For recent college grads, there’s a universal feeling of heart-stopping panic when facing new post-graduation realities. For some, there’s even more to it: “What’s going to happen to my relationship when we move to different cities?”
After being able to see each other every day, transitioning to a life of you in one place and your SO in another can be hard, because, let’s face it: all long-distance relationships are hard. Collegiettes around the country as well as Julie Spira, dating expert and founder of Cyber-Dating Expert, weighed in with tips for making it work.
1. Start the conversation early
While it’s clear that a conversation between you and your partner needs to happen when facing a transition to an LDR, Spira says it needs to happen early. “My best advice is to talk about your newly defined relationship before school is out,” she says. Talking things out sooner rather than later prepares you for the incoming change to your relationship and alleviates the pressure you might feel if you put off the conversation for too long.
That’s what Danai Kadzere, a junior at Harvard College, did with her boyfriend. “Though we had only been official for a few months by then, my boyfriend opened the discussion about post-graduation relationships plans in late February/early March,” she says. “I really appreciated it because communication is essential, and leaving decisions for your penultimate day together hardly sounds like a good idea.”
This conversation can of course be a hard one to start, but realize that your partner will appreciate the respect you’re showing him or her and your relationship by bringing it up. Make sure communication is open between you and your partner and that you both feel secure in the conversation. Showing your SO the respect of being open-minded will prompt him or her to act that way as well and get you both in that habit for when you ultimately go long distance.
Try starting out by discussing whether or not your relationship is even ready to become long distance. If you find that it is, then discuss some clear boundaries with your partner. It might be hard to bring up tough subjects like boundaries without sounding needy (or too distant), but it’s talking about those subjects that will keep your relationship healthy in the long run.
2. Be clear about exclusivity
Starting a life in a new city after graduation is exciting — you’ll be in a new place filled with new people who could potentially be your lifelong friends. You could also notice there are new people that you’re attracted to, and you might wonder if your SO is seeing the same with people in his or her city.
It’s important to be clear with each other about whether or not you’re allowed to date other people. Nobody likes being cheated on, especially when your partner doesn’t even know what he or she’s doing is considered cheating, so defining exclusivity is crucial to a new LDR. Make sure you both know that you’re dating each other and only each other, or that you’re allowed to see other people as well.
Spira advises that if you don’t think you can make an open relationship work, be upfront about it. “Trust is everything in a relationship, regardless of your zip code,” she says. You and your partner trust each other, so act in such a way that shows you deserve that trust.
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate
The buzzword of any LDR (newly defined or not) is always communication. “To maintain a healthy LDR, communication is key,” Spira says. “Talking about your relationship goals, agreeing on how often you’ll be getting together [in person] and having continuity in your text messages and phone calls will help your newly defined LDR flourish.”
Communication doesn’t just mean trivial stuff, either. While it’s important for you and your SO to keep up-to-date on each other’s everyday happenings, communicating about your thoughts and feelings regarding the relationship is vital. If you miss your partner, tell him or her you do! Let your partner know if you’re feeling neglected (or suffocated), and be open about how to deal with that.
Openness and judgment-free communication are the best ways to prevent jealousy. “When the dating rules change and you’re no longer seeing each other every day, it’s not unusual for someone to get jealous or insecure,” Spira says. Keep the jealousy out of the relationship by reassuring each other that you care and are still invested in the relationship. Prevent other arguments by being upfront about things that might be bothering you.
Problems don’t get resolved unless you and your partner both know the problems exist. If you have a problem with an aspect of your relationship, tell your SO about it (but make sure you keep an open mind to his or her response)! Accept that issues between you and your SO are going to arise. The best way to keep them from being detrimental to your relationship is to address them early on and in a calm and rational manner.
4. Let technology become your best friend
Take solace in the fact that technology has made LDRs way more doable. Use apps like Skype, Snapchat or FaceTime and even simple text messages to keep the spark between you and your SO alive.
“Try every day to share a little bit about your day with your boyfriend or girlfriend through text, phone call or email,” says Brittany Dillard, a sophomore at Xavier University.
Technology can help keep the romance alive in your relationship, too. Spira suggests going on literal dates via Skype. “Let technology become your best friend,” she says. “Set up Skype or video dates where you put on your favorite dating outfit and lipstick, toast to a glass of champagne or wine while on your video date and give each other virtual hugs until you can be together again.”
Get creative with your Skype dates. Try connecting by cooking and eating the same meal, reading the same book and then discussing it together or even playing the same online game! You may not be able to go on night-on-the-town dates over Skype, but connecting through these smaller and more intimate activities will help you appreciate your partner and the time you spend with him or her even more.
5. Make a couple’s calendar
While in college, making a couple’s calendar may have sounded a little crazy and overbearing, but when transitioning to an LDR, it can actually be very useful. Buy each other calendars and fill them in with both of your schedules. Include daily things, like when you’re at work, as well as dates when you’ll travel to visit each other.
“You kind of have to know each other’s schedules and be [aware] of any time differences,” says Hayley Brunk, a junior at Tiffin University, about her LDR. “It’s really helped us, I think, to know what we both have going on and communicate about when we can do what.”
Take note of when he or she is at work, when he or she does personal things like go to the gym or doctors’ appointments and when he or she might have to do business travel, and have your SO take note of your schedule, too. This will help you work out a Skype and phone-call schedule.
Take note of bigger events, too. Mark in your couple’s calendar when the two of you may have a wedding to attend together or a family event that dates are welcome to attend. If you’ve graduated but he’s still in school, mark down one of his big sporting events or homecoming weekend. Knowing these important events can help you do anything from work out a visiting schedule to being able to wish him luck on a big work presentation.
Know that in an LDR, you won’t be able to be there for everything. Spira reminds couples that, “in reality, there will be lonely nights and disappointments for special events and holidays when the two of you can’t be together.” If he can’t make it to something big or vice versa, know that this doesn’t mean that you don’t love each other; it just means that you’re far from each other and in a tough relationship.
6. Remember that small surprises matter
One of the benefits of an LDR is that you now have an excuse to do random, special things for your SO (and hope that your SO does these for you, too)! Scour Pinterest for awesome LDR gift ideas. Send your SO romantic letters via snail mail or leave him or her envelopes of love notes around his or her home on a visit for him or her to find after you leave. The surprise will mean the world to your partner.
Keep track of important anniversaries and dates (perhaps on your couple’s calendar?). Let your SO know he or she is special by saying “happy anniversary” on your anniversary. Wish him or her luck on a big work presentation. Let your partner know he or she’s in your thoughts during a busy week for him or her. “Little random acts of kindness go a long way,” Spira says. “Remembering anniversary dates in your relationship will help each other stay connected.”
Remembering the small stuff not only makes your partner feel special, but also lets him or her know that you’re still into the relationship. It’s important to feel secure in your relationship to prevent jealousy, and it’s only fair to make sure he or she feels secure as well.
“Make sure to provide positive reinforcement to your partner of your devotion to the relationship and never take each other for granted,” Spira says. If the relationship is important to you, it’s crucial to make sure your SO knows it.
7. Don’t be afraid to end it if it’s not working
Being far away from a loved one is tough, and there are plenty of rookie mistakes each person in a LDR will probably make before learning how to make it all work smoothly.
“Some of the biggest mistakes a new LDR couple makes is assuming their love is so strong that the distance won’t matter,” Spira says. The distance will matter. The distance will always suck, and it will always feel like you are missing out on something, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a fulfilling relationship from far away. Keeping that in mind, it’s important to be able to recognize when maybe this LDR thing isn’t working.
The signs of a failed LDR can be anything from issues unique to the relationship to simply not being able to handle the distance. Some couples might find it’s time to end things when missing each other becomes too much, jealousy takes over the relationship or they end up meeting new people. The important thing is to always communicate and evaluate the relationship when you need to. One of the biggest injustices you can commit in any relationship, whether long distance or not, is to neglect to acknowledge that the relationship is no longer fulfilling for you.
You and your partner might find that you both have fallen in love with your new cities and you never want to leave. Relationships can’t be long-distance forever, so it’s important to determine how long you and your SO are willing to do this for. If neither of you plan on moving to the same city eventually, it might be time to figure out if an LDR is for you.
Be open with your partner about both of your needs to determine what to do next. Whether it’s going on a break and being clear about what that means or having a definite breakup, the best thing you can do for yourself and your partner is to be honest — even if it hurts. Letting a relationship go too far without acknowledging its shortcomings can only end in heartbreak, whether it be in the form of cheating or an explosive fight. If something isn’t working, talk it out with your partner, and know that it’s okay if it didn’t work.
Don’t be afraid of what’s ahead for you and your partner following graduation, even if you are moving to two different cities. Being open and honest about what you both need and being willing to compromise will help any new LDR flourish. You have so much ahead of you in this new chapter of your life, and by maintaining a healthy and realistic relationship with your partner, you can make it work!