October is here, and with it several transformations are underway: the leaves from their standard chlorophyll-green into a riot of wildfire colour, the drink of choice from raspberry lemonade to spicy chai tea, my room in residence from temperate haven to frozen tundra (seriously, it gets damn cold at the ends of the building). Alongside these, Tuesdays with Sisi is also undergoing something of a seasonal transformation: for the month of October, in honour of a) the upcoming Asexuality Awareness Week, and b) my two-year anniversary with my partner Anna (and yes, I do call it an Annaversary, constantly and with much self-satisfied sniggering), I’m going to revolve my posts around the theme of love and relationships.
Because February can’t hog all the glory.
Here’s what’s on the menu this month:
- My experiences as a LGBTQIA individual in Glendon, Toronto, and the wider world;
- A crash course on asexuality, complete with my own personal anecdotes;
- A superduper mushy photo-post featuring my favourite critter on Earth
But today, I’m going to talk about something my fellow eAmbassador Krysta only recently mentioned in a blog post of her own: Long Distance Relationships. In my twenty one laps around the sun I’ve had a grand total of two relationships, including the one I’m engaged in presently, and both have been on the extreme end of the proximity scale: the first was a boy in London, England, and the second currently lives in Amherst, MA, down south in the US of A. I’m something of an anomaly in that LDRs are the only sort of romantic relationship I’ve ever known–to me, they’re just as normal as ‘regular’ relationships, or what I call proximal relationships. I’d consider myself pretty darn well-versed in the subject, so I’m here to chip in with my way-more-than-two-cents regarding the pros and cons of a LDR alongside some tips on how to make it work, how to make it satisfying for all parties, and how to make it fun.
The Good News
Approximately 80% of the time when I say my partner lives in another country, the reaction I get is a solid “Ohmygod, how do you manage? I could never do that.” The other 20%, it’s a “Me, too” accompanied by a look that practically has #thestruggleisreal stamped across it. In all my time being in a LDR, I don’t think I’ve ever come across someone who expressed the benefits of having your partner be some distance away. But they do exist. Here’s a few reasons why LDRs can actually be super useful to your growth as a person:
- They forcibly detach you from the hip. We all know that person who gets into a new relationship and then suddenly–poof!–they’ve disappeared from all their social circles in order to spend time with their latest snugglemuffin. They’re “attached at the hip”. It’s natural to want to pour your energy into a new and exciting relationship (see: limerence), but if you’re not careful, you can accidentally end up hurting your friends by blowing them off, or slacking on your studies or your job or any of the other things you love to do in your life. LDRs don’t completely avoid this problem, but they sure make it a heck of a lot harder to spend every waking moment with your sweetheart seeing as they’re several borders away. We twentysomethings are experiencing the richest, most opportunistic times of our lives right now–we will never be fitter, cleverer, more adaptable, or more full of energy, and now is the time to start forging our identities and discovering who we want to become in the course of our lives. Having a long distance relationship gives you the time and space to develop a life of your own without becoming dependent on your partner–without becoming one side of an ampersand, ‘me & you’.
- It builds character. “Yeah, okay, grandma.” But seriously, the cheesy old-timer catchphrase holds true. Communication and trust are two of the kingpins in any relationship, distanced or proximal, but in LDRs they really become make-or-break. This has never been an issue in my relationships, but some people worry about the distance offering an excuse for infidelity or unfaithfulness of all sorts–and without too many friends in common, you might never know about it. Mistrust can breed easy here, which is why it’s all the more important to learn solid communication skills and conflict resolution, and to place your trust in your partner. And it builds patience and discipline, too–think about it. Only being able to see your sun and stars six times a year? Four times? Twice? Talk about delayed gratification. It will be difficult, but your capacity for endurance will be reforged like you wouldn’t believe.
- You gotta get creative. LDRs are not for the lazy, let me tell you that. Being in a relationship with someone a province or a country or a continent away really forces you to exhume your long-dead romantic creativity in order to do relationship-y things, seeing as you can’t just go to dinner and a movie (and actually you can, but more on that later). You learn to innovate new ways to enjoy each other’s company, and that oft-exercised creativity will show up in other areas of your life as well, be it your professional career or your hobbies or your outlandish travel plans to Machu Picchu. An example: to provide me with jokes, reassurances, good memories, poems, and everything else she usually provides me with even when she’s not around, Anna made me this Jar of Nice Things–literally just a nicely decorated jar with dozens of rolled-up messages for me to open at will.
The Bad News
As ruthlessly optimistic as I am, there is a lot of truth to LDRs being difficult to maintain, and a number of obstacles will readily present themselves. In no particular order:
- Your schedules will clash. Anna just recently graduated from university and has been navigating the whitewater of the workforce while I plunge forth into fourth year of undergrad studies–as a result, both of our schedules have been crowded with a combination of work shifts, classes, and nights out with friends. We just don’t have the time to be speaking for three hours every night, and it’s hard. You need to be respectful of difference in lifestyle and in schedule and to keep in mind that, even if you both want to have time together, you might not always get it.
- You’d better get some Air Miles set up, because the travel is going to cost you a lot. I’m probably blissfully ignorant of the true force of this fact because a) I’ve never done it any other way and b) I always seem to have enough in my travel fund for one more ticket, but it can be a serious drawback for any broke young adult (so, all young adults). If you want to see each other, that’s a $300 drain on your wallet. (Or on my wallet, anyway. Though when I was flying to England it was a $950 drain, so you can see why I’d think it a considerable step up.)
- It’s lonely. Human beings are social creatures, and our animal brains don’t really, fully understand that the cluster of pixels moving on a Skype video call is our beloved. There’s no smell, no warmth of blood-humming-under-skin, no sense of closeness. The only electricity is the power in your laptop. You need to remember to seek affectionate touch from other sources when your partner’s not around, from friends and so on, and you need to square with the fact that sometimes, you’re going to want nothing more than a hug from your special one, and it’s just not going to be possible.
How We Make It Work
Pros and cons aside, the bottom line is that if you think your partner is worth it, you’ll stick it out, and if you don’t, then you won’t, and that’s that.
But for those of you who are in a LDR at the moment and are having some trouble, or else just need a bit of advice or reassurance or encouragement, here are some of the most important things I’ve learned about making a Long Distance Relationship work:
- Adapt to new parameters. Long Distance Relationships aren’t just proximal relationships with a few more kilometres in between. They are another creature altogether; they breathe different, eat different, feel different. Learning the places where you can treat your relationship like a proximal relationship, and where you must simply embrace the strangeness of your situation, is essential to making it work, because a LDR will not bend to your will. It will not magically become a proximal relationship just because you ignore the fact that it isn’t one. If you or your partner are highly sexual beings, discuss boundaries for open relationships; if time zones cause real issue with your scheduling, discuss when you are and are not willing to stay up late/wake up early on regular days. If you approach the relationship already in the mindset that it functions differently from a ‘regular’ relationship, you’ll be much less likely to be thrown off-kilter when those differences manifest.
- Reserve time for each other. Pick one night a week and block it off it in both of your schedules for a date night. This becomes sacred time–no last-minute concerts or pub crawls with friends can interfere. It becomes the still point in an otherwise ever-changing swirl of appointments and friend dates and responsibilities. This has been saving our relationship lately: between my hectic school/work/writing schedule and Anna’s recent graduation and subsequent dive into the world of Being a Real Adult, there were about three weeks where we hardly saw each other except for our Thursday night dates. They gave us something to hold onto and to look forward to, no matter how swamped we get the other 6/7 days of the week.
- Have an Honesty Policy. This is something I uphold in my life in general, and I think if everyone else did, too, then the world would be a much more straightforward and less needlessly dramatic place. Open honesty helps majorly to assuage any distrust or fear of infidelity, and it also keeps the channels of communication clear and freeflowing. The only way to have people trust you is to make yourself trustworthy, so keep yourself honest: tell the truth when you’re asked about something; bring up issues while they’re still small and easily dealt with; be comfortable enough in your own skin to apologize when you’ve done wrong. It will carry you through.
- Invite them into your life. Relationships are about mutual growth and a willingness to support you in your ventures. Tell your partner about your projects, and when they tell you about yours, do some thinking as to how you can involve yourself and support their dreams. An example: Anna was giving a workshop on character building for creative writing and therapy, and I offered to take the booklet she’d written and to edit and format it nicely. And Anna has taken it upon herself to act as one-person PR Department for my book–at least half the people who have any interest in my writing have an interest because she talked to them about it. We contribute however we can to the success of the other.
A List Of Suggestions
This post has already become the longest I’ve written (what did I say about more-than-two-cents?), so I’m going to skimp on the detail here, seeing as these are all self-explanatory. Here’s just a few of the ways Anna and I have found to translate our love into binary:
- The aforementioned Jar of Nice Things (highly recommend!)
- For the artists: write poems, make doodles, and otherwise let your partner become your muse
- Listen to an album together over Skype (headphones in)
- Sync up a movie or a show with dinner (you can even both make the same dish separately!) – there are plenty of online conferencing programs that could set you this up nicely, or you can do it the old-fashioned way and just yell THREE TWO ONE GO at each other over Skype and hit Play at the same time.
- Lots of people send care packages in the mail! You can make a digital version, too, with letters, mp3 files of songs, gifs of cute animals that remind you of each other, etc.
- TED Talk night – watch a few videos and then discuss!
- Make a joint bucket list: places to travel (Japan, Lebanon, Greece) classes to take (pole dancing, flying trapeze, pottery) languages to learn (Arabic, Italian, Ojibwe) and more
- Read books to each other over Skype – poetry or prose, it doesn’t matter, but extra points for doing all the voices different
- Fall asleep together on Skype
- Look through this wonderful list for more inspiration!
I wish you all the best of luck with your relationships, LDR or no. Thanks for reading–if anyone has their own experiences with LDRs, I’d love to hear them!