One of the most common reaction I get from telling people that I have a girlfriend back in my hometown is a mix of pity and a laundry list of reasons why long-distance relationships cannot work. Whether the belief is grounded in personal experience or a stigmatized hearsay, most people are under the impression that every long-distance relationship is set up for failure, no matter how long the couple has been together or how strong they think their relationship is. However, long-distance relationships have the potential to be quite successful.
I certainly wouldn’t peg myself as the first person to turn to for relationship advice. I’m sure that if a sweaty, teenage white boy from small-town Illinois tried to give you advice about balancing a budget or correcting your exercise regimen, you would understandably question what about you waiting for your breakfast sandwich in the café made him approach you. However, while I know nothing about finances or health, I do have a pretty solid two-year relationship, half of which has been spent long-distance.
I will admit that long-distance does have its drawbacks. It’s not a perfect situation, especially at an age when both of us are still trying to pin down our identities and understand what we really want from the world. It gets hard setting up Skype calls with the condition of our campus WiFi, and gossip goes over your significant other’s head when they don’t know the people you’re talking about.
However—and this may come as a shock—long-distance can also be a pretty positive situation. From my personal experience, the best way to maintain a successful long-distance relationship is to find a healthy balance between being individuals with differing goals and desires and being a pair that shares a deep bond.
I feel that one of the greatest parts of long-distance relationships is that you learn how to cultivate individual lives while maintaining a shared identity. Couples that spend every moment with each other can start to seem like a single unit rather than two individuals. I’ve come to realize that with a long-distance relationship, it’s important to recognize that you are on your own and to assess the needs you can satisfy on your own. You get the opportunity to see that you probably the goals that you share and the ones you don’t. This is such a great way to isolate those things that make you unique from one another and learn how to make your differences harmonious. I’ll give an example from my own personal experience.
One of the most stressful things about this year was watching my girlfriend make her decision on where she wants to go to college. It could have been way too easy to fall into the trap where I try to convince her to come to Lawrence so we could be together, and put my own interests before her wants and needs. However, we were able to assess what she really wants to get out of her college experience and how that differs from what I wanted from my college experience. Through this mindset she was able to pick the perfect college for her, even though it adds a few hundred more miles between us. And that’s okay because I want her to be as successful and happy in life as she can be without me, so if something does end up splitting us apart, we can both keep moving without having to fill each moment with bitter regret.
There should be a balance in every aspect of your relationship. You should still be interested in the things they do, but you shouldn’t feel an obligation to police their every move. The two biggest culprits of failed long-distance relationships is either one of the parties ignoring their significant other because the old ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ or they insist on knowing their every move, who they’re hanging out with and if they are cheating on them. This is just a simple function of trust and mutual respect. If your partner is not willing to stay interested in you because of the distance, then they weren’t right for you in the first place, long-distance or short-distance.
Long-distance requires a lot of self-discipline and introspection if you want to maintain one. If it works out, then both parties can be satisfied with how their individual identities harmonize with their shared identity. If it doesn’t work out for any number of reasons, then it’s a great screening process for whether or not that person was truly right for you.
Overall, long-distance is tough, but not impossible. As long as both people are truly invested in building a successful relationship and can recognize that being individuals is just as important as being a couple, then there’s a strong potential for a lifetime of happiness.