This Valentine’s Day, I’ll be charting brand new territory: My girlfriend and I will be spending it together, physically, IRL, in the flesh. That wasn't always the case. Genna and I were in long-distance relationship for a little under two years. We got together at the end of summer 2016, and so V-Day 2017 and 2018 were spent apart. While exchanging gifts over FaceTime in 2017 was nice, 2018 was even better because I figured out how to pull off an intimate Valentine's Day date in a long-distance relationship.
Yes, maintaining a long-distance relationship requires a lot of hard work, but it's not impossible. Top challenges include schedules not being in sync, the absence of physical comfort, and communication (the most vital aspect of any relationship) living and dying with your cell phone provider's service. There is nothing more irksome than having to interrupt your partner as they're pouring their heart to you like, "I'm sorry, babe, can you say that again? You cut out." All of these challenges are ultra-apparent on Valentine's Day, a holiday for couples to celebrate their romantic and sexual intimacies, their closeness. But how do you go about celebrating that closeness when you and your partner are more than a thousand miles apart?
According to a 2013 study from the Pew Research Center, 24 percent of people who are either single or have been with their partner for less than a decade have used the Internet to maintain an LDR. That rate is slightly higher, 29 percent, when looking at 18- to 29-year-olds. And yet, despite the fact both my girlfriend and I are queer women of color, the biggest obstacle we've faced together is the distance. We've racked up frequent-flyer miles between Syracuse, New York (where I attended Syracuse University), St. Petersburg, Florida (where she went to St. Petersburg College and worked), Washington D.C. (where we met, where my family lives, and where we now live together), and London, England (where I studied abroad). In that time, we've learned a few tricks to help us close the gap.
Making plans to see each other once every three months helped. So did sending each other gifts — whether that's the odd Friends T-shirt, a solid music rec, or a meme. And of course, calling each other once a day did wonders. It helped us feel more in tune with each other's lives. It didn't matter if we were on our way to class, running errands, or on a weekend getaway in another country. We made time every single day to talk. All these LDR life tenets are what made Valentine's Day 2018 fantastic and even better than V-Day 2017.
For our first Valentine's Day together, my girlfriend and I simply opened the gifts we sent each other, over FaceTime. Don't get me wrong: the The moment itself was lovely. I remember how tickled I was to open up the plain-Jane cardboard box I'd received in the mail, only to find it was lined with chromatic red and pink wrapping paper. Inside were buttery heart-shaped cookies, a delightfully raunchy red lingerie set, a sex toy, and the sweetest V-Day card. It struck all the right notes for me.
Unfortunately, another defining aspect of V-Day 2017 was my girlfriend and I being so incredibly busy. I was taking all the meaty classes that a junior year of college tends to bring. Genna had her usual coursework load, plus the role of Head Delegate for her school's Model UN. Gift-giving felt rushed that year.
The second holiday, on the other hand, brought lingerie as well as Herbivore Bath Salts, a bath pillow, and a hat with headphones, among other Valentine's Day gifts. But we took it a step further and did a virtual Valentine's Day dinner date via FaceTime. The game plan? We picked a day and time (close to the holiday, but not the day of, since it was a Wednesday) when we were both free. And then we went out to dinner, and enjoyed a nice meal, as well each other's company in the way we would if we were on a flesh-and-blood date.
There are a handful of places I'd recommend in Syracuse for a date that's virtual or otherwise. On my 2018 short list were: Pastabilities a.k.a. the basic b*tch affair of SU student choices, locally-sourced New York hipster dream Apizza Regionale, the quaint Roji Tea Lounge and New Century Viet. I picked the lovely Vietnamese joint. Genna picked Pan-Asian fusion restaurant Asie to match. Even as we geared up for our date, I felt a sort of giddy magic fall over me.
Date night prep has a certain ritualistic element to it. Taking my nice hot shower, slipping into my ravishing best, and jamming as I finished my date night makeup — these actions made the date feel very real and concrete. My best friend Danielle also got me my first PopSocket, so I could prop my phone up and be "face-to-face" with Genna for our date. Along with double-checking that I had my head phones, date night prep involved gingerly testing which spot on my phone case would be the best for this newfangled device.
We made it to our respective restaurants with little trouble, set up a FaceTime call, ordered our food, and proceeded to go on our date. And just like we would IRL, we cracked jokes and laughed and traded opinions about our warm, delicious, Asian food. I realize that, as far as your "average" date or restaurant excursion goes, our Valentine's Day FaceTime dinner falls outside the norm. But the situation didn't feel strange. Chatting with my girlfriend via FaceTime as I was out and about felt like second nature to me. It was just an extra bubbly, extra glamorous extension of our usual relationship dynamic. Our FaceTime date felt more wonderful than anything.
Whereas V-Day 2017 had felt rushed, V-Day 2018 was born from proper planning and thoughtful execution. It felt so intimate because we weren't exchanging tokens of love in a spare moment between classes. We were giving each other our undivided attention, having a lovely sensory experience together, and truly enjoying each other's company despite the 1,100-mile difference. It wasn't perfect — we did have to call each other back once because of the service. Typical! But Valentine's Day 2018 felt like the epitome of what long-distance love could be: going the extra mile to plan tender moments with your partner and committing to these moments (and anything else) that can help your relationship thrive. Just as they helped us feel more connected in our relationship as a whole, the planning, the gift-giving, and the real-time conversations on Valentine's Day 2018 were fulfilling for us.
Every couple is different. I recognize that every long-distance couple is different, too. If you're in an LDR, you might be at that point where no amount of video-chatting or no number of well-orchestrated rendez-vous are going to dull the sting of not being "distance-closed" with your partner. Trust me, both my girlfriend and I have been there. That being said, finding opportunities to really connect — like setting up a nice date for Valentine's Day — can make all the difference in creating long-distance intimacy. It may look different for you and your partner, but taking the time to be intentional can close all kinds of gaps.