Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder (Sometimes)


In my last column, I described couples who, after living together, realized that their relationships were not meant to be. This week, I want to focus on the opposite end of the spectrum — what happens when there is too much physical space between a couple? What about those relationships that bridge states, countries and time zones? I found a few interesting articles, as well as local couples who have experienced long-distance relationships and offered their insights.

Handling physical distance can be difficult in all types of relationships; it's no wonder that so many intimate relationships end well before a long-distance arrangement is even attempted. It can sometimes be hard enough to keep things together when you see your significant every day!

If you're about to enter a long-distance relationship — or LDR — you'll quickly come to appreciate that they have become a lot more manageable with e-mail, cell phones and bargain airfares.

There are different types of LDRs — 50 miles away, across the country, those where one partner is in the military, those that were always long distance, and those that lived in the same city and then became long distance. Each type faces challenges, but with a little forethought and concerted effort, this relationship can certainly succeed.

A Game Plan

The first thing you need to do is have a conversation regarding monogamy. It should be crystal-clear whether or not you are free to date anyone else. The next step is figuring out how often you are going to talk and e-mail, and how often you are going visit.

If you live a flight away, try to research how many flights a year you can each afford. Plan ahead, because not knowing the details makes it impossible to maintain a visiting schedule essential to the relationship.

If one of you dislikes talking on the phone, try to limit your calls to one decent conversation several times a week, as opposed to a short conversation on a daily basis. When calling, plan the next time the two of you are going to see each other, and what you are going to do together.

Although plans can alleviate some pressure, it can — on the flip side — create stress to experience memorable quality time every moment you're together. It can be rough trying to plan the perfect visit, when all you really want to do is get to know one another better or just relax.

Of course, it's important to have unforgettable moments, but it's more important to just appreciate the other person's company. Try to fit in at least one great experience per visit (theater outing, rock concert, gourmet dinner), but realize, too, that there is nothing wrong with a night on the couch versus a night out. You get to cuddle, and actually hear what the other person is saying. Isn't that kind of quality time you've both been missing anyway?

Types of LDRs really break down into two categories: relationships that start out that way, and couples that have a temporary separation.

Linda talked about her experiences starting a relationship from long distance. Both of her attempts at LDRs lasted about six months.

"A relationship that is only long distance is not a contiguous building of intimacy and rapport. If you haven't seen each other in three to four weeks, you have to re-establish your connection, not just continue. It is really hard — the hello and goodbye."

Linda said an LDR that starts as one has never been satisfying for her. "The most difficult thing is becoming or not becoming integrated and essential to the other person's life. It starts to feel like 'parachute dating.' The relationship feels like a series of conjugal visits. You see each other, you go to dinner, you sleep together, then you go home."

I would argue that in most cases, this type of relationship should be avoided. Some of my friends have begun these types of relationships when they had a demanding career, and don't have the time or energy to offer the emotional work necessary to sustain a symbiotic relationship.

Suddenly, weekends in a static relationship are the security blanket for an otherwise empty social calendar. Though there are some notable exceptions, it seems that my friends complain about these types of relationships ending in ultimatums or feelings of resentment. This seems to be because any real long-term planning was carefully avoided.

Quality Time Alone

The other type of LDR can be seen as a temporary separation, in which the couple has been together for a somewhat substantial amount of time before living away from one another.

A temporary LDR has the potential to either make a couple stronger or break them apart. I would think that (excluding relationships directly out of high school that become LDR during college) a temporary LDR has greater potential because a couple already has a foundation. A boyfriend would already know how she likes her eggs and how often she washes her hair. A girlfriend would already know what condiments he likes on his sandwiches, whether his apartment is messy or clean, and if he remembers to put the toilet seat down in the middle of the night.

No matter what type of LDR you are in or about to enter, you can almost compare it to certain elements of being single. The best part about that is that you can focus more on yourself. During the week and the time you're not together, you have the chance to fulfill your wants and needs. You're also likely to meet new people and get in touch with what you love doing. It could be hanging out with friends, cooking, watching sports, playing video games — whatever you like.

If you can appreciate your time away from your significant other — without getting lonely or restless — the experience can actually improve your relationship because you start depending on yourself a little more.

Of course, that's easier said than done, but if the separation is only temporary, what's some time apart if you plan to spend the rest of your lives together? 


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