What’s the LDR, you ask? Long-Distance Relationship – something I never thought I would enjoy. As it turns out, the LDR can be really amazing. I’m certainly not a relationship expert – but I have made enough mistakes to learn what NOT to do. I’ve taken these lessons and incorporated them into my current relationship, and I’m slowly learning what TO do. It’s going really well. We have found a way to find balance and happiness. But first, some back story. Everyone loves a back story.
I met Jeremy when I was sixteen – nearly a decade ago. We worked at the same restaurant. I quickly developed a typical high-school crush on him. He was older than me (26 at the time), smart, handsome, cultured… complete puppy-love. Total infatuation. I lusted after him the way teenagers do, but it was never gonna happen. I used to get jealous when he talked about his girlfriend, secretly wishing (in the way only a teenager can) I was in her place. It was all very charming, really, but we were just friends. I was actually okay with that, because he was a really cool dude.
We closed the restaurant together most nights, which meant we were alone for hours. While I washed dishes and he cooked, we would talk about our lives. We were so open with one another. We talked, just the two of us, and bonded. He never flirted with me (which was annoying) and refused my many offers for a hug (also annoying; I was constantly hugging people; he did accept a high-five once!), but we were friends, and that was good enough for me.
After I graduated high school in 2007, I moved to the Midwest. He moved away from New England as well, and we lived separate lives. It was 2009, about a month before I turned twenty, he was in town visiting a friend. How serendipitous! We met for coffee and I was shy and unsure of myself. The sixteen-year-old inside of me still lusted after him. Sadly, I lived there and he lived far away. Plus, I had a boyfriend.
We talked sporadically over the years – a phone call, text, or Facebook message here and there – but we were both doing our own thing. We were never as close as we had been when we worked together, but talking to him always felt like a touch of home. When I got married, I tried to let go of that insane infatuation, but I always wondered “what would have happened if?”. I guess the teenage girl in me just couldn’t let it go.
When I got divorced, I called Jeremy to let him know what happened. He had recently ended a relationship, too, and we bonded over the phone, sharing the details of our respective relationships. I had moved back to New England and so had he, but we were still a few hours apart. It was the closest we had been (geographically) in a long time. We talked about how we should get together, but I was in the middle of an emotional shit-storm and it didn’t happen. Not then, anyway.
I had some more relationships, and so did he, and we didn’t talk for a year or so. Then, in January, we reconnected again. We talked for hours on the phone. About everything. We began talking and texting on a regular basis. It shocked me how after all that time – especially with long periods of not talking at all – he didn’t feel like a stranger.
In January, I was in a relationship that I was pretty sure would be for the long haul. When everything exploded in my face, I leaned on Jeremy for support. I cried, lamented, and talked about how terrible everything was. I leaned into him and he leaned into me, and I didn’t feel isolated at all. He was a supportive friend.
We quickly decided we needed to see one another – it had been five years since our last meeting (when he visited his friend in the Midwest). He lived about three hours away and agreed to drive up for a visit.
I was so nervous. So nervous, in fact, that I was pacing my front porch while my best friend tried to calm me down. I changed my outfit about five times. My mind was racing. What if he drove all that way and we had nothing to talk about? What if he drove all that way and we didn’t click like we always had? Round and round I went in my own mind. I was wringing my hands and a complete mess. Equal parts excited and terrified.
When he got out of the car, I took one look at him and immediately relaxed. This was Jeremy, after all. If we managed to stay connected through years of sporadic contact and hundreds of miles in between us, there shouldn’t be a problem.
We went to dinner and had an amazing time. I was relaxed, confident, and safe. Everything we said and did felt natural. I was at ease and incredibly happy.
Over the course of the next few weeks and months, I was hyper-aware of everything going on around me. Reconnecting with Jeremy in this way – realizing how happy we made one another – happened at a very peculiar time. I had just ended a relationship and was not interested in a rebound, nor was I interested in making myself vulnerable all over again. I was on the mend, and that made things with him very tricky.
He was my friend first, incredibly patient, and available to me for every need. He was exactly like all of my other friends, except I was even more attracted to him than I had been before. The sixteen-year-old inside of me was jumping up and down and excitedly shouting You want him, he wants you, go for it! while the cautious and cynical twenty-four-year-old was calmly saying Be patient. Take your time. If he really does want you, he will wait.
For the first four months, I refused to enter into an exclusive partnership with him. I was determined to give myself the time and space I needed to heal from what happened. It didn’t matter that he was the only one I wanted, I needed to feel free. Despite my best efforts to remain walled in and guard my heart and soul, there was something about him that made me want to open up. Little by little, I revealed more to him about myself. There were anxiety-provoking moments, nerve-wracking moments, and lots of times when I said things that might shock the average Joe, but Jeremy took it all in stride. He listened to me while I processed my feelings for hours on end (no joke – I think our longest phone call was four hours long, and the longest I have talked without interruption is 90 minutes), held me while I cried, and was always available to me. He was kind, respectful, and patient.
At the beginning of the summer, I realized I had to make a decision. I was still afraid of what this meant, constantly analyzing all of my thoughts and feelings. I felt so unsure of myself, questioning my judgement and decisions left and right. All the while, we were rapidly reaching a point of no return. When the opportunity presented itself, I decided to exercise the freedom I thought I needed, and discovered I didn’t need it at all. So, I chose Jeremy. He had already chosen me, of course.
From that point forward, things have only gotten better. A decade of friendship has transformed into a powerful love – one that is full of trust and safety. These two things are vital to me, because I have been betrayed many times by people I trust. It is crucial that I feel safe in a friendship or relationship, otherwise it just won’t work. There was a lot of trust to begin with, because we were friends for such a long time before falling in love. Sometimes I wonder if, even though I want to call it infatuation now, I did fall in love with him at sixteen.
Which brings me (finally) to the reason why the LDR deserves praise.
I have been in a lot of relationships over the past ten years, but this is the first time my partner has lived so far away. Up until this point, I would have said that this would never work for me, because I crave attention. How would I get it if my partner isn’t there all the time?
What I found, instead, is that being in a long-distance relationship provided me the opportunity to find balance between my relationship and the rest of my life. I get all of the time alone I never thought I wanted. As it turns out, I really like being alone. I appreciate solitude. For the past eight months, I have lived: A) not with a relative and B) not with a romantic partner. I have roommates, so I’m not completely isolated, but my schedule does not revolve around my relationship. Despite the heartbreak I have endured, I haven’t given up hope that I will one day remarry and have children. It’s a dream for the future, but right now I need a lot of room to grow and learn more about myself. Being in a long-distance relationship gives me the best of both worlds: my emotional and physical needs are regularly met while I have the freedom to come and go as I please.
When you’re in a LDR, you have to work to prove you want the relationship. I am certain Jeremy cares about me because he puts in a lot of effort. In any relationship, certain things (should be) standard – affection, meaningful conversations, and sex (to name a few). I’ve had all of these things before, but I’ve never seen someone try so hard to not only court me, but keep me around. In the beginning, it was difficult for me to accept that I could be so wonderful that someone would work a ten-hour day then drive two-and-a-half hours just to give me a hug. “Five hours for five minutes” – that’s one of the many cute sayings we have for each other.
On my end, I couldn’t do the same thing for a long time. I didn’t have a car for a long time, and when I finally got one, I realized it wasn’t road-safe so I had to buy another. Once that happened, I had to make sure the car would make the trip. Well, I arrived in one piece and the car handled beautifully, so that’s taken care of.
Since I couldn’t drive weekly to see him until now, I’ve tried to find other ways to show him how much I value him. Once in a while I’ll pick up the tab, even though he always protests. I’ve sent him letters and cards, hidden love notes in his things for him to find later, and I am as available to him as he is to me. But above all else – I directly ask him what he needs, then give it to him.
Speaking of asking – communication is crucial. Distance does make the heart grow fonder, and in our relationship, that means that my fondness of him grows as we connect through conversation. I’ve found that in-town relationships survive longer than they are meant to because sex and companionship carry you through times of doubt. Without either of those things to lean on for support, we can only talk to each other. We talk every single day. We talk in the morning, or late at night after work, or in the middle of the day. We try to keep in touch through text messaging as well. We are always in contact with one another. Sometimes our conversations have to be brief – a quick “How was your day? Love you”, but most of our conversations are very long and very deep. We explore ideas about the world and ourselves, using the opposite person as a sounding board. There have been lots of little epiphanies along the way, and I often joke that he is ghost-writing my book, because I’ve come to some rather amazing conclusions while talking to him about my life.
Along the lines of communication, skip the bullshit and be open about everything. This seems like a no-brainer, and it’s a piece of advice I would give anyone who is trying to develop a relationship. There is so much sacrifice in a LDR, so take a short-cut and just be honest. That way, if it’s not going to work, you’re not sacrificing for no reason. However, it takes time to work up the courage to say things that you don’t want to say, but there is some safety in talking over the phone. It’s a sort of anonymity – there can be no face-to face conflict on the phone, and you really have to pay attention to what the other person is saying. When we talk to each other, there are no distractions. We each have the other’s undivided attention for the duration of the conversation. Without facial expression or body language to give cues, we really have to listen to one another.
Can’t write a post about the LDR without talking about sex. Let me start by pointing out that sex is complicated no matter what kind of relationship you have, but being in a LDR does affect your sex life. The most obvious example would be: I want it now and can’t have it now. When you have an in-town relationship, sex might be available all the time. With the LDR, you are limited to the time you have together. In addition to that, there is a kind of pressure associated with that time you DO have together – I found myself wanting to squeeze an entire week’s worth of sex into two or three days. It was an unrealistic expectation to put on myself, and it only made me feel guilty. I bring a fair amount of baggage to the table, and some of it has to do with sexual abuse I have received in other relationships. This was a perfect opportunity to continue our open communication, talking about how we felt about it. We didn’t have to make an action-plan – we just agreed that sex should happen when it feels right. So, for the time we are together, sex happens when it feels natural. When we are apart, we just don’t have sex. It’s as simple as that. In the beginning, the not having sex was really frustrating. All I can say is that I got used to it.
On the plus side, since we spend the entire week talking openly with one another and finding other ways to connect, the time apart ends up being a type of foreplay. All of that pent-up excitement and adoration is released all at once. It makes for a very satisfying time together, as long as you can handle the time apart.
The number one reason the LDR works for me (aside from that fact that Jeremy is still a really cool dude) is I know when my needs will be met. This doesn’t just apply to our sex life, it applies to everything. I like my hand to be held, to share a bed with someone, and to get lots of hugs. I enjoy laughter and lively conversation, as well as sharing meals and sharing time with the person I love. Whether it be a phone call or a visit, I feel happiest when I know when to expect these things. This might not apply to everyone, but I imagine that if more people knew what was happening in the relatively short future, they would be more at ease overall. There are lots of times when we simply cannot know what will happen next, but the LDR should absolutely have some sort of plan attached to it.
I always know when I will talk to Jeremy on the phone or when I will see him face to face. Sometimes we plan this out day-to-day, and sometimes we know a few days in advance what our work schedules will be like. Seeing each other every week is a privilege, because we both understand that during certain times of the year, we will see one another less frequently. During the summertime his schedule is crazy – working sixty or more hours a week – and during the winter we have inclement weather to consider. I am in school and so I have classes and I work, and we still have regular lives outside our relationship.
No matter what the circumstance is, I feel safest when I feel in control. What makes me feel in control is the ability to regulate my own emotions without feeling like the rug is being ripped out from underneath me. So, barring an emergency, I know when I will see him and for how long. It helps me manage the time we are apart. As long as I know when we will talk or see each other next, I can manage any feelings of loneliness.
In addition to the short-term planning, we have an idea of what the future looks like. I am staying where I am until I graduate from school, which will take a little over a year. After that, I’ll be transferring to a different school to continue my education. Jeremy and I talked about it, and he encouraged me to pursue my dreams. We both agreed that a LDR arrangement would not work long-term, but we can make it work until we can find another way to be closer together. It’s not a plan per se, but it is an idea of what might happen next.