May 3, 2020

How to Conquer a LDR

Photo by Anna Elizabeth Photography
(please scroll down to see more of my favourite photos from our proposal session!)

Long distance relationships are tough. They go against our natural drives to crave touch and physical proximity, to be held after a long day and to experience life with the people we love. Even with increasingly innovative video conference platforms, fulfilling long distance relationships still require a lot of intricate work, an acceptance that love will be painful at times, patience, and a deep resolve. 

As someone whose education and career has pulled them away from all their loved ones—my family in Seoul, my sister in Brooklyn, my best friend in Flushing, and of course my fiancé in Florida, Virginia, and now LA —my long-distance relationships span nearly a decade. The honest truth for me is that the distance hasn’t gotten easier with time; I’ve just figured out better ways to deal. Thankfully, for my fiancé and I, our six-year long distance story is finally coming to a close sometime in 2020 and this blog post is about us, the love we’ve built across distance, and how we’ve gotten through our ups and downs. 

Michael and I met in Korea, just before I turned 16. We met in pre-calc, swam on the same team, and became very good friends. After we graduated, it seemed that Michael and I would go our separate ways. But by chance, college ended up taking us to the same state. I started my freshman year at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign and Michael started his just a four-hour bus ride away at Northwestern University. Our long distance story began in 2014 and in the past 6 years, we’ve lived in 6 different cities, experienced dating across timezones, and also have been at the mercy of Michael’s service in the US Navy. 

During this relationship, I’ve accumulated some insights on how to survive (and even enjoy) a long-distance relationship and I’d love to share some of those with you!

Be honest in what you’re looking for.

In my experience, long distance relationships are not conducive for “casual” dating. Since you’re not physically together, it’s difficult to spontaneously hang out every few days or superficially chat about the things that are going on around you. You don’t share the same friends or routine, so the relationship automatically centers more closely around you two and every interaction is a bit more intentional. When Michael and I first started dating, I often got spooked by how fast our relationship progressed emotionally and really wished that we could just “shoot the shit” together sometimes. So before committing, it’s important to be honest with yourself about what you are looking for and how you can best achieve that with the person you are with. 

Set expectations for communication.

Everyone’s advice on a “good” relationship is communication, but even before that I think LDRs need to set expectations for communication. For example, Michael and I talk every day – once in the morning and once in the evening. I text him whenever I can, and we’re basically always chatting unless we’re busy with other things. My friends are also in a long-distance relationship but both of them are incredibly independent. They talk once a week, are super in love, and are thriving in their relationship. But it’s really tough when one person is expecting to talk every day, whereas the other half needs more alone time and space. Keep in mind that this obviously ebbs and flows over the course of a relationship so, just make to check in and make sure you’re on the same page once in awhile. 

Share your calendar.

Ok this one is definitely not a must, but has helped me in so many ways. I’m a huge planner through-and-through and I have my days planned down to the minute. Although we usually talk about our days, it’s been really helpful to see our schedules next to each other so I know when we’re both free for some quality time. Also, by using the calendar, I know when Michael is hanging out with friends or busy at work so I know not to call and can give him the space to enjoy his life! 

Get to know their friends and family.

Picture this. You haven’t seen your S.O. in 2 months. You finally get to spend some time with them, but you only have 48 hours. This was a really common occurrence for me and Michael. And trust me, the last thing I wanted to do was to share him with his friends. I mean they get to see him all the time right?! Plus, it’s kinda awkward to meet people that you don’t really know. But I think it’s so important to see your S.O. in their own community. Getting to know the people he loves allowed me to view Michael as a more comprehensive human being. Since most of our interactions are usually just between us two, I sometimes forget that he’s a whole other person with a rich and beautiful life outside of our relationship. I love seeing him laugh with his friends, banter with his family, and ultimately I love seeing him lead his life outside of our little relationship sanctuary. (I also adore his friends & family so that’s a huge plus). 

Figure out your limits.

Specifically for the amount of time you can hold off until seeing each other again. Figure out how long apart is too long, how it impacts you, and how to mitigate the effects. For me, it’s about 2 months. Once we are apart for about 2 months, I stop missing Michael, get pre-occupied by my own life, and it kind of turns into an “out of sight, out of mind” situation. Personally, when it gets to the point where I start to continuously prioritize other things over our relationship, I immediately let Michael know and this makes us slow down, give our relationship a bit more attention, and reminds us to set apart time to reconnect on a deeper level. We also try to see each other every month and a half so this happens less and less. 

Cut them some damn slack.

Long distance is tough for everyone and it’s important to remember that your S.O. is probably trying their best to make it work as well. It’s okay that sometimes they forget to text you because they’ve had a busy day at work. It’s okay that sometimes they sleep through your weekly date night because they were out late last night with their friends. It’s even okay that sometimes they’d really rather just read a book alone rather than watch a movie with you. If you’re pissed about something your S.O. did, take a step back, ask yourself if this is a regular occurrence and if not, remember that they’re human and cut them some damn slack. 

Dream a little.

Common advice that a lot of LDR couples give is to make sure you have an end date. While I agree that not having an end-date is tough, I don’t think it’s an end-all-be-all. A few years ago, Michael and I had no end-date in sight. Michael had Navy obligations in some smaller military towns and I wasn’t ready to move there before even having the chance to start my career. At that time, we knew that it was just the beginning of our long life together so it was okay to not have an end-date. But it definitely did help me to imagine our life together in the future. It made me want to work harder for us when I could imagine us enjoying our lazy Sunday mornings on our own little porch. 

Enjoy your independence.

People always come up to me and say “Omg, I don’t know how you do a LDR” or “Oh man, when’s the next time you see Michael? It must suck!”, but honestly? It’s been quite an amazing experience. I started dating Michael when I was so young. I was 19, had no idea who I was, or who I wanted to be. The LDR gave me the space to understand who I was as an individual while also simultaneously being provided with the support of a beautiful relationship. It allowed me to become more independent, more flexible, and more forgiving. It helped me to speak up and clearly communicate my emotions. It taught me the importance of waiting and working to build something amazing. And most importantly, it gave me the freedom to shamelessly eat chocolate ganache for dinner. 

That’s it! Those are a few of my MANY tips to conquer a long-distance relationship. Of course, each couple is different so take these tips with a grain of salt and if you are in a long-distance relationship, I’d love to hear your tips & stories as well.