2000 miles

Illustration by Cara Seccafien
Illustration by Cara Seccafien

Dealing with long-distance relationships

By Duncan Fingarson, Contributor


August 21 this year was a significant day for me; it marked the beginning of the end of a seven-year long-distance relationship. Not the relationship, though, just the ā€œdistanceā€ bit. Seven years is a long time to go with only being able to see your significant other once or twice a year. Two thousand miles is a very long way to go to see them. You see, my girlfriend is from Florida.

We met, as many do these days, over the internet. Technology is great, allowing people to meet, talk to, and strike up friendshipsā€”or relationshipsā€”with those who share similar interests. The internet brings us closer together, but only metaphorically. Physically, the trip to Florida twice a year was still a long and expensive distance to travel. Long-distance doesn’t have to be all that long, though. Somewhere as close as Vancouver Island counts just as easily, costing a day of travel and a couple hundred bucks to visit just the same. 500 kilometers or 5000, it’s still a barrier, and not an insignificant one. You need to find ways to deal with that.

There are a few major pitfalls involved in long distance, the first also being the biggest; it is categorically not for everyone. Being apart from someone you love is hard, and requires a certain amount of trust and independence from both parties. You need to be comfortable occupying your own time. If you’re the sort of person who wants to go on a date to the movies every other weekend, you might struggle a little if the person you want to go with lives in a different city, time zone, and country.

Have a schedule. This might not be easy, but it doesn’t need to be exact. Let the other person know when you’re going to be around if they want to talk, and find out when they’re free. If you’re at school or work, that’s what you want to be focusing on. When you’re at home and you’ve got time to talk, let them know when that is. Don’t forget to adjust for time zones. The East Coast is three hours ahead of us, and there’s nothing worse than coming home at 10 p.m. after a long day hoping to have a nice chat with your partner, only to find out they went to bed hours ago because you forgot it’s one a.m. there.

Just like in a more typical relationship situation, it’s important to do things together. Skype was huge for me, though there are other voice chat options if Skype isn’t your thing. Being able to see the other person and hold a normal conversation at standard speed is a big deal. This is the age of text messaging, but sometimes texts just aren’t fast enough, and they always lack the contextual body language and tonal clues people naturally look for. So if you’re going to try the distance thing, figure out a way to talk. Communication is an important part of any relationship.

Just being there is important, too. You can watch Netflix together, provided you both have Netflix and a good enough connection. Play video games with your significant other, or read the same book. If you’re talking as much as you should be, you’ll run out of things to say sooner or laterā€”bring in some stuff you can both do and talk about without necessarily being in the same physical location.

Speaking of physical location, always, ALWAYS be planning your next visit. At some point, both parties are going to want to meet each other. Once they do, if the relationship still looks like a thing they both want, there’s got to be some time that they can actually spend with each other. For me, this meant a lot of vacation time spent flying down to the Sunshine State. Once I was there, one of the things I made sure to discuss was when I’d be able to visit again. Setting dates gives you something to look forward to, something you can count down towards. You might be surprised how much of a difference this makes.

Take some photos while you’re at it. For many of us, this won’t be a problem. Phones have cameras, and people take their phones everywhere with them. I’m an outlierā€”my phone is an ancient Nokiaā€”but I do have a digital camera. I’m not much for taking pictures with it, but looking back, I wish I’d taken more. There’s a lot we did in those seven years that never were recorded, and now I don’t remember some of it. Collect some memories, buy a few souvenirs from the places you go together. You’ll thank yourself in the end, and the pictures might come in handy for proving the relationship later if you need to convince immigration.

Immigration comes in because, of course, the end goal of long distance will in most cases be, as in mine, the elimination of the ā€œlong-distanceā€ qualifier. That means somebody’s going to have to move. Moving can be a daunting task, especially if it’s across an international border. Figure out early in the process who wants to move where; chances are one of you will have fewer roots put down. If neither person wants to move, that might be a sign to look for something a little closer to home. Once you know who’s going to move, do your homework. Moving from BC to Alberta is fairly straightforward, but moving from the US is a whole other kettle of fish. If you get this far, go talk to a lawyer; it’ll be worth it.

Oh, and it should go without saying that a long-distance commitment is still a commitment, but I’m going to say it anyway for posterity: Just because your partner can’t catch you isn’t any license to cheat. Like any relationship, you should be establishing boundaries early on. Once you’ve got them, stick to them. Your life will be a hell of a lot easier, and you won’t put additional strain on an already difficult situation. Living far away from your partner is hard enough, so thereā€™s no need to complicate things. Trust and communication are still the foundations of a stable relationship, no matter the distance involved.

Last, don’t feel too bad if it doesn’t work out. Like I said at the beginning, distance isn’t for everyone. I’m frankly amazed that we made it work as long as we did, and if I could have cut a few years off of the time I would have. My first long-distance relationship failed miserably after less than a yearā€”learn from it, and move on.

One last thing, for those still on the long-distance road. When you hit the end of that road, and when the distance is finally gone, it’s truly worth it. It’s a lot of hard work, there’s easier ways to go about finding a partner, but when you think you’ve got the one, and you really want to make it happen… go for it, and good luck.