There is a look that those in long distance relationships know all too well: a head tilt accompanied by a sympathetic facial expression. Usually, the words “aww that must be so hard”, or worse, “why?” follow. This universal reaction to hearing the words “long distance” makes some sense. It does suck being in a different postal/zip code, area code, or country than the person you love. Missing out on those little things that seemingly every other couple you know gets to do can wear you down. What the head tilters don’t know is that being in a long distance relationship can be amazing. The biggest advantage is being involved with someone you actually love, rather than settling for somebody who happens to live nearby. That fact alone can be enough to make the miles meaningless, or at least bearable.
Sadly, sometimes the distance does get to be too much, or the time between visits too hard. However, it doesn’t need to be as devastating as the head-tilters may have you believe. After all, each relationship we have teaches us a little bit about ourselves, even after they end. Long distance relationships in particular can teach you a lot about yourself, about love, and about life.
1. Communication Is Crucial
“Communication is key” is more than just an alliterative cliche, it’s one of the most important lessons a long distance relationship will teach. It’s also one that will improve every other relationship you have, from the ones with your co-workers, to those with your family. Most relationships teach the value of communication; a lesson most of us learn immediately following that first fight.
When it comes to long distance ones though, communication is all you have. You don’t have the benefit of those in-person quiet moments where physical contact is enough. Long distance relationships sustain themselves on words and words alone. That doesn’t make it easy, or even that comfortable at first. In fact, the first time I had a Skype-date we typed. The video was on, but we had the sound off, and we typed out our conversation. For my part, it was because I was uncomfortable with the sound of my own voice. Eventually, though, we both warmed up to those style of dates, and they became a regular, and enjoyable, thing. With voice even. LDRs help you become comfortable with yourself.
LDRs also help teach you the value of clarity. Text messages, emails, and instant messaging are the perfect breeding grounds for misconceptions. Tone in particular is hard to convey using written words alone. But when your partner is a zillion kilometres away, you don’t exactly have an alternative. Eventually, you get tired of wondering, or fighting, about what the other one “really meant”. So, you learn how to ask for clarification, you learn how to communicate clearly, and you learn not to get offended when your message isn’t received the way you intended.
2. Technology Is Both The Best And The Worst
Long distance relationships thrive on words – so couples need a way to get those words from one part of the world to the next. Technology has the answer. In fact, you may find yourself appreciating modern technology more than you thought possible as a result. Low-cost long distance cellphone plans, video messaging, and overnight delivery are all things you never knew were essential to modern dating. The internet in particular is something many of us take for granted. But when it’s the only way to see your partner, you suddenly become very grateful you live in the modern era.
Along the same lines, LDRs also reinforce how fickle and flawed technology can be. You may think you have fantastic WiFi, until it crashes seven minutes before your Skype date. That’s when you realize how many factors can interfere with reliable technology. This lightbulb moment comes after your “this is the only time we had to talk with each other I hate you [insert name of internet service provider here]” Hulk-like one, of course. Along the same lines, those three effing dots when someone is typing that suddenly vanish with no corresponding message will be the bane of your existence. Learning to hate but co-exist with them, and read receipts, will make things much, much easier.
Long distance relationships also teach you a lot about technology itself, including how to find the absolute best tool for whatever your needs happen to be. My partner was always on top of finding the best video messaging programs so we could communicate more effectively without lag or delay. I was constantly on the look out for apps and add-ons we could use to make the distance seem as insignificant as possible.
There is no lesson that long distance relationships teach better than patience. Somebody once asked me what it felt like to be in a relationship with someone I could rarely see face-to-face. My answer: it feels like you’re constantly waiting. LDRs can feel like a doctor’s appointment. You spend ages waiting, doing whatever you can to pass the time. Then, finally, you get called in to spend a brief moment with the person you want to see the most. On you way home, you realize that you spent more time flipping through magazines than you did with the doctor.
It’s the exact same thing with LDRs. Depending on how far away you are, you may spend the majority of the relationship waiting to spend brief moments with each other. An impatient attitude is not to your advantage here. Learning how to wait patiently is deceptively hard. And it might not be a skill you perfect, but it is one that you have to acquire. After all, it’s not like there is an easy alternative. LDRs are not the like Stanford Marshmallow Experiment – delaying gratification is the only option.
Thankfully, learning patience isn’t impossible. I’m the most impatient person ever, trust me. Despite that, even I found that my ability to wait to see my partner carried over into strengthening my patience in other areas. The trick is to remind yourself what you are waiting for. Sure, waiting sucks, but when the end result is someone you care about, the reward makes it worth it.
4. How To be Okay With Being Alone
Couples in long distance relationships spend a lot of time alone. Even those who have active social lives outside of the relationship may find that they spend more time alone than they did before meeting their partner. It isn’t sustainable, emotionally or physically, to spend your time moping about the circumstances that lead to your physical separation. So, you learn how to be okay with being alone instead. Not only that, but you learn how to fill your time with people and activities that bring you fulfillment and joy.
Even if you spend your time sad and emotional at first, you quickly find better, more constructive ways to spend the time. Some people pick up new hobbies or improve on old ones. Others decide to take a class or learn a new language. Others still opt to earn extra income by cashing in on an existing skill. Once you find something that actively engages your mind, you’ll find that being alone doesn’t necessarily mean being lonely.
Those little things you get to do for one another are some of the best parts of having a relationship. Leaving little love notes in places they will find them, popping by with a cup of coffee when work is especially stressful, and surprising them with flowers or treats before a date are all things that keep relationships strong. They show thoughtfulness, consideration, and attentiveness. They are also virtually impossible in long distance relationships.
So, you learn to compensate. Instead of showing up with flowers before a date, you find a florist who delivers late. Little notes can be replaced with creative and thoughtful care packages.
There are always ways you can express that same level of thoughtfulness and consideration, despite the kilometres (or miles, depending on your lexicon) that separate you two. All it takes is a little creativity. Eventually you learn how to find ways to do those same sweet little things. Those who love small notes may find a way to get their partner’s friends involved, so those notes can still reach them, just in different ways. Or they may send a bunch of letters at once, with instructions to open upon feeling certain moods or on certain days. Regardless of the sweet gesture you have in mind, creativity will help it reach your loved one.
6. How To Live In The Moment
Of course, the big payoff of any long distance relationship is finally getting to spend time with your partner. The days, weeks, months, or years of waiting, careful planning, saving you money, finding the cheapest flight, and three layovers all lead to that perfect, joyful embrace by a luggage rack. You are finally there! Or they are finally here! Or you’re finally together in another awesome place! It’s fantastic, it’s amazing, and it isn’t forever, so of course the whole trip is tainted with the dread of goodbye.
But, it doesn’t actually have to be that way. Of course you and your partner are going to spend a few tearful moments while together trying to find ways to circumvent the need for goodbye (illegal immigration and quickie marriages are usually considered first, along with several “get rich quick” schemes). Spending the WHOLE trip like that, however, can get incredibly exhausting. Learning how to truly live in the moment, without dreading the future or lamenting the past, will make your time together amazing. Guaranteed.
Living in the moment, or mindfulness, is a hard skill to learn, but can be applied to every other area of your life. Being truly present in whatever moment you are living out will make you happier and less anxious or worried about the future. When it comes to visiting someone you only get to see twice a year or so, making the most out of every second is crucial. Any moment you spend fretting about the impending soul-crushing goodbye is a moment you aren’t spending focusing on how happy you actually are right now. I mean, there’s no point in worrying about a cold airport goodbye in four days when you’re enjoying a delicious warm meal with someone you absolutely adore now. Applying that same mentality to all your meals, and all your interactions, is one of the greatest lessons you’ll learn.
Simply put, long distance relationships are challenging. Sometimes exceptionally so. But they’re also worth it. Even if the head tilters don’t understand, they can bring you an incredible amount of joy. LDRs, when they involve two people who care about one another, can also impart some very valuable life lessons.