For two years, the Chap and I stuck out a transatlantic relationship. I was on a fellowship in America, he was heading up the growth of a charity in London. Combatting five hours time difference and hundreds of watery, whale-filled miles apart, we got pretty good at coaxing love out of little. And though it wasn’t all tiddly pom, I think in some ways the two years struggling helped answer some of those questions that always come as a new relationship begins to get serious. (And here’s to five years, and counting.)
So I present for you my tips, to keep the “lurve” alive:
Plan out when you want to see each other and stick to it. Share the cost of travel if you can. You don’t want to be arguing about money when you’re only seeing each other four times a year do you?? Talk openly about the costs, practicalities and timings involved with seeing each other.
Skype, call, text, write – communicate! Set up a time to talk that suits you both – particularly important when time zones are involved – and don’t muck this up. If you’re running late, spend that extra money on sending a text to the other side of the world because sitting around waiting for the Skype bell to chime completely sours the eventual appearance of your beloved’s head.
Do the things you would normally do together, together. Like watching a film simultaneously while you stay on the phone (One-two-three-press play. I actually know people who have made this work). Have a glass of wine and pretend you’re on a date. Eat dinner. Exercise (ok maybe not). Talk about the intimate things, even if you don’t actually want to do it on Skype.
Call out of the blue sometimes. Or send an email when you know they’ll be waking up. Surprise them.
Think of each other. Constantly. Don’t worry about ‘building up expectations’. Just throw yourself into the waiting. They may not be the perfect person, but after four months apart, you probably don’t give a damn about their flaws.
Have a blog each. This may sound weird, but seeing your loved one’s activities on a blog like tumblr can somehow stand in for them showing you things. So if images are your thing, take photographs and post them, or share pictures you like. Put up links, comment on their posts. No one need know that you’re creating something for an exclusive readership of one.
Get a decent internet connection. No excuses. Skype can be a saviour of the long distance relationship, but it has gremlins at the best of times. It’s best if the person on the screen actually resembles your girlfriend, and not a green dalek.
Send care packages. Everything can be cheap and light. They don’t have to mean anything special, but getting an unexpected parcel is better than Christmas. Especially when it smells of the right person. And contains Guardian magazines from the last two months. And pork scratchings.
Once you meet up, travel somewhere new. It can be nice to see where your other half is living day-to-day, but it might be that much more memorable if you get out of town. This way you don’t have to sound like a boring tour guide or risk bombarding your visiting partner with all your new friends and acquaintances so that he has to go hoarse explaining who he is and what he’s doing there. Because in a long distance relationship, there’s two extra elements involved – the places you both are – and it’s easy when you then turn up to feel like a third wheel in someone else’s world.
Enjoy the separation! “Longing, they say, because the heart is full of endless distances”, wrote the poet Robert Hass. Longing makes you feel more intensely about someone. It can even prolong that honeymoon feeling for much longer than you would if you’d just shacked up immediately. Use the feeling to write angsty things in your diary, pour out your emotions in a letter or a song, and then laugh (and forget) about it when you’re reunited.
So – and this is really the clincher – make sure you will be reunited. It’s a rare relationship that can survive unending separation, or separation without hope of eventual union. Maybe there’s a time limit on your travels or your study abroad, or the work placement will allow both of you to move together, eventually. But without that crucial bit of hope, the whole thing looks a lot more dire. And, although this isn’t a total condemnation of those couples who live apart for years on end, I can’t help feeling that if neither of you is prepared to change the situation in the near future, perhaps you’d be better off looking closer to home.