After being in a long distance relationship for nearly three years, I think it’s about time I shared some learnings along the way. Originally, I swore off ever participating in something so difficult. I think the ease of the relationship at it’s beginnings is what kept me going. When time came to part ways, it hurt but I thought it’d be worth it. Here are the lessons I learned thus far:
Lesson #1: Don’t lose yourself.
This is a lesson I continue to learn despite the relationship I’m in. I have a tendency to lose myself in others, friends or otherwise. If you find yourself changing things for another person, you’ve already drifted from one of the true foundations of a successful partnership. If you are confident in who you are, if you have your own life outside of the relationship, you have a strong position. I don’t mean for this to sound like a competition though. The key to a successful relationship, long distance especially. is finding the balance. Know who you are and stick to it.
Lesson #2: Set an end date.
Sometimes the hardest thing about being apart for so long is not knowing when you will see your loved one again. If you have a date in mind, there’s always something to look forward to. You have a goal and can make plans accordingly. If there is no end date, communicate plans to set a date sooner rather than later.
Lesson #3: Go with your gut.
We all know that aching feeling deep inside that says whether you are making the right decision. It’s so critical to listen to it when you are making big (or even little) decisions apart. I constantly needed validation that the decisions I made were the right ones and I would seek input from others. What I should have done was recognize that I had the answer all within myself and it was my gut screaming. Trust that feeling and go with it.
Lesson #4: Beware the scenery change.
My long distance relationship came with a variety of scenery changes all over the world. That was a bonus but sometimes, it was not an ideal location for one of us. When we were together in places like Portland, we had some of the most amazing summers of our lives. It was hard to duplicate that and live up to a dream-turned-reality. I recently moved to Christchurch, New Zealand, a broken city with not much appeal for the average American. My partner was unhappy there (or rather would have chosen another locale) and sometimes his unhappiness was contagious. Know that no matter where you go, you have to WANT to be there.
Lesson #5: Don’t rush things.
It’s important to take things slowly. We were forced to make some big, legal decisions and things were rushed at times, ultimately leading to some unwanted pressure on the relationship. That’s the most difficult and un-romantic thing about dating a foreigner– you have to think about things in terms of legalities and sometimes rush the relationship where you aren’t prepared to do so yet. So don’t. Do what’s best for you, regardless of time.
Lesson #6: Self love still applies.
You must realize that finding happiness comes from within and no one else can provide that for you. That’s what makes your identity so important. If you focus on your needs (mind you, this is different than being selfish or conceited), you will be happier. It also puts less pressure on your partner to provide that love and support if you already have it for yourself. Lastly, it gives your partner confidence that you aren’t depending on the relationship for your happiness.
Lesson #7: Find friends who understand your woes.
When you move countries, join a meetup group, specifically one with fellow newcomers. You may be lucky like me and find some close friends this way who are in the same boat as you. As the saying goes, misery loves company. There is comfort in having friends who have been through it too or are going through it with you and you can chat over wine about the tough times behind you or ahead. Stay in touch with them! They’ll become friends for life.
Lesson #8: Over communicate.
Lots of things get lost in distance. Even over video chats, I often left the call confused as to how my partner truly felt. We made an effort to share emails with videos, photos, and even sent hand-written letters or packages to compensate for the lack of being physically together. We tried apps like Avocado (specifically for these purposes). We weren’t extreme in the sense that we had to talk to each other every day. That, and our time zones were SUPER different, making it hard to really schedule these things. Try hard to keep in touch often because it also means there is less stress to fit all the “heavy” stuff in during the times you can finally catch up on Skype. Knowing that you can’t always just sit and have a coffee means a lot gets lost. Make up for it in other ways.
Lesson #9: Be present.
Change is inevitable. Knowing that you will be apart (or together) soon means you could be drifting your thoughts toward those times instead of taking advantage of your time together (or apart). Stay present as much as possible and enjoy what you do have. Nothing ever lasts forever.
I chose to not to do 10 lessons because that would feel like I am successful at this when in fact, I am not. I’ve failed many times but I’ve learned a lot in the process and that is the purpose of sharing this. Have a Happy Valentine’s Day folks!