), or just that the goal is that you will live within 10 miles in 5 years. Coming back and having the relationship fall apart because there was no discussion about where things were going is totally common, and can make you feel like you wasted a lot of time not hooking up with all the new available people in the place where you moved (you know, if that’s your jam).

Know that when you’re together, it may not be a bed of roses

I would beat myself up when I would hit a rough patch with my partner when he was in town, because ugh this is the only time I get to see him! Which led to this strange anger/shame/frustration spiral that inevitably ended with me lying on the floor sobbing and him just beyond confused. You are in a real relationship, and putting on a perfect face for the weekend/week/month they are around just doesn’t work. Yes, you should work hard to fully enjoy the time together, but allow yourself to be a human being with complex emotions. You’ll feel more whole, and be able to work through the issues more quickly if you aren’t also dealing with feeling like a failure for being upset.

Bottom line, there is no cure-all for being in different cities, states, countries or continents (besides moving to the same place), but there are definitely ways to make it less painful.

Any other tips and tricks? Leave a comment below to share your experiences and successes!

Photo by Sara Slattery

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