128 Days and Counting

Long distance relationship advice from a guy that’s still in a long distance relationship


It’s midnight. My stomach is turning, my mind is running and I’m confused about why I’m feeling like this. My palms are sweatier than usual, causing me to struggle to hold the steering wheel as I make my way to see her.

It’s been four months since I last saw her — before she left for college. The anxiety starts to worsen as I get out of the car. I am excited to see her, but I am unsure what to expect.

The closest I’ve been to my girlfriend in the past 16 weeks is through the screen of a four inch iPhone 4s .

I texted her my usual “here” text I send before I head to her door. To my surprise, she comes out before I get there. I see her getting closer and closer and my heart is racing. I’m close enough to her that I can just make out her facial features, and for some reason, it feels like I’m meeting her for the first time.

We approach each other and she instantly pulls me into her tight embrace. I reciprocate because it feels right, but at the same time it’s also like I’m hugging a complete stranger. She proceeds to kiss me, and again, I get the same feeling. But why? She’s my girlfriend. I shouldn’t be feeling like this because we’ve been dating for eight months already. Am I a bad boyfriend for feeling this way?

I first felt this uncertainty and anxiety during the winter of 2013 — eight months into my long distance relationship, about half of which we had spent apart. We have been together for two and a half years, but we are also entering our third year of being apart from each another.

I can already assume what most of you are thinking as you read this:

Why are you putting yourselves through this? Why aren’t you enjoying your college years?

Believe me, I had the same doubts. I mean, who wouldn’t? It’s the 21st century and apps like Tinder are perpetuating the idea that casual hookups are more ideal than sustainable relationships. This is without mention that cheating has become easier than ever — hell, the names of millions were recently leaked from Ashley Madison, a website that promotes cheating on your spouse.

According to a study published in the Journal of Communication in 2013, over 3 million spouses in the U.S. live away from each other even though they’d prefer to live together. However according to the Center for The Study of Long Distance Relationships, long-distance relationships (LDR) have no greater risk of cheating than a geographically close relationship, but the couples who are in an LDR are more likely to worry about their significant other cheating than couples in a a geographically close relationship.

Still, fearing the commitment of an LDR is common. To sit here and tell you that my girlfriend and I have this all figured out would be a complete lie. Part of me thinks that we got lucky, lucky that we were able to stay optimistic even when it felt easier to give up and go our separate ways. Another part of me thinks we were both naive and young, unaware of the struggles that it takes to be such a relationship.

Discrete Doubt. . . .

Even before the distance separates you, the self-doubt starts to resonate and even worse, the doubt of those closest to you makes it difficult to escape the clawing feeling that this isn’t going to last. I remember the people closest to me would tell me that it was romantic gesture, but their facial expressions displayed their doubt and disapproval.

Zoe Aponte, a student at Rocky Mountain College in Montana, has experienced similar self-doubt and the doubt of others regarding her LDR. “It’s difficult when everyone is either constantly telling you that it won’t work out or they tell you that if it doesn’t work out it’s because it wasn’t true love. So you can’t win either way,” she said. “ I came into this hoping it would work out but expecting it not to. And so far is been more bad than good.”

This feeling of insecurity is normal, however LDR do not break up at any greater rate than proximal relationships. In fact, studies show that if a relationship exceeds a year, the partners in the LDR are less likely to break up than one in a proximal relationships.

The constant fighting. . . .

No matter how hard my girlfriend and I try, the fighting is constant. Whether the fights are about something meaningful like the importance of communicating how we feel or something stupid like not calling or Facetiming each other when we said we would, most of the time we are really upset about is the distance separating us. It gets to the point where you just become so damn angry that they aren’t next to you to touch,hold or run your hands through their hair and the only way you can express this frustration is by getting upset over something small and insignificant.

I am not at all saying that this should be the way you deal with missing someone all the time, but every once in a while it’s okay that you do. The fighting will always be consistent in every LDR and that I am sure of. The Center for the Study of Long Distance Relationships stated that all relationships will have ups and downs, but LDR will languish in despair as compared to proximal relationships that better absorb the ups and downs due to the ability to be around each other. But the fact still remains that the more you keep fighting to a minimum, the better off you are.

The consistently inconsistent talking schedule. . . .

I remembered vividly thinking before she left to college that we would have set times for Facetiming just like Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox did in the Transformer series. I was wrong. It was absolutely nothing like that. Instead, it was a constant struggle to find time to talk in between classes, homework and the extracurricular activities that came with the “college life.”

There were also times when both of us could talk but my girlfriend didn’t want to. I never understood why she wouldn’t want to and when it became a consistent problem, I grew suspicious. In reality, it was just her wanting to spend that free time hanging out with friends or getting involved with school activities. She was just trying to fully experience living on campus and experience the fact that she was on her own and independent now.

At the same time, I was left confused because I was still living at home, attending a community college and quite frankly, still a dependent teenager.

Even when we did talk consistently, it never felt like enough. We could have talked for hours at a time but it still felt as if I was missing something. There was a void I couldn’t fill no matter how hard I tried. Expecting to talk to her every time she was free was just one of the many foolish expectations I had had going into this.

Compartmentalizing life with and without your significant other. . . .

Compartmentalizing in a long distance relationship is probably one of the more vital facets needed in a healthy LDR. People with LDR who are in school, compared to those in geographically close relationships, are generally more successful and found their education more interesting, rewarding, and constructive.

The most exciting part of every year is when my girlfriend comes home for her winter and summer breaks. While you might think it would also be the easiest part of the long-distance relationship, there are actually some caveats. For the most part it is true, except you have lived without her and it is now a part of your routine for her to be away 75 percent of the year. Her homecoming disturbs that routine, which brings us to the predicaments associated with her brief returns home:

Do I drop everything in my life because she is back? Would that be the right thing to do? If I did, it would be OK because I won’t get to see her the rest of the year, right?

As time progressed, I found myself trying to figure how to balance it all. I concluded that there was no actual way to evenly proportion the time I would have to dedicate solely to her. The adjustment was difficult because the amount of time I had to give was different every day. I decided to try to combine both of my lives together; the one where she was away would have to figure out how to include the one where she was away.

Regardless of how foolish it seemed, it was the best decision I made. I could not imagine my life without this and as odd as it may sound, this is a part of my life for the time being and this has made me into the person I am today. This sort of commitment is difficult to make for any person to make, let alone an 18-year-old senior. This sort of commitment made me mature faster and because of it, I feel more mature than others my age. In addition, it taught me to do the following:

Communicate. . . .

I did not realize how vital communication was going into this sort of commitment. In fact, it became the only thing that mattered. Living so far apart from each other forced us to communicate. Whether it be about how she aced this test in psychology or various gossip about what was happening at her school, to this day I still look forward to hearing how my girlfriend’s day was and to tell her about how mine went. It’s also more than casual conversations as our separation forced us to talk about things we didn’t necessarily want to like after just getting into an argument or talking about how we felt when one of us would do something that would bother the other.

Understand it’s the little things that matter. . . .

Most people think doing the little things means carrying out the cliche gestures of Hollywood relationships like buying gifts or flowers every week. However, the reality is that you have to start doing the things that show how much you care without outright saying “I care about you.” My girlfriend goes to school about 1,500 miles away from where I live so the little things often come in the form of a simple handwritten letter or a care package of things I know she likes. Even just listening to her when she needed to vent after having a bad day became a way I could show her I cared. The little things matter the most because it’s evident that you took the time and put the effort into to doing it since you aren’t in a position to tell or show that person face-to-face.

Trust is key . . .

I cannot stress how important this is any relationship, but especially in a long-distance one because trust is probably the most sacred bond you could have with person. When I first started this journey, my relationship was only a couple months old and I had to develop the trust with my girlfriend as quick as possible because we had no choice. I knew from the beginning that my relationship had no chance of surviving if we didn’t trust each other. I would not consider myself to be the jealous type, but I vividly remember how difficult it was for me to handle my girlfriend going out to college parties. I was so upset at myself for was acting this way because I knew I wasn’t this type of person. I was so conflicted because I didn’t want to deny my girlfriend from going out but my thoughts of the alcohol, other guys and the guys taking advantage of her consumed me to act out emotionally and irrationally.

The Center for the Study of Long Distance stated that this is a normal trait within LDR due to the fact that couples cannot physically monitor what the other is doing. I couldn’t and wouldn’t admit that I was getting jealous over an imaginary scenario that I made up in my head, but I was. It took me quite a long time to finally get over whatever you would call this, but after that I could honestly say that fighting with my girlfriend became less frequent because I can now say I fully trust her without a doubt.

The magic never dies. . . .

The one thing I have learned while experiencing all that comes with an LDR — the fighting, the constant grind and the steady feeling of emptiness — is that the honeymoon stage never really ends. I can confidently say that I am still in the honeymoon stage of relationship, even after two-and-a-half years. The feeling I get after four long months of not being physically close to her is almost indescribable.

The distance makes me appreciate every single opportunity I have with her when she comes back because I know that a day wasted on fighting over something insignificant would be one less day I get to enjoy with her. I am still as just attracted to her and my feelings are just as strong. The distance has only made our relationship stronger and the magic never seems to die and as long as I am on this journey, I don’t think it will.

Header graphic by Jennifer Sandy