College Advice: Does Long-Distance Ever Work?
I’m in a really great relationship that’s about to go long-distance for half a year. All the advice I read online is bullshitty “if you love him/her, it will work!” junk. I want to know: does this kind of thing ever really work? What do I have to do and understand in order to make it work? What are the pitfalls and risks? If you don’t know, that’s okay, obviously. For the record, I’m a woman, I’ve been in this (same-sex) relationship for two years, and I’m the one who’s staying put.
- Long-Distance Lesbos
Dear Lesbos (Is your girlfriend actually going to Lesbos? I’ve heard it’s beautiful) —
I was in a long distance relationship once, for five months — my first five months of college — and a month after the guy got back, we broke up, after four years of dating. So I’m only qualified to write about this in a limited way. But I talked to some friends who’ve had better success than I have, and I think that with their input, I can help you.
The most important thing is the one you’ve already figured out: ditch the bullshit about how relationships are supposed to be and accept that this is uncharted territory, and that it’s not the relationship you had before your girlfriend left; nor is it what you hope to have when she gets back. It symmetries and balances are going to shift and you have to be ready.
For starters, your girlfriend is going to be alone in another country. She’ll need you. A lot. But there will also come a point when she makes new friends, and she seems thrilled with everything around her, and you’ll feel left out, even fear that you’ve lost her. (Nearly everyone I talked to described something similar.) The key thing to remember is that you’re home to her. She’s traveling and it’s thrilling, but you’re home, and she never really wanted to leave you — just to visit someplace else, to poke around. It might be painful, but it’s an undeniable component of your new relationship. Try to accept it.
Another critical thing is to make sure that you’re still progressing together, not recollecting how you used to be. Swap ideas. Ask her lots of questions and ask her what she thinks about the things she’s experiencing. She might not even know how many opinions she has until she talks about it with you. Traveling is hard that way. Ask her advice. Read the same books. Draw her out, if you feel like you don’t know what she’s thinking. Keep her updated on your life. Never grill her about her whereabouts or accuse her; always be receptive and interested and open. Make her feel like she has room to grow within your relationship. If I sound overzealous on this point, it’s because this is how my first relationship ended. When the poor guy got back, I felt like nothing about our relationship had changed, while I had changed dramatically and irrevocably — and our relationship didn’t fit with my aspirations and ideals any more. The specifics vary, of course, but I think there’s a universal lesson here: make sure you’re loving the person you’re with, not the person you were with before she left. That way, when she gets back, it will be a relief, a return to herself and what feels right to her, not a miniature culture-clash.
Lastly, get good at skype sex, phone sex, gchat sex, whatever. Again, remember: it’s not real sex. It’s a whole other animal. (Metaphorically.) Arousal takes longer, and climax can seem anticlimactic… until you get used to it. Then it’s kind of hot. Make private time, make sure you have a strong internet connection, and position your camera in a way that will work for chatting and for sex, so that you can transition seamlessly if the mood strikes you; fumbling with screens can kill the mood. If you can save your sex life for your girlfriend and vice-versa, you’ll always have something holding you together that you don’t share with anyone else — and an aspect of each other’s lives that you know in its entirety. You’d be surprised how much that helps.
Listen, you have what it takes. You’re smart, brave, and committed to getting through this. You’ve spent enough time with this woman to know who she is and know that no matter what happens to the two of you during this half-year, you’ll still want to be with her. You’re going to be great. And if not, you’ll know you gave it your best effort.
Send your questions about college life anonymously to VeronicaMittnacht@thefastertimes.com.
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