4 Ways Long-Distance Relationships Force Independent Growth, Together

by Leviana Coccia

Though it never gets easier watching my partner zigzag through the airport security line and wave goodbye from a body scanner as he blows a kiss, I would never trade the last two and a half years of half-asleep Skype calls, delayed packages in the mail, text message arguments and time differences.

My partner is in western Canada completing his PhD at the University of British Columbia. I am on the east coast working full-time in the communications industry.

Our schedules never match; he’s always out when I’m in and he’s always awake when I’m asleep.

However, if there’s anything I’ve learned since he moved to the other side of the country in August 2012, it’s that I’m lucky to be in a long distance relationship at 24.

I know Taylor Swift doesn’t agree (cue “Come Back…Be Here” and “Girl at Home”) and Beyoncé hints I should be “Jealous,” but let me explain:

We each have the opportunity to advance our careers:

Our 20s are the time for us to explore, whether we’re in relationships or not. Now is the time to try new jobs we might hate, cram our schedules with opportunities and to try to make a name for ourselves.

We need this time to make mistakes, to learn what it’s like to budget, to learn how to adjust to adult life and to impress whomever we may be working under so one day, we can be the boss.

We need to learn what we like in a job and what we don’t. We need to learn what school didn’t teach us. Most importantly, we need the time to invest in all of this.

While my partner is spending long hours doing research, I’m throwing myself into opportunities at work and activities on the side.

While he works as a teaching assistant and attends conferences when he’s not studying, I’m building professional relationships and contacts.

Together, we’ve learned that being apart has given us more time to explore and focus on working toward our dreams.

We have an excuse to travel:

We have a compromise; he will come home two or three times a year and I will fly out west to visit him the same amount.

Together, we book day (and sometimes weekend-long) trips. We plan the dinners we will make and the restaurants we will try when together.

Every other month, we have something new to look forward to and somewhere to escape. We have this little bubble of time to create memories and we don’t take a second of it for granted.

We have strengthened our relationship:

Being apart makes text messaging our main form of communication, though we also speak on the phone and Skype often, of course.

We have learned how to express ourselves clearly and effectively, we are open and honest about our plans and we don’t hold back when something’s wrong.

We’ve also learned how to value simple conversation, like an update on what we each ate for dinner or a new workout routine we’ve tried.

The trust we have for one another has had to increase, as well. Together, we’ve worked to eliminate fears, barriers and concerns.

We do not put expectations on whom we can spend time with and whom we must avoid. We have also learned not to doubt each other or question one another’s whereabouts, either.

Most importantly, though, we’ve learned how to compromise. We understand that sometimes, scheduled Skype dates need to change because our friends want to grab drinks after work.

We understand that though we may hope to fly out for a visit next month, the trip might get delayed because of an employment opportunity or a family emergency.

We’ve talked about how our relationship, though wonderful, is a huge compromise in itself.

We know we are each making sacrifices in our relationship so we can better ourselves as individuals, ultimately benefiting our future together.

We have learned how to enjoy solitude and independence:

He and I both have more time for me time. In the last three years of our relationship, I’ve learned that I love to travel alone, I am an introvert with outgoing qualities, weekends in are my favorite, cooking for myself is an ideal way for me to release stress and learning to define my own success is one of my biggest accomplishments.

I’ve been in long-term relationships before, where I was so dependent on the other person that I hated being alone.

My current long-distance relationship has taught me to depend on myself and to enjoy solitude.

I promise I won’t conclude this piece with “distance makes the heart grow fonder” because we’ve all heard that too many times and anyone can have a healthy and supportive relationship, regardless of the type.

What I will say, though, is that being in a long distance relationship has taught me more about myself than I have ever known.

I’ve had the time to invest in my future while supporting my partner’s at the same time.

Not everyone is built for long distance, and before I signed up for it, I didn't think I was, either.

I cried a lot and listened to really cheesy Italian love songs and my Adele playlist on repeat until I realized that the distance was something I could not change.

However, I could learn to change how I reacted to the situation. Learning how to make this distance work has been invaluable.

This distance is just one of the compromises that we have had to make in our relationship so we could grow independently, yet together.