In Defense of the Long Distance Relationship (which I hate)

Let me preface by saying that long distance, in layman’s terms, totally sucks. There is nothing worse than dropping off the person you love at an airport and knowing by the time you see them again both of your lives may be entirely different, rearranged,  and shuffled around until you don’t really recognize them anymore. It’s an exercise in trust, a test in letting go of control, a constant struggle for time and energy to stay connected.
I remember watching an episode of the reality show Survivor with my mum a few years ago on a visit home (she would never leave the house between 8-9 on Wednesday specifically so she would not miss this show). It was the particular episode they have every season where their loved ones are able to visit and they all fall into hysterical weeping messes in the hot tropical air. I remember thinking, “what chumps. It’s only been three weeks… Get yourselves together! You look ridiculous! Drama queens.”
But now I understand. When you share every part of your life with someone it feels, at the risk of some type of dramaticism, like you are leaving your best parts at home- and seeing that person again is like being suddenly whole. The human brain is fickle. Take a few hours with your feet jammed in cleats, and your body wrapped in only a pair of shorts and a jersey while it snows and hails, and your fingers won’t catch a ball no matter how hard you try – and suddenly you forget how it ever felt to be warm. That’s what it is like being away from them. You know you’ll get back to that warmth eventually, but right now it’s pretty damn cold.They are your hot shower. They are your, “so this is how it feels to be loved.” And that first sight of them brings all of those feelings back in a tidal wave of emotions. So, cry little survivors. You sit in that jungle dirt and sob. I ain’t gonna judge ya.

There are days where it gets so frustrating that you want to pull things off of shelves, and yell at people for no reason because you can’t possibly explain how this feels and, even if you could, you feel stupid for missing someone to such an extent. No amount of stress relieving running, drinking or friend time can seem to make you forget how much you miss them.
There are days when going through the box of gifts, and letters and poems that have been given to you by that special person makes you feel no closer to them.
There are days that you lie in bed at night and clutch a pillow so hard to your chest that you imagine it will never reform its original shape – but it still doesn’t replace the curl of their body against yours. You come to crave the mornings. The seconds after you wake up, roll over and still think they are there. The only seconds that you find yourself not missing them.
There are days when you wonder how far the thread that spans the distance between you can stretch before it snaps.
There are days when you unfairly feel resentment over the fact that you couldn’t talk to them in the exact minute that you needed them. That you had to wait even an hour to tell them exciting news, or vent about family drama, or just grumble over how much you miss them. And then you feel guilty for being so needy.

Long distance is awful.
But the intent of this post isn’t to bash long distance, instead, my intent is to laud the parts of a long distance relationship that have somehow caused me to learn, and grow and see some positive in the never ending cycle of rock in the gut, heavy stomach, hurting heart, missing someone.

So without furthur adue:
The things I’ve learned from/ appreciate about my long distance relationship:

1. The need to communicate.
I have a communication problem. I can fill hours with idle, useless, joking conversation and by the time I am finished people will completely forget that they’ve asked me a serious question amid all my rabit trail, diversion technique, joking responses. But in a long distance relationship this type of communication doesn’t work. In long distance, your ability to communicate becomes the only thing going for you. Instead of filling your time spent with each other with activities and skirting around questions with placating kisses, ALL you are doing is talking, and it becomes apparent rather quickly when you are not communicating properly. There’s no hiding in long distance relationships. At least, not in the ones that last. Sure, being miles away from someone could make it easy to lie- but when you realize that all you have going for you is those few minutes a day when you get to hear their voice – you tend to stop wasting your time with the superficial small talk that seems to come with face to face conversation. When you begin a relationship together without a basis of communication, it is difficult (I might lean toward impossible) to effectively build that communication later without hurting someone. There is a barrier of distrust that forms when you suddenly spill the beans about something that might have been bothering you for months – and is only coming coming to light now. Feelings get hurt when you assume that everything is fine and dandy in your relationship because you’ve never had a fight – so that first one, where all those hidden feelings comes out, is downright explosive. Communication, right from the get go, is key. If nothing else this relationship has taught me the benefit and importance of honesty, transparency and the ability to, as my teachers always said, use your words.

2. You learn about your significant other
Going along with the need to communicate is the fact that you learn loads about your special someone. I’ve learned more about my girlfriend in the short time we’ve been together than in all of my other relationships combined. Deep, meaningful conversations that expose real feelings and personalities that sometimes can be easily hidden behind smiles, and laughter, and nights out on the town. I’ve been in relationships where it is easy to forget the negative personality traits because it is just so damn enjoyable to be in the company of that person. There were things that I should have noticed, but ignored because it was easier to spend time together in superficial conversation, or silent physical relationships than to truly get to the core of the person you are with. Long distance strips away that easiness. It makes you dig deeper, ask questions, and fill conversations with doing everything you can to feel more connected and closer to your person.

3. You learn to truly appreciate time.
The thing about spending less than a third of your relationship actually in the physical presence of your significant other makes you never take for granted the minutes that you do get to spend with them. Every time you see each other, it is new, fresh, exciting, and yet comfortable all at the same time. Arguments are resolved quickly, because why waste time with silent treatments and emotional distance when you only have so long that you can be together. (Let me just put a quick aside in- the silent treatment is so childish. I can’t believe people still use it in arguments. It is so ineffective and disrespectful to not just come clean about what is bothering you and give the person the option to correct it. I could write a whole blog post about how much I hate the silent treatment.) Time together is a whirlwind of excitement, as if you absolutely must get your fill of their company before the next extended absence.

4. Time apart gives you time to develop individual habits.
This seems like a no-brainer, but the amount of times I see it happen, and have been guilty of it, makes it worth mentioning.
I’ve see so many of my friends get into relationships and suddenly drop all of their personal interests in order to spend every possible moment with their significant other. To the point where an invitation to the friend must explicitly be understood as an invitation to their partner as well. These couples tailor their interests specifically so that all activities can be done together. I compare it to using each other as emotional crutches and forgetting how your legs work without the support. I will admit, that I have been guilty of putting my interests completely on the back burner, and guilty of forgetting my needs in lieu of making my partner happy. This long distance relationship has given me the space needed to see that my specific interests don’t have to be forgotten once I’m involved with someone. I’m allowed to have things I enjoy that she doesn’t, and she is allowed to have things she enjoys that I don’t. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t view people in relationships as a single entity. I would prefer to view it as a partnership where both people have inputs that mesh well together and enhance each other’s experiences. I think it is important to maintain your individuality while completely appreciating your partner’s well.

5. Long distance means great sex.
I won’t go into detail but… I’m just saying… Sure you don’t get it as often, but when you do… Awesome.

So. Sure, long distance is pretty awful, but I’ve taken so much out of it in learning about myself, my partner, and relationships as a whole. Obviously, if I had the choice I wouldn’t be in this situation, it would be nice to see her all the time, but given the reality, you gotta look for positives right?

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