You Need Help: How Can I Make Long Distance More Bearable?

Q:

How can I make long distance more bearable? I physically ache whenever we have to part ways and it makes me so sad.

A:

Oh, friend, I can relate so much! Every long-term relationship I’ve ever been in started long distance or had a long period of long distance at some point, including my current relationship with my fiancé, which was long distance for the first year-ish. When I first started dating Kristen, she lived in Orlando, and I lived in New York. We were lucky in how often we go to see each other, because I had a flexible work-from-home schedule and she was traveling a lot for her first book tour, but still when we parted, I could sometimes become physically ill the way you’re describing! I distinctly remember one time in New York when it was our last day together. I took her to a pizza place I love and knew she would enjoy. But I could barely eat anything, because my stomach was in knots. Then, I started feeling doubly worse: I was frustrated by my inability to enjoy this moment with her and the way I was fixating on our impending separation. All I wanted was to eat really good pizza with my love, but all I could think about was how soon she’d be getting on a plane to return to the place she called home, a place that, at the time, I didn’t belong to.

I wish I could go back in time and tell myself the thing I’m now going to tell you: Yes, there are things you can do to help mitigate the tumultuous nature of long distance and the pain you feel when you have to be apart, but you also do have to accept that discomfort as part of your relationship. There isn’t some magic cure-all solution; long distance is hard! It’s going to be hard. But I wish I had just eaten that pizza while sad and allowed myself space for that sadness without it spiraling into some larger feeling of frustration at myself and extreme anxiety. Goodbyes are always going to be sad. You can’t let that sadness stop you from living your life — both with your partner in these goodbye moments but also once your partner is gone.

Here are the things I find help: Trying as much as possible to know when the next time you’re going to see each other is before you part ways. This isn’t always possible, depending on finances, work schedules, life in general. But the times when I knew as we were saying goodbye when we would be reunited were always a bit easier! Because then there’s this really clear expectation of “we’ll see each other in three weeks!” vs. some nebulous blob of time apart. I also find that the ways you spend your time when you are together can deeply inform how you feel when you’re apart. I find there’s a tendency in LDRs to spend your time together in one of two ways: either one-on-one and holed up having sex the whole time or trying to do one million social activities out and about together so you can maximize time with your partner and friends, which is something we don’t always get to do in LDRs. I think it’s best to try to find a balance between the two during your time together. Don’t overload your schedule with activities and outings; allow plenty of time for true rest, spontaneity, and intimate time together. But also, do spend time in groups and with friends together instead of only one-on-one time. Find a balance between scheduling things and leaving things more open; my favorite moments when Kristen and I were long distance were the ones that felt unexpected and adventurous, like we were exploring a place together.

I also know there’s a tendency to ignore conflict in LDRs when you’re together, because you’re trying to make sure that time together is “perfect.” But if you ignore conflicts when they come up, then you run the risk of letting those feelings grow and then burst to the surface unproductively when you’re apart and it’s more difficult to communicate. You also run the risk of overly romanticizing your relationship, which also heightens those feelings of separation when you have to say goodbye. People in LDRs should deal with conflict as it comes up the same way people in non-distance relationships do, even if it means cutting into your precious time together.

When you’re apart, see friends. Don’t isolate. Have built-in, scheduled time to catch up with each other and expectations and boundaries around that. Part of what primed me for dating long-distance was that I’ve always had very close long-distance friendships (due to being a Tumblr Gay for the first two-thirds of my life). So I’m very used to texting a LOT and still do these days because all of my best friends are long distance again. In an LDR, it can feel like your phone is a direct extension of your heart. Some people might give you a hard time for being on your phone too much (my mother always did when she was with me during my period of long distance with Kristen). Here’s the thing: Those people are kinda right, but they’re not saying it the right way, and they’re not telling you the things you actually do need to hear. It’s okay to be attached to your phone when you’re long distance. But you also don’t need to be “on call” in your relationship at all times. If you have those designated times to catch up and connect with each other, in the hours leading up to and immediately after those times, take a break from your phone if you can. Your heart is always gonna be in two places, but you still have to learn how to be a present as possible and show up for yourself and others when your partner isn’t around. I think people assume co-dependency relies on physical closeness, but co-dependency can super easily form in a long-distance relationship, especially if you’re too removed from your own life when you’re apart. In a regular relationship, people take “breaks” from each other to do their own things, socialize with separate friends, etc. Paradoxically, it sometimes feels like you’re never taking time to yourself in a long-distance relationship, because your longing is always there, and because you don’t want to be by yourself; you want your love with you.

Don’t be hard on yourself for being on your phone a lot but also take breaks, remind yourself that meaningful connection doesn’t have to mean constant connection. Plan long-distance FaceTime dates with each other and then when those are over, spend genuine time “apart” by doing something like meeting up with friends or watching a movie on your own and not really being on your phone. I do find that being more intentional about the ways you spend your time together and the ways you spend your time apart can really help with the feelings of sadness during goodbyes. But also just know you’re probably going to be some level of sad no matter what. And that’s okay. Eat the pizza, be sad, but be present.


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 870 articles for us.

1 Comment

  1. I’d offer also, re this line, “I also find that the ways you spend your time when you are together can deeply inform how you feel when you’re apart,” a reframe ~ that how you spend your time when you’re apart deeply informs how you feel when you’re together. My partner & I have done a lot to cultivate a sense that we’re never actually apart and that the time we have away from each other is just as rich & connected as when we’re together. She used to also get the physically ill feelings but doesn’t anymore. Some things we do: a shared google calendar where we slot weekly facetime dates with cute names, marco polo video messages, reading a book / watching tv together on dates so we have shared culture to talk abt, audio message updates. We only very rarely have a spontaneous phone call when one of us is stressed / in crisis of some kind – like, less than 10 times in 4 years. & we have a little code system of emojis, where certain emojis symbolize things like, “i’ve gotten yr message but i can’t talk rn,” or “i feel pretty pay attention to me.” how we have spent our time away is really how we’ve built the culture of the relationship – so it’s not one that romanticizes longing, but one we’re we can be present & secure for our own lives & the relationship. there’s never loss when we leave each other anymore, there’s a sense of, “omg! now we get to watch this special tv show we watch on dates, & do all the things we do while we’re away, and also do our own life things! yayy!”

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