1. How much money and time do you want to spend on traveling?
When you really like someone (dare I say love?), you want to see them a lot more than just once a year. Most people don’t have the budget for more than one or two major trips in a twelve month period; if you’re a free spirit traveler and adept at hopping Greyhounds for 52 hours straight, or finding the cheapest courier flight to Thailand, good on you, although you’ll still have to shell out for visa fees. But most other people have limited budgets (and, if you have a regular job) vacation time. All of your extra money and time will be spent visiting your partner. That’s not a joke or an overstatement; you are going to want to see them, and you’ll be willing to forego luxuries to scrape together the cash for yet another flight to Luxembourg. They’ll be able to come to you sometimes, too, of course, and you’ll rack up a ton of frequent flier miles if you can keep your tickets all on the same airline. But, honestly, a long distance relationship is time-consuming and expensive, and eventually most of your conversations are going to deal with how one of you can move to where the other one is, or you can both move to somewhere new…or how you should break up because you never see each other.
2. Am I okay with missing my partner’s everyday life?
As mundane as it is to be able to call your partner on Friday for a spontaneous dinner date Saturday night, that mundanity is one you can’t enjoy with your beloved several time zones away. Sure, texting means you can share every detail as it happens, but that’s not the same as cuddling on the couch or playing rock, paper, scissors about what to watch on Netflix. If something is bothering you, by the time you get to talk to your lover, you might decide it’s not important enough to say anything…you have such limited time together on the phone, you don’t want to bring up anything negative. Pretty soon, there are a ton of small details that get minimized or pushed to the side, and you don’t know them as well as you thought you did. Technology is great, but it can’t make up entirely for physical and geographical absence. This can especially turn into a problem if your partner goes out more than you. It can start to feel like a contest — who has the coolest, most fun, most interesting life? — and become a source of frustration or resentment.
3. Do we want to be monogamous or not?
This one’s pretty important. You will probably have a period where you feel like you don’t want to have sex with anyone but your partner. That’s amazing and fantastic and you can send each other links to sexy Tumblr gifs all day long. But sometimes you just want a cuddle or an orgasm with another human being, that doesn’t involve Skype and adjusting camera angles, and then you will have to decide if you can wait six months until the next time you see your friend in person…or if you want to have an agreement to sleep with (or date) other people. This is not a decision that should be undertaken lightly, by any means — if monogamy is what you want, you definitely should stick up for it. There’s no reason why long distance monogamous relationships can’t work, if both partners can commit to that. But your partner is definitely going to be spending a lot of time with people who aren’t you, and that can make you feel jealous even when their intentions are completely nonsexual: hearing about the super fun time they had somewhere you wish you could have gone too will likely make you feel cranky even if the conversation doesn’t end with “…and then we enacted the Kama Sutra.”
4. Can I understand this person?
You laugh, but communication is key to successful relationships…especially when they are long-distance, and require a ton of work. Can you speak the same language, enough to grasp important abstract concepts? I read a series of studies about western men marrying Thai women awhile ago, and they revealed that something like 60% of these men never learned Thai…even if they had been married for 20 years, and even if their wives spoke little to no English. If you can’t speak each other’s language very well, can you learn? Duolingo is pretty great for quick lessons (my husband can already say “The horse does not wear pants” in Swedish). Even if you speak the same language, be aware that there may be culturally-based misunderstandings; my husband (an American) was frustrated and confused when he first moved to Canada because he thought everyone was being wishy-washy. Canadians just have a more circumspect way of asking for things or designing job tasks than people from the U.S., and it took him a few months to adjust. As every Australian I met delighted in telling me when I first moved there, too, “fanny” means something different in Australia than it does in North America. Furthermore, so much of communication is nonverbal, and body signals and gestures vary wildly from culture to culture.
5. How far away are we, really?
Time differences can seriously mess with your relationship. I mean, you don’t think they’re a big deal, but after awhile (a year? two?), it can get dreadful if you wake up while your partner’s been at work for half the day already. A perfect example of this is when I found out I was pregnant: my husband and I were living on opposite coasts, and I was first in the door at the dollar store that morning (in EST) to get pregnancy tests…which both came up positive. Stunned, I had to wait THREE HOURS for my husband to wake up in California. I was practically foaming at the mouth by the time he got my “CALL ME IMMEDIATELY DO NOT PASS GO” text message. You can’t have simultaneously shared experiences multiple hours apart; someone is always waiting for someone else.
6. How happy are you to be alone?
Long-distance can work very well if you are the kind of person who likes to hang out in restaurants with a book, or sleep diagonally across the bed. You have all the joy and support of having a partner, without any of the squashing of your personal space. If you are a little bit more of a loner, long-distance might actually be the perfect relationship style for you. Conversely, if you really hate being alone and are always flipping through your contacts to find someone that will come over and watch The Mindy Project with you, maybe long-distance is not a great choice. Determining this might make you face some unpleasant truths about yourself that you’d never considered before; remember, it’s about what’s actually true, not what you wish was true or what used to be true. Be objective in your self-assessment…at least, as objective as you can be. My husband and I both gave each other a long pre-dating spiel about how neither of us were looking for anything serious right now, and we definitely didn’t want another long-term relationship (too much work, too serious). Oops.
7. What are some things I can do to make this work?
Some little ideas I’ve heard from long-distance lovers: send postcards, packages, and other small items through the mail, even if you live in the same country. Make a private Facebook group just for the two of you, so you can write each other notes and read them throughout the day. Schedule Skype calls and dates, at regular times. Watch movies together by video chat, pressing play at exactly the same time. Plan your next visit. Write stories together, three words at a time. Learn an instrument together, or a language. Start a book club of two. Someone I know made his long-distance partner a stop motion video of his morning routine and commute, taking one picture every few minutes or so and stitching them together into a video that showed how he bicycled to work and some street art that he adored. Feel free to start doing this even if you live next door to your sexyperson.
8. Are you ready to get absurdly intimate?
Every time you see them before you move in together will feel like a tiny rehearsal of married life, because you can’t just have a stress-free dinner and a movie date, where you both go home to separate apartments afterwards and don’t see each other for a few days; you’ll be in each other’s pockets for weeks at a time, and then won’t see each other for several months. You’ll see each other in your underwear or sleep-farting on your second “date”. Communicating by the written word also seems to make it easier to get very close, very quickly; you find yourself sharing intimate details and secrets and feelings way sooner than you would with someone you met at a bar. You may find that you know more about your partner’s history of childhood assault than about their coffee preferences…which can make you shy when you’re finally together.
9. What’s your goal, here?
Presumably, you want this relationship to go somewhere. It might physically go somewhere, in that you may end up moving to a different part of the world than one you grew up in, or where all of your friends and family are. You might end up having to rely on them to support you financially until you can get a job (or a work visa) in whatever new home you’ve chosen together. You will likely end up living together sooner than you might have otherwise. You may have made commitments and promises that made sense from a thousand miles away, but you change your mind when you get up close. If you had a relationship that is turning into a long-distance one, having a time limit on the distance can do wonders for improving your feelings of loneliness and dis-ease. Generic poppycock about missing each other is all well and good, but without a concrete end game, which you can build together as you go, the relationship will feel like a lot of work for no serious outcome. The interesting aspect of this, is that all relationships should have a come-to-Jesus conversation about where they’re going, even if they aren’t long-distance…it’s just that being far away forces those talks to happen, which I think is a good thing. Explicit communication is great, especially with your chosen life partner.
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