How to Stay Happy in a Long-Distance Relationship
Because being apart doesn’t have to mean being miserable.
Long-distance relationships. The intimidating and soul-crushing LDR. A topic frequently discussed, particularly by our demographic.
According to a study from 2016, nearly a third of all college relationships are long-distance and over 75% of engaged couples say that they were once long-distance. As a whole, 14 million couples say claim to be in a long-distance relationship, so clearly there’s nothing new about being apart from the one you love.
My current relationship has now spent more time classified as “long-distance” than it has not, so I know a thing or two about this. And yet, I still find myself googling “how to survive a LDR” and trying to learn how to make the best of this less-than-ideal situation.
At CF specifically, we have written on the topic of coping with a LDR but a few things have changed since we last addressed the topic. So I decided it was time for an updated set of tips, along with some personal insight from my two years and counting of wishing Texas and New York weren’t so darn far apart.
But first, a caveat:
My boyfriend and I have been dating for over three years now. He’s in Austin and I am in NYC. We started dating before our senior year of high school, but we’d previously dated our freshman year of high school for a few months. (It didn’t last freshman year because we were both too awkward and incompetent at fifteen to handle a relationship.)
During our time apart, we’ve had plenty of ups and downs, due largely to the many stressors that come with college and my own personal struggles with my mental health, but ultimately I think that we have come out of every struggle stronger for it and that is why we continue despite the distance.
That being said, my relationship is not your relationship. My hope is that my experiences and advice can be of benefit to you and yours, but I encourage you not to pathologize your own relationship because of anything I, or any of the internet’s other love doctors, have to say about love.
But if you truly do want advice from strangers on the internet, pick me and read on!
1. Communication, communication, communication.
I know, I know, it’s the first thing on literally every LDR article ever, but it’s for a good reason.
Every single fight I’ve ever had with my boyfriend during our time apart has been a product of insufficient communication, whether it’s something as simple as not saying that one of us has a big project due and won’t be able to get to the phone all day, or as major as not communicating what each of us needs in order to feel supported and secure in our relationship.
The first step is making clear to each other what good communication looks like to each of you. Why? Well, it’s very likely that you both have different ideas of what constitutes good communication.
You can’t be upset with someone for not meeting your expectations if you never established what they were to begin with.
Similarly, you need to let your partner know that you are feeling upset or struggling with the relationship when it is happening. Talk to your partner when you have these feelings, not after you’ve let them fester and grow to a point where you’re too upset to have a productive conversation. The way that you feel at your most heightened state of emotion is not always an accurate reflection of your true feelings.
Even if we are not able to have an immediate discussion about an issue, I always feel better having let my boyfriend know that something is going on, rather than waiting for the *ideal* moment to bring it up. (Sometimes those moments don’t come soon enough.)
For example, my boyfriend and I always seem to have our assignments and tests fall at the same time. While I respond to stress by reaching out to him more frequently, he shuts out everything else in order to focus on his responsibilities.
Both of these are perfectly valid strategies, but they don’t always complement each other.
To counter this, when I find myself getting more and more anxious and wishing he would return my calls, I write down everything I’d say if I could yell at him in person.
It’s an incredibly therapeutic experience because by the time we do get to talk, I’ve personally processed the bulk of my emotions. Then we approach our problem in a productive manner.
2. Learn how to be your own girlfriend!
I made a joke to someone the other day about how great I am at dating myself, but honestly, it’s true.
People talk about the importance of having your own life outside of your relationship, and I can’t stress enough how important this is in a LDR. My boyfriend can’t take me on dates, so I have become my own greatest girlfriend.
Not only does this mean taking myself out to dinner and a movie to celebrate the end of a long week, but it also includes taking that time to try new things and figure out the things that excite me.
So much of my freshman year was spent eating Nutella straight from the jar, binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy, and feeling sorry for myself because my boyfriend was so far away. In hindsight, I wish I had taken a risk and built new relationships — they could have filled my life with more joy and excitement than Shondaland could ever provide.
The best piece of advice I can give to anyone missing their significant other, is to replace the time that you spend missing them with time spent figuring out what excites you. I’m always asked if I think that being in a LDR holds me back, and honestly, nothing could be further from the truth.
Distance is hard of course, but it allows me opportunities to develop myself and try new things without using him as my safety net.
For instance, had my boyfriend and I gone to the same school, I never would have joined a sorority. If he had attended my school, we would have spent every day together, and I wouldn’t have felt nearly as compelled to find my own friends.
Additionally, he and I both have demanding paths of study, and because we can’t hang out every night, we get to give each other the space that each of us needs to accomplish all things we want as individuals.
College is a time for self-discovery and cultivating your passions, and that’s something I’m free to do. Distance provides a unique opportunity where you get to be entirely selfish with your time like someone who’s single, all while knowing that you have that special someone only a phone call away. I’m not saying it’s great, but this is a small benefit.
3. Have an end goal in sight, even if it’s only short-term.
Every fall my boyfriend comes to New York and every spring I go to Austin. We see each other for spring break, Christmas, and Thanksgiving as well, which adds up to around twice a semester.
One thing that makes the time apart easier is knowing that there are a finite number of days until we get to be in the same place again.
Of course, there are those in LDR’s who are lucky enough to live closer than a plane ride away and can see each other more often (and believe me, I envy you), but the fact that our reunions are few and far between make our time together even more special.
Even if it’s not the end of being long-distance, anticipating the end of one more pocket of time apart can make things feel less hopeless.
Eventually, there will come a time when you have to figure out the next step. I don’t deny that. However, I don’t think you have to do this too far ahead of time.
If you don’t even know what next semester is going to look like, let alone the next few years, you’ll only make yourself miserable trying to decide the future now. When I think about my post-grad life, I get overwhelmed wondering what our relationship will look like when we don’t have to be apart anymore.
I’ve realized that obsessing over what will happen years from now does nothing for me and my relationship today.
It’s important to find a balance between planning for the future and enjoying the present. So if you have to think to the future, it can help to limit yourself to anticipating the next time you’re together.
So, in conclusion…
These are just a few of the ways I maintain my relationship with my boyfriend despite our distance. In many ways, I think the LDR has been good for us. We’ve actually grown closer and learned how to better support each other in ways we never would have at the same school.
But if you take anything away from reading this, it should be this: at the end of the day your relationship is your own.
Your relationship is something that no one else will know or understand like you and your partner. No matter how many advice columns or opinions from strangers on the internet you read, remember that it is ultimately the opinions of you and your partner that matter most.
For me, in moments when I feel doubt, or fear, or any of the other tumultuous emotions that distance and anxiety create, I remind myself that I love my boyfriend and he loves me. And so long as we continue to make each other happy more often than not, everything else can be endured.
I’m not going to say that distance makes the heart grow fonder, but it can make you stronger. And, of course, it definitely makes the reunions that much sweeter.
Are you and your love long-distance too? What are some ways you make the distance a little shorter? Let me know in the comments belw