Coming off of what many would consider to be a pretty excessive online-dating binge (sorry, not sorry), you could only imagine my surprise when I managed to stumble upon a man in real life. And while neither of us expected anything to come of a casual date — he was visiting the States from Berlin and I was enjoying my first summer of freedom after wrapping up undergrad — life really does happen while you're busy making other plans. In hindsight, there are definitely some things I wish I had fully understood before starting a long-distance relationship.
Every LDR starts a little bit differently. For us, it was two weeks of spending almost every day together under the pretense of me "showing him around," culminating in an emotional last day in Coney Island. As I straddled his lap, wearing his sunglasses and scanning the beach littered with half-eaten funnel cakes and various other debris, he interrupted my daydream with, "Let's talk about the ocean." TBH, that was the last thing on my mind. Sensing my confusion, he clarified, "I mean the ocean between us."
The poetic nature of the moment hit me like a freight train and I insisted that I didn't believe long-distance relationships could ever really work. He agreed. I hoped he couldn't see my tears and was instantly grateful I had playfully grabbed his sunglasses only minutes before. And yet somehow, in spite of all of the rational reasons we could both think of that made starting a relationship after two weeks of dating a horrendously bad idea, we eventually decided that I would visit him in Berlin in a couple of months and we would figure it out then. We said our goodbyes and I went home and bought a plane ticket. Here are some of the things I wish I'd known going into our relationship.
Time Differences Really Suck
The first few weeks after we said goodbye passed in a flash. I had my ticket, we knew we would see each other again in two months and we both threw ourselves head-first into busy schedules to pass the time. But little did I know that wanting to fall asleep on the phone together was never going to happen. After a couple of missed Skype dates, we both realized that if this was going to work, we had to schedule times to talk with each other and stick to them. Unlike most relationships, the time you get to see each other is really limited — so it's crucial to prioritize it. If you can both be understanding and empathetic towards each other's needs, then you'll already be on the right track.
It's Normal To Have Doubts
When an amazing person is sitting across from you at dinner and waking up next to you in the morning, it's easy to remember why you're together. But when you're on two different continents, it's much more likely that you're going to have a bunch of time to ruminate and focus on the negative.Will this ever actually work out? Am I wasting my time? Am I an idiot for thinking that they aren't sleeping with other people behind my back? Are we actually in love? Doubts are totally normal, and from my experience it's best not to let them fester.
I came up with a three-step process to work through my emotions. Stop, think, and reach out. When you feel yourself focusing on the negative, take a second to think about what you're actually feeling and if it's a result of your partner's actions or your own. If you decide that your relationship would benefit from talking through the issue, then reach out to your partner and be honest. Anyone who's worth waiting for will be eager to work through it together.
Trust Is Huge
This one is tricky if you are just starting out because trust is something that's earned over time. If you're not going to be a part of someone's daily life in the flesh, then it's so important that you feel like you can trust them. If you can't, it's a good idea to take a step back. If you're constantly wondering if your partner is up to something then you need to have a conversation about it — communication is key. And while no one wants to be badgered, if someone loves you enough to wait for you, then making some small adjustments to put your mind at ease shouldn't be a deal-breaker.
Things Can Work Out, But It's Not Going To Be Easy
Two-and-a-half years later, I feel so lucky to say that we survived a year-and-a-half doing long-distance before I took the leap and moved to Berlin. But that year an a half was far from easy. Chances are you're going to be lonely, you're going to meet other people who you might have had something with were you not in a LDR, and you're probably going to get in a few fights — but if both people are willing to put in the effort to nurture the connection and can hold on long enough then you could be in for one of the biggest pay-offs ever.
Having Plans To Reunite Is Absolutely Necessary
If I had to pinpoint the single most important element of making it through a period apart, it is hands down having a plan. My partner and I were lucky enough to be able to see each other every two to three months — but many couples spend more that six months without seeing each other. Both of us knew that saying goodbye would be so much easier if we had a firm date when we knew we would see each other again, and I don't know if we would have made it if this weren't the case.
The same goes for having a plan for when to permanently reunite, even if that date needs to be adjusted. It's important to know that you are both working towards being together at some point — or it's easy to feel like you're just wasting time. According to a 2006 study from Ohio University, a third of long-distance relationship end after three months of being reunited in the same city. So if you can make it to this point and still feel like you have something worth fighting for, than the odds are still in your favor.
Ultimately, LDRs are difficult, but they can work out. The truth is that most people aren't willing to make the sacrifices and take the risks necessary to make things work. If you're about to embark on a LDR or toying with the idea, don't lose hope — just ask yourself if what you have with this person is worth fighting for and potentially missing out on other options. If the answer for both of you is yes, then keep your head up.
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