Thursday, 15 November 2012

How to survive a Long Distance Relationship, Really (Part Two)

Something got lost in translation here, which made it all the more amusing.

Welcome to Part Two of the definitive guide to surviving a long distance relationship! 


In my experience, people who are not in LDRs think that LDRs are tough but "incredibly romantic". They are not romantic. Nothing about lagging Skype chats, jet-lag, expensive flights and bureaucratic visa processing is at all romantic.

Plenty of articles on long distance relationships impart the importance of maintaining romance. Cosmo has its own unique take on this, but typical recommendations are to send each other stuff, make 'love compilations' of favorite songs, send each other surprises and make memory books/photo collages.

Interestingly, Glamour takes a different position. This article says Don’t get bogged down with stereotypical “romantic” stuff. 

I'm going to take the rather unromantic middle position: To each their own. Just do what you can. 

Tell your partner you love them, tell them as often as you can, but don't sweat about how you do that. I will give a plus to memory books/photo collages though,  because they can help with visa applications (I'm such a romantic).

Several times during our long distance stint, Mark called our wedding florist, whose shop was down the road from my office, and had them deliver roses to me at work. What a classically beautiful overblown gesture! Word even got to husbands of my colleagues, who started doing the same thing, so we all got flowers on Valentine's day.

The only trouble was, I had to carry them to the bus stop and on the bus journey home.

And I felt I couldn't compete. I did send the occasional postcard when I went somewhere for work. But for every postcard I sent I had one that I forgot to send. I sent candy once for Valentine's day and the postage cost more than the candy itself. And that's not even to mention the stuff we sent that didn't arrive, or the times I forgot how long postage takes and cards arrived late.

It was never personal. I send late cards to everyone. Once I sent my sister a birthday card about six months late. But in a long distance relationship it's the communication that counts. An email or text saying "I'm proud of you" or "I'm thinking of you" says just as much as a romantic gesture.

Take photos of the glamorous times, but savor those PJ days


And the same holds for when you actually get to see each other. As that Glamour article says, don't worry too much when you see each other. Just act like a normal couple. Normal couples lounge around in PJs and watch terrible TV and order in pizza. And I missed being able to do that way more than I missed formal dates and romantic nights out.

There were trips to NY and DC and London and Glasgow and Edinburgh too. But visits are mostly times to catch up on all the nothing you haven't been able to do. Bliss.

And a lot of other articles agree: Don't plan too much activity for your visits.

The frequency and length of a visit depends on your own circumstances (and finances) and you'll find your preferences.  The 'rule' of alternating visits only applies when you can easily work around employment, or when you don't have a visa pending (more on that here).

Mark and I were both working. That meant we could save for plane tickets, but it almost meant that we had to book time from our respective employers. My UK employer was far more generous with (paid) time off than his US employer, but we worked around that.

We went six months without seeing each other on a few occasions, but we found that intervals of three months were the easiest to cope with. Three months is only 12 weeks, which is only really 12 empty weekends to fill alone.

The last time we saw each other before I moved over to the USA was last Christmas 2011. Before that was our wedding, in May/June 2011.

We only had a short time booked with each other over the Christmas period. While the airport goodbyes never got any easier, that was by far the worst one because it just felt like we hadn't had enough time together. Luckily, Mark's visit was unexpectedly extended. Without that time I would have been a mess.


Sometimes the times you miss each other most are the times you'll fight the most. All that emotion, all that miscommunication, all that loneliness, manifesting as:

Nit-picking: "you didn't call at the exact time you said you would"
Needless antagonism: "When we are together we'll only have whole milk in the fridge and not semi-skimmed"
Pettiness: "You spelled a word wrong on Skype"
Childishness: "Don't you DARE slam your laptop screen down on me - damnit!"
Competitiveness: "I can't win this argument even though I'm right and you know I am"

Yes, they are inevitable. Distance or no distance. But with the distance working against you, it can feel like your whole world is crashing down.

It's like being a toddler and being told you're overtired. You can insist that you're right and it's because of THE ISSUES and not because you just miss each other.

It's because of frustration. It's because you miss each other. It's because you can't just hug each other and say it's ok. It's because you miss each other. It's because it's 3am and you've been emailing each other insults for five hours and you both need the last word. It's because you miss each other. It's because you really, really want that shade of dark blue that almost looks black but isn't black on your wedding invitations, and you're not going to budge. It's because you miss each other.

Once Mark phoned me just to say "can we not argue over the phone anymore?" to which I had to reply "but then where will we do our arguing?"

All he could say in response was "touché, okay, we can argue over the phone".

So here are some tips not mentioned in any other articles I read:

Warning signs for pending transatlantic arguments

You haven't seen each other in a while and you're reaching withdrawal breaking point: It's useful to book your next visit ASAP after your last one (or before it's over) so you always have something to look forward to. It doesn't solve the issue or the argument, but it's a small comfort.

One of you wants to talk but the other one is tired and grumpy: Be really mindful of timezones and bodyclocks, whether grumpiness before dinner, or tiredness before bed. Sometimes we compromised with text chats and the promise of a proper conversation at the weekend.

Skype isn't working/Phone signal is dodgy:  I hated Skype when my husband looked and sounded like a robot. I'd say "forget it" and hang up. I'd rather no communication than bad signal. General frustration can come out as anger at each other, especially when you have limited time to chat.

One of you makes all the phone calls/one of you doesn't reply: I have to confess that I was the rubbish one here. It was not deliberate, but it was unintentionally hurtful. We eventually found a habitual groove that worked for us. Mark still made all the phone calls, but I emailed him to let him know he was in my thoughts, and to let him know a good time to call.

You have a wedding coming up: Having spoken to non-long-distance couples, I think it is normal to act like two toddlers pressing each other's buttons in the lead-up to a wedding. God made wedding planning stressful just to really test your commitment (ditto visa applications).

There's a shift: By shift I mean anything, really: One of you gets a different job; one of you moves to another place; or you get engaged; or you get married; or it's getting close to the end of your long-distance stint. Anything that changes the balance of the LDR somehow.

After we got married I found the last year of our LDR easier to deal with because our relationship was cemented, and the visa process was just jumping through hoops. On the other hand, Mark found it much harder because we were married and couldn't be together. If you're experiencing things in different ways, try to be open and open-minded.

Some advantages of being long-distance 

After we got married I used to joke that being long-distance was the perfect marriage. It was just a joke, but there are advantages to be made of what is generally a rubbish situation.

Talking and planning: Without the physical contact and the ability to spend time doing nothing, and the fear of lulls in vital phone/Skype call times, it can be best just to keep on talking. About anything.

We planned our wedding and our visas. Then we talked about who would do what household chore. We talked about our dream home. We talked about fears. We talked about our preferences for whole milk or semi-skimmed milk. Anything, just to keep the conversation flowing.

I think this can give a real edge over non-long-distance couples who have to learn the hard way about household chores and milk preferences and the kind of marriage they want to have. When I arrived in the USA there was a (fresh) carton of organic 2% milk sitting in the fridge waiting for me. That was definitely worth the three years of separation (kind of).

Learning how to argue: For all that it's horrible at the time, you can learn how to debate each other and to nip an argument in the bud before it degenerates. Tip: It's not about winning.

Growing as an individual: I got a whole year of getting used to being a married woman before I spent any significant time with my husband. This is a double-edged sword, which I'll mention later one day, but it allowed me to do things and live life in a way I wanted while preparing life together with my husband. I don't recommend it, but it wasn't all bad. I swear!

Overall, just remember this

- Communication is key: Manage expectations of your LDR.
- Communicating about communicating is key. Let your other half know what you're up to and when you can talk. And then tell them you love them and you're proud of them.
- Find good communication habits/a groove.
- Communicating with friends and family is key. Don't sit and wait.
- Romance might be important, but communication is more important.
- Sitting in your Pjs for a week together is totally okay.
- Arguments are normal, but stop being a toddler, take a step back, say sorry, and start again.
- Don't bring up issues just before one of you has to go to bed. Wait until the weekend or something.

You'll get there. And trust me, the conversations that start with "remember when we were long-distance, and…" feel AMAZING.


  1. This is great. I've read both parts now. I know I am not in this situation, but I hope people who are find this and read it! So glad you guys are together now.

    1. Me too! It kind of feels like a whole other lifetime when we were apart now, which is weird because it was for so long.

  2. p.s. The note on that rose is great!

    1. And yes, I still laugh when I see it. I think I still have it somewhere too. :D

  3. Goodness, I can't imagine being long distance for wedding planning, just dealing with visa issues was enough for me!

    1. We stretched it out and did the wedding planning first, got married, and then the visa planning. I can't compare to wedding planning in any other way, but it actually helped us learn what was important to us. Secret Pinterest boards probably would have been a big help, but there were PLENTY of picture laden emails being sent to and fro between us!

  4. My husband and I went through a period of long distance relationship right when our relationship began. *Sigh* It's definitely very tough, but at the same time, it bonded us closer and cemented our connection. Whenever things are tough now, we look back on those days and are happy that we are together. Great posts!

    1. Yes, that's one of the things I try to tell long distance couples now, or even non LD couples. It can be a great opportunity to build a great foundation and find out what really makes your partner tick, even if you have to find out that hard way!

  5. Great Insight - My husband and I are dreading having to be separated for a period of time come the new year so we've been over compensating now to make the best of our time together. I love the part about not being overly concerned with how to spend your limited time together - it really is the little monotonous stuff that can be the most important. Thanks for the post!

  6. My husband and I did the UK-US long distance thing for 18 months and it sucked, but we made it - and today we have been married 6 years :) It is all worth it at the end, but so much of what you said in here is so true. I cried in Gatwick more times than I can count!