I used to say, frequently, “I don’t believe in long-distance.”
I also didn’t “believe in” compromise or monogamy.
To my mind, full of theory and principle, they didn’t exist. (Unicorns, though, were totally real.)
Keeping that in mind, let me tell you about my long-distance relationship. Two weeks ago, I said goodbye to my partner and moved to the other side of Zanzibar (the island we currently call home).
In the years we have spent “together,” we have opted to be apart several times, but I think this is the first time we have done so with a mature understanding of what that entails. When an opportunity arose, which we both knew would make me happy, we sat down and discussed the decision together. A week later, I was on my way North.
With just a two hour drive (that’s a four hour bus ride) separating us, my partner will be able to visit regularly, making this a piece of cake compared to our previous attempts. (There was the time I traveled for a year, leaving half a world between us, and then there was the time he lived six hours away and we were lucky to sort out monthly visits.)
In hindsight, I don’t regret these times apart—difficult though they may have been—as they’ve been excellent teachers.
There are as many long-distance relationships as there are people in the world, and I can only speak to my own experience. Knowing what I’ve learned from these messy, frustrating, relationship stretching efforts at “the long-distance thing,” I think there are a few crucial questions for partners to ask one another before embarking:
Can we commit to regular and meaningful communication?
There is nothing like a missed Skype date or week of unanswered emails to send an imagination into Full Disaster Mode. And there’s nothing like too-short phone conversations or bland text messages to deflate an already challenging relationship. Can you be present for one another—open and connected—despite the physical distance?
Are regular visits feasible? If not, are we okay with that?
I think when we face something as scary and uncharted as extended time away from a loved one, we can tend to say, “We’ll just figure it out,” or, “It will work itself out.” It won’t. Can you foresee making visits every week? Every month? If you are looking at a sustained period of time apart, be honest when you ask yourself if you are willing to deal with that.
Are we prepared for the delicate process of picking things up where we left off?
I think that phrase is misleading. There is no “where we left off.” People constantly grow and relationships constantly shift, together or separately. Maybe the real question is, “Are you ready to take two diverging paths and trust that your bond is strong enough to nurture you when your paths intertwine and you meet as new people?“
Is it worth it?
The person who didn’t believe in long-distance is still inside me; only, she recognized the value of a particular relationship and decided it was worth laying aside her “principles” for. She chose to hold onto and nourish it across physical space. I wouldn’t suffer the commitment of energy, communication, tension and longing for just anyone.
If you’ve answered “yes” to those questions and are hoping for a bit of good news, I have some for you…
Knowing what I’ve experienced, I can tell you that times of apart-ness can deepen and enrich moments of togetherness. They can test a strong bond, teach communication and give love the space it needs to grow and mature. These times can also give two people the space they need to grow and mature; if, at the end of it, they choose to continue along a shared path, that decision comes from a place of understanding, nuance and true commitment.
And then sometimes you just fall, and you fall hard. Sometimes reality doesn’t in any way resemble the plans and promises we make. But I don’t think anyone has ever emerged weaker for having sorted out challenges, and the same is probably true of relationships.
Considering the long-distance thing? It’s not easy, but then, is it ever?
Trust your instincts. If it’s really worth it, you’ll know.
Author: Toby Israel
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Dvortygirl at Flickr