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Feeling lost in a long-distance relationship

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aroplane asks:

I have been in a long distance relationship for a year now. We are in love, but he is a year older than me and is going to college this year. We decided a long time ago that breaking up would be the best option in order to avoid one of us cheating or having to break up on bad terms later on. The goal is to preserve our friendship.

The problem is we are still in love and so far we have been acting the same way that we did when we were officially boyfriend and girlfriend. We still say I love you and talk every day. At first we decided to label our status as "broken up", however we then decided that since we weren't acting broken up that we should not call our status anything and ignore labels and just listen to our feelings and be honest with each other all the time. That sounds good in theory but now we are in this relationship limbo that seems so fragile and hopeless.

My friend told me that the best thing to do in order not to end up getting taken over by jealousy down the line would be to stop talking to each other all together and try to get over one another. There is one big big big problem with that idea and that is that we are in love and the thought of not speaking to him tears me apart. I want to know my "boyfriend" forever one way or another. He accepts me and loves me for who I am. We have so much fun together. When I'm with him I feel safe and beautiful. Nothing compares to it.

If we HAVE to break up then I do want to be friends if that is all we can be, but I don't know how to do that when I would rather be his girlfriend. I need him in my life. He needs me in his. What is the best way to handle this situation?

Lena replies:

Hi aroplane,

I'm sorry to hear that your long-distance relationship is causing you so much pain. It sounds like the two of you both really love and just downright like one another, and time has told you that those feelings are really strong. The one and only but huge challenge is the distance.

Frankly, I don't see why you two couldn't or shouldn't get back together, because it seems like something that you both really want at this point. I can understand your reasons for ending the relationship in the first place, but from where I am here, they sound like things you can deal with if and when you should cross that road. Cheating is always a possibility in a relationship, but *just* being long-distance truly doesn't increase those odds. If you two are interested in other people, you could always look into other relationship models, such as having an open relationship. Likewise, any relationship can end on bad terms, but unless you two see some imminent danger barreling down the road of your immediate future, I say not to let the mere chance of something bad happening keep you two from mutually-desired happiness in the here and now.

As someone who's been in two long-term, long-distance relationships, I know where you're coming from. Every relationship is different, but I can offer some advice based on personal and others' experiences. However, I do believe that there are generally a few things you need for a successful long-distance relationship:

- Mutual interest in sustaining the relationship. A long-distance relationship can have many shapes and forms, from "We know we want to see each other every second we can and are planning on a future where we live together in the same location" to "We like seeing each other if we happen to be in the same place and have the time and interest for something quick and casual." The bottom line is that you should both discuss models as honestly as possible, and then determine what you both want.

- Time, money, and autonomy to make in-person visits a reality. Whoever said that you can't put a price on love obviously was not in a long-distance relationship! Let's face it: Travel isn’t cheap and when we get to transcontinental LDRs, we’re talking plane tickets in the hundreds if not thousands of dollars. You need to have the funds to afford trips to see each other and this affects the frequency. Along those lines, you also need the time to visit one another; if at least one partner cannot take the time off of work or school, this set of logistics just makes it much harder. Finally, you need to have either be living independently and free to choose how you live your life or really supportive parents who are cool with your frequent visiting and hosting.

- Good communication skills. You need to be able to find time and ways to talk as well as be able to share your joys, your hopes, your concerns, and your everyday stuff. The more familiar you are with each other’s lives, the better. You don’t have to chat everyday as different set-ups work for different people, but it should be enough that you both feel heard and connected. And you can’t shy away from the hard topics even if you’d rather put it off because things can build up and the longer things are unresolved, the harder it gets to work them out.

- Ability to deal with the issues that come with being apart for long periods of time. I read in a book that people in long-distance relationships go through cycles and whether the person is one hour away by car or halfway around the world, those stages are unavoidable and dealing with a certain amount of depression is required. Likewise, one must be able to deal with other emotions like jealousy, finding effective long-term coping strategies.

- A fulfilling, mostly positive life on your own in your location. This is a biggie and, honestly, pretty essential for any relationship but it’s especially important in a long-distance relationship. You should have friends and/or family with whom you can connect, have fun, and who understand and respect you and your relationship. You should have work or school that is decent, if not great, because we frankly all have to work; a challenging-in-a-good-way job is best but we all have to pay our bills somehow (and you’ll need to save the money for travel!) You should have hobbies and other interests you can pursue on your own, be it exercising or watching old films or volunteering or something completely different. No matter what your interests and passions are, it’s important to have a life outside of the relationship, too, because it’s key for your personal well-being as well the relationship’s success.

When you write that you both “need” each other in your lives, I have to comment on that intensity. We may need things like food, water and shelter but we should not and cannot “need” a romantic/sexual relationship to get us through life. Sure, you can absolutely want it and make it a priority, but it’s not a life-or-death need. If you feel it truly has become that, I would look into resources on co-dependency because that kind of relationship is neither desirable nor healthy.

- A balance or happy medium between the past, present, and future. Oh, this is a tricky one! You want to look forward to seeing each other but not pine so much that you can’t focus on any other aspects of your life. You want to be happy in your day-to-day but if you’re truly entirely happy with the status quo, then maybe you’ll stop wanting the LDR. If you focus too much on the past, you won’t be able to realistically plan for the future; if you’re so focused on future plans, you may find yourself unable to the forest for the trees in the here and now.

The bottom line is that any long-distance relationship should be one you want to be in, right now, and you’re ok with how it is in the present, even if you wish you were together on a day-to-day basis and what not. All relationships can have ups and downs but you should be feeling as balanced and positive as possible.

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Those are all arguments for how to transition back to a girlfriend/boyfriend situation and make it work. However, if it’s just not an option you both want right now, then I saw onward with working on making a platonic friendship work. While I don’t think you necessarily would need to totally cut off contact like your well-meaning friend said, taking a break from such constant contact could help make the change easier for you two. You can have whatever type of relationship or non-relationship relationship you’d like but it’s important you be honest with yourself, and right now it seems you two both want the same thing but still aren’t speaking about it directly.

As I said before, communication is key, and those heavy and hard topics need to be discussed just as much as the happy, fluffy ones do. A talk about what you two both want and expect is due, I say; in-person may be best but a few hours online or on the phone would do, too. You just have to both be ready for it and not afraid to really jump in. However, it sounds like you two are doing exactly that, which is good. I just want to see you feeling the positive aspects of your relationship even while apart; after all, long-distance relationships do, in fact, have some benefits over non-LDRs, such as giving you ample room to be your own person and follow your own interests but while also having that love and support there. Maybe it’s not there physically but it’s there mentally, and that’s good. And, again, many, many people from all walks of life, both near and far, are in long-distance relationships and have ways to make them work. They're not for everyone but they're also not automatically doomed for failure and upset.

I heard you when you say that at times the situation feels hopeless. This past week my boyfriend and I bought a plane ticket to for a visit next month; while I’m so excited, I’m also thinking “Oh no, how can I deal with yet another month apart?!” and “These plane tickets are so expensive!” and other thoughts along those lines. We’ve both been having a busy, sometimes exhausting period in our lives outside the relationship, and that can make the distance harder in various ways. Still, we want to be together and are determined to enjoy the present, look forward to the future, and just see what happens. You guys could do that, too; try to focus on neither the short nor long-term exclusively but look towards the next few weeks or months. Who knows what you’ll want at that point but if you’re both wanting this relationship now, then I say go for it! You don’t have to decide for or against a relationship immediately either but just leave the door open; all relationships evolve over time as we don’t live in a bubble and we’re all individuals. However, that isn’t to say that things won’t work out or that you can’t enjoy things while they last. And it sounds like you two have a truly special relationship and wonderful connection, and while there's never a reason why people *should* be together, what you're saying does sound like a very good foundation for a relationship.

I will leave you with some articles pertaining your situation that I think you’ll find informative. I wish you two the best in all your future endeavors and experiences and truly hope that your relationship—whatever it may be or become—is positive and rewarding. It's your choice to make but it need not be as hard as it is right now and it also doesn't have to be an immediate, final decision. Hang in there, and good luck!

Going the Distance: A Few Thoughts on Long-Distance-Relationships
Supermodel: Creating & Nurturing Your Own Best Relationship Models
Potholes & Dead Ends: Relationship Roadblocks to Look Out For
Safer Sex For Your Heart
Sexual Negotiation for the Long Haul
To Be... AWESOME or Just Be –– Tips on Making the Most of Your Life Right Now!

written 25 Sep 2009 . updated 31 Jan 2014

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