5 Lessons We Learned After Six Years of Long Distance

Ivan here.

Jennie and I spent six out of the seven years doing long distance, separated by borders and oceans. For months on end we were thousands of miles apart, fourteen hours away. Years passed, as the Earth spun indifferently around the Sun. 

It takes a certain type of personality and mindset to make long distance work. Though it may seem romantic looking back, trust us when we say that in reality, it’s a torturous grind. Technology makes it easier, but communication between two human beings is and will always be a flimsy, makeshift thing. 

There are no short-cuts. Here’s what we’ve learned having come out of it (relatively) unscathed:

1. Start with the end in mind

Distance is a cold bitch. It doesn’t care what your relationship deserves. If you don’t have a plan, you’ll probably fail. 

We were college students when we met. When we graduated, both of us needed jobs and the idea of going through the long (and expensive) U.S. immigration process while looking for our first full time jobs seemed like an unnecessary handicap to place on ourselves.  

Instead, we decided to pick a coast for our job search. I ended up in Toronto. She was hired by a company in Boston. A two hour plane ride wasn’t so bad, in the grand scheme of things. We had a plan in place to sign our marriage paperwork and start the immigration process within the first two years. And aside from the soul-sucking, wrist-slitting, bureaucratic shit sandwich that is US Customs and Immigration, that’s pretty much how it went down. 

2. Be ruthlessly practical

At the time we started long distance, we’d only been together for about three months. Our time abroad in Kyoto was nearing an end and we sat down and talked about the current and future state of our relationship. 

The thing about a LDR is that you’re either all the way in or out. There is no middle ground. There’s no waiting to see what precious flower will blossom from your relationship. 

More important than the decision to be in a long distance relationship was the fact that we wrote down (on a piece of paper) some hard rules about not dragging on a relationship if we were unhappy. If it wasn’t working, we’d give each other an out. We kept ourselves accountable by doing monthly check-ups to discuss what went well or poorly; it kept us honest. 

3. It’s better to over-communicate (but be kind)

Communicating is probably the #1 contributing factor to the success of a LDR (or any relationship for that matter). Of course, we love each other and that’s important but without the basic foundation of communication, we would have never made it through the six years apart. Early on, it’s tough to be honest because as individuals, you’ve probably kept the majority of your personal views/opinions to yourself. That doesn’t jive in a long distance relationship. 

Unless you’re telepathic, your partner isn’t going to understand what you think, want, or need. So do yourself a favor and be honest with each other about when you’re happy, upset, surprised...pretty much every emotional component of the spectrum should be verbally communicated as soon as it surfaces. And be honest if you need some  space from each other as well.. We’ve had plenty of arguments go from bad to worse in less than 5 seconds because one or both parties wanted to be as hurtful as possible in the heat of the moment. 

4. Be prepared to make hard sacrifices

Although we knew that sacrifices were an inherent part of any relationship, we weren’t 100% prepared for how much it would cost (in time and money) or the toll it would take on our social lives.

Time and money: LDRs are expensive time and money sinks. For our first year, we had to navigate the distance between North America and Asia, and then Canada to the US for our last five. As two broke students, we tried to see each other every couple of months. Those round-trip tickets alone would cost at least $300 - $400 each, not to mention trying to cram every minute of quality time together into the span of a week. 

Social life: our LDR meant a lot of Skype/video time together in the evenings, almost daily when we could manage it, or emails/phone calls on days that we couldn’t “see” each other face-to-face. It meant we had to really prioritize or plan around our social life that made us both happy and that was tough at times. It forced us to strike a balance together and apart. 

5. Be honest with yourself

Finally, it’s important to try to distinguish between what you want and the lies that you choose to tell yourself. 

Are you only in this relationship because you’re afraid of hurting the other person? Or that it might jeopardize your mutual friendships? Or that you’ve invested too much time and energy into it to back out now? Are you only in this relationship because you’re scared of the unknown?  

It’s not OK to live your life on someone else’s terms and there are no legitimate reasons for you to stay in an unhappy situation. In our experience, living for appearances or making decisions based on the expectations of others is responsible for a lot of unnecessary suffering.  That’s why it’s important to be able to look yourself in the mirror and really hone in on what you want.