September 7, 2013

Long Distance Relationships

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.


  1. I empathize. In my past, I tried to work 2 (yep, 2) long distance relationships. I fell into all the bad habits you mention - including other people. The Darkling and I lived apart for about 6 weeks of our marriage: we established that 6 days is actually the limit. :)

    It is amazing that you have been able to put to words the things you have learned through this. It took me months or even years. Good work. Keep doing your good work.

    1. Thank you. Mountains of journal entries gave their life to help me claw some sort of understanding from this event and even still there are so many questions. But trying to analyze helps me put it into perspective and, hopefully, learn the lessons to not repeat them.

      I'm glad that you and your Darkling have found your limit. Six weeks is a very long time.

  2. As an aromantic asexual romantic relationships are very foreign to me. I haven't ever been, and will most probably never be, in that kind of relationship. However, I find a lot of this to be true for long distance friendships too. I have just moved away from the country where I studied for seven years and back to my home. I suspect that time and distance will erode the great friendships that I have left behind unless we make an effort to meet and do things together. I have a few friends left from my childhood but those friendships have largely eroded... We are simply not part of each others lives anymore. We have only memories to base our friendships on, no new experience, no current common ground. I fear that the same thing will happen again and am saddened. Those friendships will probably change a bit whatever I do. People grow apart, grow in different directions, when not in regular contact. It's probably inevitable.

    1. In our modern society with the instant communication and constant change for progress, people continuing to grow is inevitable. However, I don't always think that it is a bad thing or that people necessarily evolve in different directions. Your friends could suddenly develop a deep love of perfume or tea making and then you have anothing thing to discuss. What is important is being able to keep a conversation that doesn't depend on interaction. I have one friend from college with whom we have great conversations about comic books, movies and writing. Another long distant friend and I discuss writing and story ideas. Both of those friendships are still strong despite being very far from each of them.

      But there are friends that are friends of location and those tend to fade away. The best we can do is hope to change the nature of our relationship to keep it living and strong despite the pressure of life.