What My Queer Long Distance Relationship Taught Me About Trust

If you were to ask my friends what words they’d use to describe me, I’m sure they could conjure a beautiful linguistic menagerie, but the word “chill” would not be included. I can’t imagine why, and neither can my 40 milligrams of Prozac that I’ve been in a relationship with since 2017.

I have always been a very anxious person. Growing up, I didn’t consider my anxiety to be anything out of the ordinary — my mother said if I could “function” with the anxiety I had, then it clearly wasn’t an issue that needed further inspection. Never mind that I spent my childhood petrified over what tragedy might befall my family unexpectedly, and high school French classes sweating through my white polos over the idea of being asked to say something, and  my college days so panicked I was wasting my life that I wept into my pillows for hours. Many chill things like that. It wasn’t until I sought a counselor my junior year of college who, within an hour of meeting me, wrote me a prescription for anti-anxiety medication, that I thought my problem might be bigger than previously thought. Shoutout to Lisa.

Dating as a lesbian has its own barriers even without an anxiety disorder — the vitriol lesbians face from all sides, existing at the intersection of homophobia and misogyny (and, for some, transphobia and racism as well) adds a serious layer of difficulty to the already arduous task of testing the waters of connection with a potential partner. While I’ve been out since I was 15, I didn’t date until I reached college and, even then, the bubble of my small liberal arts campus didn’t allow much access to what dating within a lesbian community at large feels like. When I moved to Austin for graduate school, dating became a game of strategy and precision I would say I was…fine at. The contents of my dating life up to now can be entirely their own essay, if not an essay collection (though jury’s out on if it would be a compelling read). But to summarize, I have not always made the healthiest dating decisions. A lesbian who struggled with codependency and an anxious attachment style? Shocking!

As anyone with bad anxiety knows, while medication helps, it’s not a one-stop fix-it for the disorder. And anxiety comes in all sorts of flavors and sizes. Most of my anxiety orients itself around my interpersonal relationships, in particular my romantic relationships. A slight shift in tone or taking a few minutes longer to reply to a text will inevitably add to my punchcard of personal spirals. I’m not proud of it, but I can’t help it: The insecurity I feel when it comes to romantic partners is as palpable as the sexual tension between Eve and Villanelle.

In most breakups, blame is a fruitless exercise. An average breakup is often a combination of nuanced factors that typically add up to being incompatible or one person simply not liking the other person enough to continue. So I don’t fault any of my past girlfriends for not continuing to date me — if that is their only sin, I think they’ll make it to heaven just fine. But it is true that in many of my past relationships (be they long-term, or one of the few devastating situationships), I have felt ill at ease more often than not. It has traditionally been difficult for me to feel comfortable in a romantic relationship: My fear of abandonment is so strong that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The anxiety comes rushing in like a flood with no dam to stop it: I recognize it coming, I recognize it often for its illogical properties, and yet any little differentiation in a partner’s mood or attitude is bound to set it off.

Because of this, for the longest time I believed a long-distance relationship was perhaps the worst thing I could do to myself short of crowbarring off all of my toenails one-by-one. I have a propensity toward neediness, clinginess, even damaging jealousy. These are things I have worked on and continue to work on, but they are very much a part of me and how I have traditionally conducted myself in relationships. And anyone who feels similarly knows the desire to change can be there, but it is a change that comes from a lot of long, hard work. All this to say: I figured these negative aspects of how I conduct myself romantically would only worsen if I tried to engage in an LDR.

Then came my current girlfriend. We’ve only been together six months, so perhaps writing this article is a jinx. But whatever the inevitable trajectory of our relationship, what I have already learned about myself has been instrumental to my personal betterment.

Something unexpected in dating my girlfriend was the ease of our distance. Of course, then and now, I would prefer her close, prefer her in the same city as me. But in the beginning stages of our relationship, I was shocked by how the distance became a benefit. We chatted all day throughout the day, making jokes, asking silly questions as an excuse to learn anything about one another — and that’s all we could do. Of course, there was an attraction (I’d show you a picture of her, but I won’t, and I could make an excuse about privacy, but really I don’t need anyone else flooding her DMs), but it wasn’t able to be fulfilled. We were not able to be physical with one another; all we had was the option to talk and just keep talking. This isn’t some backwards call for abstinence, don’t worry. But I have been prone to losing my sense of self in the physical, of misunderstanding good sex for good connection, of good sexual partners for good people. I have often taken up the mantle of performativity in the physical realm of a relationship: What role do I need to occupy, what mask do I need to pull over the skin of my face to make this person stay interested? I have, in my cloying anxiety, often used sex and the physical to customize myself to my partner’s desires and expectations, whether they have asked me to make this change or not. In my current relationship, I wasn’t able to fall back to this old, self-destructive habit. I had only one option, and it was to talk to her, and in that, I learned about her, and more to the point of this essay, I let her learn about me.

Like a lot of lesbians, I easily lose myself in my romantic relationships. Often at the expense of my friendships, or my writing, or other things that typically bring me joy and a reverence for life. When I enter a romantic relationship, I have traditionally entered a haze of a former self: I will do anything to protect this connection, even if it is at the expense of myself. And often, in that self-prescribed endurance test, I have missed clear signs a relationship was not actually serving me. That what I have clung to is the idea of something, so roughly, with such white knuckles.

I worried how this would be exacerbated by an LDR, but the opposite happened. In being unable to change the entire orbit of my life towards this person, because of our distance, I had no choice but to go about my business as usual. Except it wasn’t as usual: This connection I developed reminded me of the other things in my life that made it worth living, and I began giving back to those spaces. I had spent the previous two years in something of a prolonged depressive episode, feeling misguided, lost. I had struggled to find the significance in many aspects of my life that had once meant so much to me. My closest friends moved away, and I barely wrote or read.

I think it’s dangerous to say a romantic relationship saved me, or could save anyone, and so that’s not what I’m saying here, not exactly. What I will say is that my fledgling relationship reminded me of all the things I loved outside of a relationship. Because she and I had that distance and could not envelop one another’s lives in a beautiful-at-first but ultimately unsustainable manner, I was able to use the newfound motivation to return to these things. I began to read books again, write poems. I made more significant effort to hang out with friends, especially ones I was not as close to. I even started going on more walks, caring about my overall health in a way I hadn’t for the past couple years. The revitalization of this new relationship encouraged me to better myself, and because I simply couldn’t spend all my time with her, every other aspect of my life improved immensely.

In that same vein, when we do spend time together, it’s more intentional. My girlfriend lives only a three-hour drive away from me (which, for some lesbians, may not even be considered an LDR), so we do our best to see each other every other weekend. One of us will make the trip, spend a long weekend together, and then return feeling refreshed. While of course I would love to see her more, in the beginning stages of our relationship (and even now), this made the moments we chose to spend with each other more intentional and more special. Some people may think “yeah, because then you finally get to have sex” — but that’s not it. There is a special type of connection that comes from working side-by-side, watching Sex & the City reruns, without even interacting. The comfort of the body beside you, of saying nothing but reaching a hand to lay on the back, or giving a kiss in passing to the kitchen for a glass of water — these are the small intimacies that create the trust of a relationship. And for us, these moments are rare, so each silly joke or shared meal feels like ten, each night falling asleep holding each other feels like a million nights.

The deliberate nature of our in-person meetings reminds us we have chosen each other, that it doesn’t matter if we only get to kiss or touch one another every other week, because we made a clear choice to be together over any girl who may be a closer drive or walk away. Not to toot our own horns, but either of us could easily date someone in our respective cities, but our travels to each other are reminders that convenience is a sacrifice we’re willing to make if it means we get to be with each other.

An LDR may not work for everyone, and all the reasons I have said here may fall flat for a lot of other people. But for me, as someone who has struggled with trust and with anxiety, the nature of our distance is a surprising salve. Every text or call or visit reminds me I am with someone who wants to be with me, and not just for what I can provide them physically, not just for the sake of having a body. It is for the sake of me, in all that I am, in the flaws and the flowers. And in turn, she knows the same is true for her: that I do not choose her for proximity or convenience, but that I choose her for her. Of course, part of the reason our relationship works is inconsequential to the distance, but rather that we as two people gel so well together. She is smart, funny, kind, and adventurous in a way I envy and relish. Much of the relationship comes down to who she is for me, and who I am for her. Without her patience and kindness, I wouldn’t have built this trust with her. But even so, I believe that every aspect of our relationship contributes to my strengthened ability to trust not only her as a romantic partner, but myself as someone who is allowed to make decisions about how people treat me, about who I spend my time with, about what goodness I deserve. Whatever direction our relationship goes (which I hope is only up), I will be able to appreciate this time as reminding me I am capable and deserving of this ease, and this trust in myself. And for that, I am already beyond grateful.

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Gabrielle Grace Hogan

Gabrielle Grace Hogan (she/her) received her MFA from the University of Texas at Austin. Her poetry has been published by TriQuarterly, CutBank, Salt Hill, and others, and has been supported by the James A. Michener Fellowship and the Ragdale Foundation. In the past, she has served as Poetry Editor of Bat City Review, and as Co-Founder/Co-Editor of You Flower / You Feast, an anthology of work inspired by Harry Styles. She lives in Austin, Texas. You can find her on Instagram @gabriellegracehogan, her website www.gabriellegracehogan.com, or wandering a gay bar looking lost.

Gabrielle has written 11 articles for us.

3 Comments

  1. Thank you for your words and perspective here! A lot of it resonated with me and I appreciate you sharing. Glad you’ve found an incredible person while also having space for all the other beautiful, important things in life 💚

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