Before we lived together and then got married, Jonathan and I actually dated long distance for 4 years. And by long distance I don’t mean across state lines – two of those years were New York City to Lagos and then Nairobi, and the other two were New York to California. So yeah, we know a thing or two about long distance relationships. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve had a few people reach out to me for advice as Covid has reduced their ability to see their partners. And girl, I understand how much more difficult long distance can be during the month of love. So if you’re one of those celebrating Valentine’s Day with your long distance boo this year, here are my top tips on how to make sure the holiday doesn’t pull you apart.
Know Each Other’s Love Languages
While this is good advice for any relationship, one of the most difficult parts of a long distance relationship is being able to communicate love and affection from afar. Take a Love Language quiz (it’s a fun date activity!) to better understand how you both receive love, and commit to thoughtfully showing each other love in ways that satisfy your love languages. Obviously physical touch is difficult to fulfill long distance, but most people have more than one love language so lean into as many as possible. My secondary love language is quality time, so while we were long distance I loved being on video chat for hours while we each did other things, it made me feel like I was writing my papers with Jonathan beside me even though we were miles apart.
Agree on Communication Norms
For some people talking once a week is fine, for others it’s once a day or several times a day – but, whatever frequency you guys choose, decide upon it ahead of time. Does sending memes on Instagram count as checking in for the day? Do you need to video chat daily? Decide on how you’d like to be communicating with each other. When Jonathan and I were dating long distance we mostly communicated via Whatsapp, and I enjoyed send voice notes every once in a while. Flexibility is key – there will of course be days when a three hour long video call can’t work, which leads me to my next point…
Share Your Calendar With Each Other
One of the most stressful times during our long distance relationship was a weekend when Jonathan went ghost for like three days. Whew girl I was LIVID!!! What had happened was… he’d gone on some camping adventure and his phone died or he lost reception – I’ve since forgotten the details. But what didn’t happen was him letting me know ahead of time that he was going on said adventure (his plan was to let me know when he arrived… but he didn’t know there’d be no reception/electricity). Now all this could have been mitigated if he’d let me know ahead of time, or better yet – if we had shared calendars of major events happening in our lives that would potentially impact our communication. Whether you have a work retreat, a final paper due, or are going away for a weekend with your friends, sharing that with your partner in advance can reduce unnecessary stress and drama when your communication norms are shaken up.
Keep Yourself Busy
It’s really important to be emotionally present in any relationship but long distance relationships go by a lot easier when you’re keeping yourself busy. One of the reasons why I kept sane during our long distance relationship was because I wasn’t consumed with it since I had so much else going on – grad school, work, blogging, having a great time with my friends and family, and just trying to be a real adult. The distance between us was actually helpful in my early twenties because I couldn’t let the physical presence of a guy distract me from all the other plans that I was laying the foundation for.
Create New Memories Together
Once you feel comfortable traveling again, visiting new destinations together is a great activity for long distance couples (and if you need some inspiration, here are some of my dream places to visit post-pandemic). Traveling not only creates new memories but teaches you a lot about your partner as well as yourself – are you the kind of person who plans an itinerary by the hour weeks ahead of time or do you like to wake up and see where the day takes you? Do you prefer to spend money on luxurious accomodation or once in a lifetime experiences?
Besides traveling, you can also create new memories by watching movies, reading books, doing fitness challenges, taking an online course, or picking up new skills and hobbies together.
Treat Your Relationship Seriously
When someone is so far away, or you haven’t seen them in a long time, it can be easy to think of your partner as a penpal (which I used to call Jonathan when I was pissed off). But make sure you’re clear about your relationship status when socializing, and be honest with anyone who approaches you with romantic interest. Even if you have no intention of pursuing someone else, what you might read as harmless flirting to boost your ego can erode trust and confidence in your long distance relationship, two values that are paramount to its success. Essentially, don’t do or say (or fail to say) anything that would make anyone, especially your significant other, question whether or not you’re actually in your relationship, unless you guys have already agreed that entanglements outside of your relationship are permissible.
Have a Reunification Plan
It’s really important if you’re going to date someone from a distance for any amount of time to have a plan for when you’ll reunite, both to see each other again, and eventually, to close the distance. Although it’s important to be flexible since things change (like who knew travel would be canceled for most of 2020 and going on into 2021??), but knowing ahead of time what the end goal is will allow you both to be able to work towards a common goal of reunification. Otherwise you’ll be having those conversations every single week about where the relationship is going, and NO ONE likes those conversations. When we decided to do a long distance relationship, we agreed on two years, and then at the two year mark we agreed to another two years (and got engaged after the first year of long distance round 2).
Don’t Uproot Your Life to Move Without a Backup Plan
It can be really tempting to pull a scene from a romcom and hop on a plane to follow your heart. A friend of mine once told me a story about a friend of hers who quit her job and moved to Atlanta to be with a guy she’d been dating. It turned out that they broke up four months later, so it’s important to remember not to up and move JUST for a person. If you’ve found a job, you have other friends or family nearby, AND you can afford to live on your own, then go ahead and move to a new city. But if you’re just moving for a relationship that hasn’t yet moved toward engagement or long-term commitment, then your decision may be emotionally driven, as opposed to practically guided. Obviously there are many instances where people move for love and it all works out, but in this economy, I’m just saying… be able to afford that apartment on your own just in case things don’t work out as planned.
Remember Why You’re Together
Yes, long distance relationships are super hard, and it’s probably not what you had in mind when you entered the relationship. Time differences suck, not having anybody to feed you warm soup when you fall sick is depressing, and showing up to events and parties as if you’re single when you’re really not is annoying. But at the end of the day, remember why you committed to a long distance relationship with this person and don’t give up on the trial. You guys just may come out stronger when it’s all said and done!
Don’t Compare Your Relationship to Anyone Else’s
This applies to all relationships, but in a long distance relationship, it can be frustrating when you see other couples, whether LDR or not, uniting, getting married, and moving in together. When you’re in a long distance relationship, it can take a bit longer for your relationship to move forward because you guys are spending a lot of time apart (though for some people, distance dating actually speeds up the courtship process). It’s never encouraging to compare your relationship to anyone else’s in the first place, but if you feel like other couples are moving to next phases of the relationship more quickly than you are, just take a chill pill. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself and your partner, and enjoy the perks of being in a long distance relationship with all the time you have to pursue whatever you want to pursue without any weight holding you back. If you guys have created a reunification plan, keep that front and center and continue growing in your relationship separately, until you can be physically together again.