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July 18, 2011

Long Distance Relationships

Filed under: Advice — posted by Breakup Girl @ 8:36 am

Although we do hear long-distance success stories, of course — the summer fling that lasted a lifetime, the professors with bi-coastal tenure, WOMAN WEDS ALIEN — it’s hard. And that’s the main — and not as obvious as it should be — thing you need to know about LDRs. They are hard. It does bear noting that the information age has made LDRs both easier and more difficult. Used to be you had to wait months for the steamship to deliver one letter, or fight with your siblings to get the horse for the weekend. Now, however, we’ve got the opposite problem: “Why didn’t you respond to my beep/email instantly?!” “If you loved me, you’d take the Concorde.”)

Anyway, the fact that LDRs are hard, like built-in hard, doesn’t mean there’s something wrong. People forget this. It’s like, “Dear Breakup Girl, my girl/boyfriend and I argue about phone bills, have trouble getting away to see each other because of work and expenses and feeling like we’re blowing off our other friends, and then when we do get together there’s all this quality- and quantity- pressure for it to be GREAT…are we fundamentally incompatible?!?!?!” Uh, not necessarily.

That’s the main thing. Other points on the map:

1. Know the deal. Do not assume that long-distance logistics — and the “meaning” that humans naturally attach to them– will just sort themselves out. What, roughly, is the plan? How often do you call, write, fax, email, visit? Do you “see other people?” (See below. ) Hammer this stuff out. For real. I don’t need to remind you of that all-too-oft-quoted scene from Annie Hall where each tells the therapist how often they have sex. He says, “Never! Three times a week, at most!” She says: “Constantly! Three times a week…” You get the idea.

2. Here’s the existential version of the above. Short-range couples say things like, “My partner and I enjoy three-legged races, tandem bicycles, and good old-fashioned holding hands.” What about you? What is the backbone of your relationship? Wishing you were together — and killing time while you’re not — does not count. Counting the days ’til the reunion does not a relationship make. Figure out rituals and activities that are yours, that are special, that do fill the time and space — watching “Road Rules” with your phones cradled on your respective shoulders? Sending creative care packages? Setting up an online “palace” where “Pooky” and “Muffin” avatars can make out? You tell me.

3. Don’t stay together for the … frequent flier miles. Don’t cling just because it’s there — to stick it out, to make a point — because it’s … not.

4. “Seeing other people” is weird. I’m not against the principle, especially if you’re young, but you’ve got to define your terms. First of all, “seeing other people” does not mean “I can, you can’t.” Also, think about this: If you’re dating someone at home, are they the Main relationship, or the Auxiliary one? How much do you tell them? How much do you tell your faraway friend (I say not much — see Summer Reading, below). There’s not one particular Breakup Girl Rule here, except (a) that you need to work this stuff out for yourselves, and (b) the overriding requirement to take good care of people’s (and “other” people’s) hearts, wherever they are.

5. Remain circumspect. Close-range couples have problems, too; just a different set (“Couldn’t you go away more often?”). By the same token, relocating to be together — a bold move indeed — will not auto-resolve all your problems, except maybe the Concorde question.

6. While we’re on the subject –just in case — exactly how harsh is the long-distance dump? At first glance, it does seem like a snap compared to the regional rejection: there’s less of him/her to miss, none of him/her to run into unprepared, and so on. But if you’re in the thick of it, you know better — and you can be the first to tell your lonelier-than-thou pals that the long-goodbye is no rest-stop picnic. Before we move on, some talking points for the debate over who’s more bumming.

BETTER
THAN CLOSE-RANGE

WORSE
THAN CLOSE-RANGE

significant increase in time available to explore and enjoy your own neighborhood

significant decrease
in frequent flier miles

significant decrease
in phone bill

phone bill scored you
frequent flier miles

you can finally
sell your car

gas card scored you
frequent flier miles

scary chance meetings
much less likely

“chance” meetings much scarier; means he “just happened” to hitchhike across two time zones

since he’s not normally around, you don’t notice that he’s missing as much

short of a long-range military radar system, no efficient way of tracking his whereabouts

new justification for buying clothes that “don’t travel well”

now no justification for buying cute “travel size” cosmetics

loads of free time on weekends

loads of free time on weekends

A version of this column was originally published July 6, 1998

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