An Erratic Guide to Surviving Long Distance Relationships

Beyers de Vos
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A totally erratic and unreliable guide to having a successful long distance relationship

Disclaimer: the advice I am about to give you will be a) not very good and b) confusing. I’m sorry about this, but I’m still trying to figure it out myself and my feelings on the issue tend to be a little inconsistent.

The first thing I will say is this: don’t ever get into a long distance relationship. It’s madness, sheer madness. It will hurt, it will be painful, it will fail; it will make you wish you’d never had a heart. Don’t, under any circumstances, let yourself be put in a situation where you have to be in a long distance relationship. You might start out feeling that your love is unconquerable by something as lowly as geography, you might laugh in the faces of people who look at you funny and ask “are you sure?” You’ll scoff at them and reply “of course I’m sure. Our love is the exception; our love can weather all storms”. But sometime conventional wisdom is right and when people are sceptical it’s because they can be coldly objective about long distance relationships: they don’t make it. Do the smart thing and don’t come near them. It hurts like holy hell.

The second thing I’ll say is this: long distance relationships can work and do work and in this article I’m going to try and explain how. I am currently in a long distance relationship. My boyfriend is in China and I’m in South Africa, and while it has been deeply difficult, we’re actually making it work well. We’ve gone through the optimistic phase (“of course we’ll make it!), the cynical phase (“this is never going to work”) and the can’t-take-it anymore phase (“we’re on a break!”). And now we’ve come out the other end okay: still far away from each other, still hating it, but stronger, better, hopeful, with the end in sight. And I gotta tell you, I’m pretty happy; and without sounding like an obnoxious douchebag, pretty proud of us too, because for a while there I really thought we wouldn’t make it.

So whatever you do don’t get into a long distance relationship. Heed my damn warning and save yourself the pain. But if you have to (and I mean absolutely, see no other option, have to) then here are some things I’ve learnt along the way. But I’m going to preface these tips with the following: none of this will work if you don’t love someone so much that you see yourself spending the rest of your life with them. You don’t have to be on the verge of marriage, you don’t even need to have been together a really long time, but there needs to be somewhere in the back of your mind the acknowledgement that you could, could, spend the rest of your life with someone. That possibility needs to exist before you can commit to making something like this work. Don’t be sentimental and start talking about soul mates – sometimes things don’t work and we move on, but if you do this (don’t do it!), do it with someone that could be a soul mate.

Okay, the rules:

1. There has to be an end date in sight. My boyfriend and I knew we would be apart for exactly a year. We knew we would be together again after that year and we made solid, concrete plans about what would happen after that year was up. Which brings me to….

2. Have a plan. It gives you something to look forward to, a light at the end of the tunnel, when the next chapter is already planned. When you can say “okay, we’ll be apart for a year, but after that we’ll move in together”.  The plan doesn’t even have to be that specific, even if you decide that afterwards you’re committed to “seeing where things stand”, even if it is as vague as that, have a plan and stick to it. No matter what happens during the long distance, no matter how many fights you have, stick to the damn plan. Because if the long distance is indefinite, if you cannot see past it, you’re doomed. It is not a state a relationship can survive indefinitely in. Limbo is hell.

3. Honesty. This is obviously good advice for all relationships all the time. Be honest about what you’re feeling and thinking and share that with the other person. But when it’s long distance you have to be extra vigilant: if at 2am you wake up, neurosis flaring and irrational worries/mega-watt trust issues bubbling furiously, message your partner, tell them exactly how you are feeling no matter how ridiculous it is or sounds. So they can reassure you and comfort you and make you feel safe. You have to be able to reciprocate that as well, of course. Because with long distance there is a lot of doubt, a lot of worry, and if you suppress that and don’t speak about it, it will create more distance between you and your partner, and more distance isn’t what you need. You need to be as emotionally close as possible. You need to keep them informed about what you’re thinking and of anything that is threatening the plans you’ve made, so you can talk each other through it. You have to be honest about the kind of head space you’re in and be okay with letting the other person not be okay and supporting them without freaking out.

4. Tell each other all the little things. For example, my boyfriend and I have a rule to send each other a pic of what we’re wearing everyday no matter what. We tell each other all the names of the people we meet, describe the places we’ve been, tell each other all the little details of our day, so that you can feel tangentially involved in the other person’s life. I cannot overstate how easy it is to feel you’ve slipped out of someone’s everyday existence when you aren’t sharing the same space any more. You need to keep someone in the loop about the little things in your day, so they feel involved and included.

5. Skype sex is still sex. No, that was a big fat lie. It really isn’t.  Nothing beats real life actual touchy-touchy sex. But it can still be pretty hot over Skype and can keep things fairly good in that department until you see each other again. There is always sexting as well, although that has a whiff of disconnectedness about it, like you’re talking to a stranger, when the point is to maintain some kind of tangible intimacy. But do whatever works for your individual sexual needs obviously: you do whatever inflates your balloon, guy.

6. Don’t be scared of breaks. If it all gets too much, if you just can’t deal with the emotional pressure and the demands on your time and energy and powers of understanding (because it does require a lot of that) don’t be scared to just put the brakes on for a while, give each other a little space. As long as you still talk regularly, still remain 100% honest about your feelings and thoughts and stay committed to the plan you made for what happens after the long distance stint is over, it can really help relieve some of the tension. After a few weeks of calm in the stormy waters of long distance, you should find that you start talking more often naturally and everything sorts itself out and you’re right back on course.

There it is. I apologise for the pop-psychology, but I really felt like these are the things that saved us and our relationship.  I hope this helps someone out there navigate the shit-storm that long distance relationships can create. I also hope it encourages all of you to stay the hell away from them. Good luck.

PS: Don’t do it!

About Beyers de Vos

I am a South African book-sniffing pants-wearing coffee-drinking scarf addict and journalist. I believe that everyone has the right to be exactly who they want to be and no one should be anyone someone else has told them to be. I awkwardly try to marry nerdy with rock 'n roll. Sometime I get it right.