The Only 5 Things Your Long-Distance Relationship Needs To Be Successful

by Sarah Bricker
New Line Cinema Warner Bros. Pictures

Long-distance relationships can be really hard. Anyone who says differently is a liar or just really, really lucky. We failed the first time we tried a long-distance relationship. In fact, it resulted in a temporary broken heart and some cross-country moving.

But assuming you're in the majority and your love is far away, how can you make your heart grow fonder, despite the distance? We looked back at our first attempt at a long-distance relationship, and have since tried to figure out what we did differently the second time around.

I met my boyfriend when he drunkenly asked if he could pet my (then) 6-month-old Malamute puppy. We lived in the same apartment complex, and we often saw one another across the parking lot. I'd seen him once before, when I'd first moved in that August. As I watched him swagger toward the gym in a cut-up t-shirt that showed off his broad shoulders and chiseled chest, my immediate thought was, “Player. He's probably a douche."

Fast-forward to 2016. That actually non-douchey, shy and extremely puppy-dog-like man and I have been going strong for just almost four-and-a-half years now. We were juniors in college when we met. We spent our remaining time at the University of Missouri, falling in love and growing through hardship and change.

But the future held one very scary and daunting change for us: living apart. We had to live 12 to 15 hours apart, to be exact.

Long-distance sucks. It just plain sucks. It's hard. Sometimes, it's really f*cking hard.

We kind of screwed up the first time we tried it. But we learned from it. Now, with our second long-distance attempt underway (over a year-and-a-half of success so far), we've been keeping these five things in mind. We've not only kept the romance alive – despite being 12 hours apart 90 percent of the time – but we've actually built a stronger relationship.

1. You don't have to talk all the time.

Despite what most people may think, couples really don't need to talk all the time, especially those who are long-distance. By embracing our individual responsibilities, hobbies and interests while we're apart, we choose to talk about the things that are important. I don't need to text him every day and ask how his morning was, just as he doesn't need to know every detail of how my afternoon meeting went.

Additionally, by pursuing your individual responsibilities and interests, you are solidifying your own independence and identity. This ensures that when you do come together, the relationship is stronger because it incorporates equality and respect between two unique, individual beings.

2. Plan with money, time, the holidays and compromise in mind.

The worst part of long-distance? Money. Airplane tickets and gas add up quick, even if you split the travel expenses or dates. Depending on what you do for a living, you probably don't have enough PTO to make seeing one another more than once or twice a month possible. The best thing to do is try to plan out your year in abstract. Factor in costs, time together and any obligations either of you may have.

First, identify the paid holidays for each of you. These are a gift, and if you can try to plan longer visits around these days, you can save the PTO for the months when work doesn't have any holidays off. This way, you can give yourself more long-term visits.

It's better to have more time together less frequently than 10 hours together every month or every other week. Ten hours is simply not worth it when you spend 20 hours (or more) traveling.

Secondly, look at important dates when you feel you should be together (Valentine's Day, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) and agree on who gets to declare “home base” ahead of time. When it comes to actual holidays, though, don't just decide to alternate. Instead, consider which location offers the best in terms of cost and the amount of time you can spend together.

For example, for Thanksgiving last year, we knew we could spend $700 and fly to Texas for two days, or we could both drive to Missouri for $80 to $100 total and spend four days together. We could even bring the dogs for free. Missouri was the obvious choice.

Thirdly, obligations can come up that either interfere with your original plans, or may prevent you from seeing each other at all. If it's a mutual obligation, plan your visit around it together (ie. a wedding for a friend of yours).

If it's something that keeps you apart, decide on how you want to work around it. This year, we won't see each other in May because he has a bachelor party and I can't take any more time off from work. But instead, we compromised.

We decided to meet in the middle by driving to Missouri for a wine weekend in April. Then, we'd use our friend's wedding in June for the next visit. This way, we save money and get the most time together.

3. Get old-fashioned with the mail again.

I have a really annoying habit of writing really long, emotionally-filled birthday and holiday cards to my boyfriend. It's a side effect of being a writer. But it sparked the idea for us to send spontaneous care packages to each other throughout the year.

When your mother has sent you care packages your entire life, your boyfriend has a lot to live up to. Yet, when I got my very first one from him, I was in shock. He'd beaten my mom's care package skills.

By the time I had unpacked his box, my countertop hosted "This Means War," "Ella Enchanted," a pumpkin spice-scented candle (because in October, my inner basic girl comes out), six hand-picked, fall-flavored craft beers, a bag of Reese's Pieces candy and a small, rawhide bone for my dog.

Guys, take note: This is how you do boyfriending right.

4. Get creative for when you do see each other.

When you're actually with each other, get creative about your date ideas. Whether you're alone or with a group of friends, step outside the typical dinner and a movie plan. Instead, opt for something that will create a lasting memory.

An all-day brewery tour that includes six different locations or festivals that are unique to your individual cities are great ways to not only make the most of your time together, but to also experience new things together. The last time my boyfriend visited me, we went to the Mall of America because neither of us had been.

We ended up hitting up an aquarium and loving it. The little-kid level of excitement we exhibited while petting the stingrays was almost cringe-worthy. Yet, we didn't care one bit.

5. Don't neglect sex. No, seriously.

Obviously, every couple is different. But for us, sex is a huge part of our relationship. It's difficult to explain.

But in short, even after over four years together, the first thought we have when we see each other is wanting to jump each other right then and there. That butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling has somehow never left us and I, for one, am grateful.

I've seen friends of mine live together and have less sex than we do. In all honesty, it makes me sad. While, at times, you may want to let exhaustion or responsibility outweigh your instinctive sexual nature, don't.

Trust me: We both work over 80 hours a week in high-demand, stressful jobs. He's in category management and I'm in communications and PR. Yet, we make the time to let it all go and just focus on pleasing each other.

Just a little bit of physical time when you're together can go a long way in helping to keep your relationship going strong while you're apart. That being said, FaceTime can also really come in handy if you're going into a 13-week streak apart.

Ultimately, love is what you make of it. Whether you're five minutes apart or five states apart, love requires commitment, effort and hard work. You can't have the relationship you want by simply assuming the “If it's meant to be, it'll work” attitude.

No. You have to work at it. You have to face the hard times with the same effort you enjoy the good ones. Love is nothing more than the sum total of all your decisions and actions, both as individuals and as a couple.