I did long distance once—for about two weeks.
I’d had high hopes, believing that if two people really loved each other, they would make it work. But the moment I set foot back home, a home that was hundreds of miles away, everything that could have gone wrong did.
There were missed Skype calls, no communication for days, jealousy, blame, insecurity, and cheating that I’m not even sure was cheating because things were so messy at that point, I still don’t know if we were technically together. Least to say, I was heartbroken, and for a while, bitter, that long-distance love—rather, love at all—would ever work out the way I always thought it could.
But the thing is, I still believe it’s possible. I still believe it’s possible for two people to be in a healthy relationship no matter how far or close apart they may be.
I’ve been in another kind of long-distance relationship for the last 25 years. It’s been one of the most fulfilling relationships of my life—and yes, we have our problems, but we always find a way to work it out.
My oldest and closest friend, Phoebe, and I have lived in different cities since we were, well, born. Our mothers were friends in middle school and started getting us together when we were kids. Both of us have moved and lived other places, halfway across the world, only a couple hours apart, and once we did live in the same place for a few months, but otherwise, our relationship has been primarily long-distance.
So, how have we done it? How have we managed to not grow apart but actually grow closer in the last 25 years of friendship?
These are the ingredients we use to make long-distance work, and ones that I believe can be applied to any kind of relationship:
1. Respect and understanding above all else. So often in relationships we treat the other person badly by not taking into consideration their life, their feelings, their time, and well-being. We live in such an ego-driven society that it’s so easy for us to just not show up to things because “we don’t feel like it.” Or we think something is too difficult so we don’t bother to reflect on how our actions will affect someone else.
When Phoebe and I make a plan to phone chat, we show up for each other. When someone can’t be there, or something has come up, we let the other person know. If sh*t happens, as it inevitably does, we apologize for leaving the other person hanging and own up to our actions. Even if it’s something small, a simple “Crap, I am so sorry” can quickly erase any annoyances on the other person’s side. And when they apologize like that, it’s also important to learn how to let go.
If we held onto those little things, it would only create tension and frustration between us. She apologized, nothing major happened, it’s all good.
Let it go.
By having that care and respect, we eliminate those thoughts that creep up like, “Maybe she didn’t want to chat because she hates me.” Or in love, “Maybe he/she didn’t show up because he/she was out partying with that cute person from work and they are smarter than me, funnier, prettier, and they’re going to cheat on me with them.”
2. Listen. Like, really listen. Some days, I need to call Phoebe and vent to her for an hour about some stupid issue that came up with an ex. On those days, she listens. She lets me talk and she gives her input when I’m finished, but mostly she listens and empathizes with me and just lets me get it all out. Other days, she needs to vent. And I let her do the talking.
I can’t express enough how invaluable it is to have someone in my life who gives me the space to do this.
In a relationship, especially a long-distance one, we need the other person to feel like we really care about their life and what’s going on in it. Maybe our partner started a new job and her boss, Gerald, has been hard on her case since day one. Maybe you don’t particularly care, or you find it hard to follow along because you’ve never met Gerald and because you have your own things going on, but it is an incredible gift to offer your partner your ear even just for 10, 20, 40 minutes of your day.
3. Independence. Since Phoebe and I have been doing long-distance for our entire friendship, of course we have different lives. But with my ex, it was really difficult because I’d been part of his life before I left for home. I knew the places he was going out to, the streets he was walking, who he was walking them with—and I couldn’t be part of any of it. I had to recreate my own life back home, and find things that I enjoyed doing irrespective of him.
In our relationship, it failed miserably because I was doing what I like to call: unhealthy, codependent independence. I wanted to show him that I too could have fun and go out, and oh not respond to his message right away because “I was out with friends and should be able to enjoy my time without him,” in other words, payback for when you went out and ignored me for 10 hours straight. It was coming from a place of resentment and jealousy rather than for the joy of living my life for its own sake.
In my healthy long-distance relationship, we both have full, rich lives that we live, and when we talk, we come together to tell the other about it. Or, we are stuck in a rut and things aren’t going well, but we don’t depend on the other person for our happiness. We relate. We empathize. We give each other advice for how to make things better. And yes, those moments chatting about it does help, but she is not the source of my happiness, and neither am I, hers.
We also both have other, close friends in our lives. And I would never want her to not have those people in her life. Which brings me to my next point:
4. We are never (or rather, rarely) jealous. Jealousy is always a hot topic, and I’ve been on both ends and everything in between it. In my unhealthy, long-distance relationship, there was a lot of jealousy (at least on my end) whether or not it was outwardly expressed. I was jealous of every person who got to be in his life when I couldn’t be. I was jealous of his life—that he was out there doing things and I was at home, alone.
It obviously stemmed from insecurities, from deep-rooted ones and ones brought on by lack of numbers one, two, and three above. But I really wish I had vocalized some of these thoughts at the time and tried to work through them.
With Phoebe, jealousy is rare and most of the time, nonexistent because we are secure in our friendship. I just know she’s not going anywhere, and I know that even though she has close bonds with other people, it doesn’t discredit what we have.
When there have been rare cases of jealousy, we talk about it. And we laugh about it. And we figure out where the heck that was coming from. And we reassure each other. We don’t get angry or accusatory, we don’t shame the other person for what they’re feeling, which only makes the jealousy monster grow bigger.
Long-distance love is f*cking tough. It’s tough because your mind goes to places when there’s gaps, unknowns, and the imagination has no choice but to run wild. In my relationship, there were literal gaps, times when I wouldn’t hear from him for days, and of course I went to the worst possible scenarios in those moments.
But what I had to realize was that jealousy wasn’t helpful. If he was off cheating on me, he was going to do it regardless of how I reacted to him.
5. Real-life, regular meet ups. With my ex, because the distance was so far and, well, we broke up before we had the chance to explore this, the next time we were going to see each other always seemed so out of reach.
I wish, when I’d left, I booked that plane ticket right away as a beacon to hold onto. Instead, there was this abyss of not knowing when the distance would end and when we’d see each other again.
With Phoebe, we used to always, without a doubt, see each other at least once a year. We made a plan and we stuck to it. Occasionally, we met up in different parts of the world and got to make these wonderful memories in person, away from our homes. And when we met up, we were excited to explore the other person’s life and we always made a point to be present when we were together, because we knew the time together was fleeting.
Long-distance relationships are hard. I know that friendship is a little different than romantic ones, but I strongly believe that these ingredients are what make any relationship last.
I know when (if ever) I get into another long-distance relationship, I’m going to be terrified that the past will repeat itself, but I also hold onto the hope that it is possible because I have living, breathing proof of another, much stronger one.