In short, don't.
If you are not in a hurry, here is the longer version:
The Law Student and myself attended the same undergrad, and many of the same classes, together. It was a rare day that we did not see each other. However, our choices for grad school drew us to opposite poles of the country. We both wanted the best possible schooling, since we both valued education so. My best school was up North and, even though he was accepted into schools in the same city, his best school was in the South where he eventually was accepted and attended.
I do not know if this was a mistake. It is impossible to know or guess how things might have unfolded had we been together. Which is better: the personal development the pain of being on my own in a strange city forced or the sweet joys of companionship and stability?
But I do know that the distance contributed to the sudden shattering of my relationship.
It was a ten hour bus ride between our cities and we were both full time, busy students. Seeing each other for a week became nothing short of a miracle as we usually had to fit our reunion of a month at a time into the space of two- three days. Sometimes it seemed easier to just to not see him, rather than say goodbye again. There were so many times that I made the long treck back to my house, fighting back tears.
During our times apart, we talked on the phone or on the computer, but when our days were focused on learning the very nuances of two very different professions, there was precious little common ground to fall back on. After all, we hadn't the day to day experiences to discuss and we hadn't the energy or time to discuss the arts or philosophies we both enjoyed. Our conversations revolved around old memories and plans for the future. They ended quickly and lacked a certain spark.
It became easier when we did see each other to share media, rather than talk. We nocticed that it took time to warm up and become used to eachother and it was harder the longer we were apart. Also, the weekends were our precious down time for both of us. We were both introverts. At the end of the week, there wasn't quite the energy or drive to go out and explore. So we played computer games. I have seen most all of Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space 9 in the course of a handful of weekends and breaks this past year. We weren't making new memories. The Law Student, already a devoted Trekie, wasn't even seeing anything new.
Of course, in our own personal lives, we were continuing to develop and evolve. School, new locations, meeting new people- these are were forcing us to change. Only, we were no longer meeting the same people, reading the same books, going to the same places. Instead, we were developing in different directions under different influences in such subtle ways that- for all our introspection- we didn't discuss. After all, there were no discussions over dinner or in bed to bring us up on those fleeting revelations of the day.
As a final flourish to these dilemmas, we didn't have a good method to discuss our personal problems for as good at discussion as we were. Our fights in five years could be counted on three fingers and were a such a strange and alien discussion that any anthropologist would be confused. We discussed the thoughts of the mind and, not speaking for him, I never wanted to discuss my fears and confusions with him for fear of not being rational enough.
Retrospect ties up experiences into neat lessons and reveals flaws indiscernible in the moment. But I can't say that I didn't have some worries about these problems. There were a handful of times I tried to address them and was met with incredulity. Or else fixes were tried but never maintained and we fell back on the same habits. It's only now that I realize how toxic those little worries were.
But the problem is, I don't know what we could have done to prevent these. The circumstances (our Introvertedness, school, the long distance, etc) couldn't be changed. Or else, if they were changed, it would be incredibly drastic: moving schools, the time and money to visit every other weekend, forcing past our exhaustion to go do "things," etc. As with environmental change, drastic steps seem out of proportion until a disaster.
These are problems that I think would plague most long distance relationships, even if the circumstances aren't exactly like ours. However, if you are in or are thinking about being in, these are a few of my thoughts:
~ When you are together, make an effort to make memories. Plan ahead for dinners, hikes, events or whatever interests you share. Make each meeting cherished and a building block to being closer. Don't rely on memories or future plans to keep you going.
~ Be of a less impressionable age. I know the threshold for the end of adolescence keeps being pushed further and further back, but make sure both you and your significant other are done with the major life defining shifts before you part. I think this is just age, but it might be experience. This way, you won't change too drastically while you're apart.
~ Find something you could do together that is new and exciting for you both. A common ground that you can discuss and explore together. Maybe its a book, maybe its a new activity. But you need something to discuss and share in common.
~ Make every effort as possible to see each other. Yes, it might mean missing out on some opportunities in your current situation, but its worth it for the relationship.
~ Be honest about your feelings and try to talk about them as much as possible.
~ Finally, and most importantly, when you are separated- don't look at other people. Don't entertain thoughts of them. Don't try to get to know them better if you are interested. It's not fair for anyone involved.
I wouldn't do a long distance relationship again. Ever. Much less for three years. I'd much rather relocate or not go than have the pain of being apart for all that time. Because, and I might have glossed over this, but these relationships hurt. It's lonely, miserable and fraught with problems.
This is an example of the more personal posts I may sometimes be indulging in. It really does help with retrospection now, even if I go back to delete it later.