4 Ways I Maintain My Long-Distance Relationship

1,780 -- other than knowing that it’s a large number, its magnitude didn’t strike me as anything significant until I noticed the word that followed directly after it -- miles.

This is how far my girlfriend and I are from each other and if I hadn’t met her two years ago, even hearing about this distance and knowing where it spans wouldn’t have mattered to me. But here we are and everyday, I still find it oddly fascinating how my perception of a number has changed. Unlike before, there’s a special meaning behind its immensity. For at the end of 1,780 miles, there stands another young woman -- sort of like me -- and she, too, found someone special on the other end of the line.

In a mysterious way, the realization brought us closer together. Despite her being in Canada and me being on the south end of the United States, somehow the ‘us’ from two years ago knew that this could work. Even though being in the same place at the same time would hardly ever happen in the beginning, it wasn’t what we were focused on as we texted late into the night and wondered what the definition of us was. Before I went to sleep that night, we came to a conclusion: even though this relationship is going to be hard, we’re going to work together and make every day possible.

 

As our two-year anniversary draws near, it’s safe to assume that we’ve done a pretty good job. Through the ups and downs, through the trials and high water, she and I have grown stronger as people and closer as a couple.Through her words of encouragement and support, she -- for the sake of privacy, let’s refer to her as Lily -- became my muse on writing this article about how to maintain a lasting, long-distance relationship.

 

 

Honesty is Our Favorite Tea

I don’t like tea very much, but Honesty is a tea that I could drink regularly.

For any relationship -- whether it’s with a friend, lover, family member, colleague, etc. -- honesty is an essential ingredient to incorporate into conversations, interactions, and even in the silence where the nothingness speaks louder than any other word.

Honesty is when Lily trusts me with her thoughts when certain voices in our mind speak louder than they should. Honesty is when I’m able to loosen the mask from my face and express who I am without fear. Honesty is when one of us tells the truth in a way that the other will hear and benefit from it.

During those moments, honesty came from a tender place. I’m not exactly sure where in the heart it comes from, but perhaps honesty originates from a gentle place inside. Where in the seriousness of the moment where something must be said, honesty feels like a fragile hand clasped over my own as Lily looks at me in the eye through her texts, alone. Her voice is firm, her intention is clear, and she reassures me that I’m not alone. For every uphill battle, Lily reminds that she’s right there with me.

1,780 miles? My mind barely registers the distance during those quiet moments, because Lily and I have used our words to bridge the gap between us.

During episodes of emotional vulnerability, during those days where it gets harder to wake up and do everyday things, during those moments where Lily or I are suddenly lost in our thoughts and don’t know where to turn, we’ve been able to work together and encourage each other through most of it.

Honesty in a relationship is no substitute for when professional help is needed, but it does offer a slight buffer and chances where one of us can grow comfortable with talking about certain things that we couldn’t before. In a space of no judgment, in a safe environment where one is listened to, honesty almost becomes the bread to the butter for respect. Because Lily and I are aware and respect each other’s boundaries, we’ve found out ways of reaching out and alleviating the difficult days that lie ahead for each other.

Without honesty, it’d be a lot harder to find a rainbow after a series of storms.

 

 

Spending Time Together

In the beginning, Lily and I texted. A lot. She was often the very last text I sent at night, and the very first text I sent in the morning. At first, I sent inspirational quotes that I would find so that we could start our days with the right foot forward. Slowly over time, I stopped sending these quotes. Not because the quotes were cheesy, but because they weren’t coming from the heart. Sending these quotes felt like an obligation than out of love or care, and I knew there had to be a different way to convey how much I appreciated Lily’s company.

It took some time to figure it out because for the entirety of our relationship, it’s been through technology. At the end of many tosses and turns as she and I navigated through this, we found the sweet spot that worked for us: quality over quantity.

I think especially more-so for long-distance relationships, there’s this “feeling” where one or both members of the relationship potentially overcompensate with how much they communicate to make up for the distance. Since going to an outing together or spending time in close proximity is rare or not entirely possible, there’s almost this need of excess to convey to your partner that you enjoy being with them. It might come in waves that oddly look like spam, and it usually correlates with a lack of trust or honesty in the relationship. For there is this metaphorical hole that becomes the focus, all of the energy that could’ve been spent on quality time is now used on quantity management.

Why is it so? How could quantity mean so much in a relationship? Ah, yes -- spending time together and communication are arguably the pillars of how a relationship can last a long time. When you’re in a long-distance relationship, both of those factors suddenly fuse into one.

I’m not an expert about relationships in media or how they’re portrayed in entertainment, but I feel that there is some sort of correlation between what the media wants us to think and act and how we think and act when it comes to love. One of the patterns I’ve noticed about relationships in media recently is that there’s a significant amount of focus on the excess -- especially in regards to the beginning of a relationship and how to maintain one. There’s this obligation to talk every day, there’s this ritual where you must always tell your partner where you’re going and who you’re going with, and there’s this broken record to constantly be together. Frankly, I might’ve taken a right when I should’ve taken a left through the romance genre, or these are some of the blatant ways of how we’ve been conditioned as a society to behave in a romantic relationship.

Especially when it comes to first relationships, where you and your partner aren’t sure of how all of this works and there are numerous articles and opinions on what works and what doesn’t. It’s easy to get jumbled up, it’s easy for acts of devotion to become acts of obligation, it’s easy to get burnt out or even unsatisfied with your relationship because the love and chemistry that drew you in initially isn’t there anymore.

I know for me, the concept quantity was something I couldn’t wrap my mind around about a year and a half ago. I wasn’t sure of how to spend time with Lily, and I really didn’t know if I could keep up with all the obligations and overcompensating I tacked onto myself. In short, I was a mess. I told Lily about my thoughts and since then, I haven’t forgotten what she told me.

“Being yourself in a relationship speaks more than what you bring into it.”

As long as we were comfortable with what we were doing, as long as we were comfortable with each other, even the simplest things like a text or a phone call were special. The number of times we texted or called didn’t make-or-break the affection or the longevity of our relationship. The quality moments we shared as a couple, that was what truly defined our experience.

I can see why quantity can be such an important aspect at first because people like to feel validated. During a period of insecurity in a relationship, it’s what keeps us committed even when we’re unsure of what the future looks like. As time passes and the trust between you and your partner deepens, that spoken validation isn’t needed anymore. For in the heart, your partner and you already know how you both feel.

As I was writing, I remembered an incident about a week or two ago where Lily and I were video calling. We don’t video call or text very much as we used to, but there’s this thrill when I see a text from her or when she sees a call from me. The thought of it slipped into my mind during our call session:

I asked Lily if she wanted me to text a little more than I have been. For some time, I became kind of worried about the lack of communication on my part. It’s not unusual for me to send a text one day and send another three weeks or three months afterwards. However, for a reason I couldn’t exactly explain, I felt self-conscious about it.

After expressing my worry, Lily told me that she didn’t mind the silence. She understood that the silence was part of who I was and how I expressed myself, and she didn’t want me to push myself if I was uncomfortable with doing so.

“Even though we don’t talk as much as we did before, I think about you and you think about me. I think that is what’s important.”

 

Moments from the Heart

Nowadays when I stumble upon a picture of a cat on my social media, some things happen. Instead of scrolling past the photo, I take my time in observing the cat’s body language and how the photographer decided to capture their feline’s character. I make note if anything about the picture caught my eye and just before I scroll away, I think about Lily.

Cats are one of her favorite animals and though I don’t agree with the appeal, Lily has shaped me into a cat tolerator. When I see a cat in real life or through a screen, I don’t just see it through my perspective. For a moment in time, I’m able to step back and look at the cat again. However this time, it’s through Lily’s eyes and slowly, I’ve begun to understand why she enjoys them. To some degree, I’ve grown to enjoy them as well.

Not so much that I’m now a cat lover, but my mind made a connection between Lily and the feline world. I knew that if I enjoyed the photograph or the cat post that I stumbled upon, Lily would enjoy it as well. As soon as I can, I share the post with her and could almost imagine how bright her smile is when she pulls out her phone and sees the post across her screen.

I wonder if Lily experiences something similar when she finds chicken posts on her social media. I’m not a hundred percent sure if there are chicken posts on her feed, but I’m going to take a guess that Lily has found some on her own that she has wanted to share with me. When she finds them, I wonder what is going through her mind as she observes the birds. Does she find them comical in their strange behavior? Can she recognize some of the adorable aspects that perhaps drew me to love chickens as much as she loves cats? Or deep down, is she laughing because her girlfriend loves one of the oddest domesticated birds on this planet?

I’ve never had the courage to ask Lily on her thoughts about it, but I know she shares these posts because they remind her of me. She knows that when I see these birds, I never fail to smile. It makes me wonder sometimes if she smiles as she imagines my reaction to the post.

 

Thoughts on the Future

As much as technology has shaped our encounters and experiences, Lily and I sometimes talk about meeting each other in the future.

 

I imagine it’s me going to Canada to see her. Fiddling with my headphones, I glance out the window as the airplane lands. Snippets of the airport reflect in my eyes as the airplane drives from the runway and parks at one of the gates. There’s a moment of uncertainty before the fasten-seatbelt light overhead turns off, and my fingers fumble as I snap the seatbelt off from around me and I grab my carry-on. Backpack slinged over my shoulder, every step in front of me is something new as my luggage follows from behind. Somehow my heartbeat is louder than usual, thumping against my ears as I prepare myself for what’s to come.

What should I say? What should I do?

These thoughts flutter from one branch to another in my mind as I take my first steps into the airport. The sun is to my right and its warmth washes over my cheek as I scan the area. Unsure of what to look for until my eyes find Lily’s. I’m greeted with the biggest, softest, and perhaps one of the most emotional hugs in my life. Lily holds me dearly in her arms, pressing kisses against my cheeks until our lips meet, and I can imagine that this is what home feels like as I stumble into her arms. With all the blood gone to my head, I’ll probably wonder if I’m dreaming. But in that moment, I know meeting Lily will be like falling in love all over again.