Guest columnists and contributors are generously sharing their talents and insights while I’m taking some time to care for my new baby. Today’s post comes from Meredith Cox who lives and works in Shanghai, China.
If you’re a regular reader of Dear Wendy — or any advice column — you know that the topic of long distance relationships sparks a lot of discussion. Being separated from your boyfriend or girlfriend is difficult and it’s a challenge even on the best days to keep your spirits up and the relationship strong. So, before you decide if you’re up for the challenge yourself, here are seven questions to consider:
1. How long will the separation last?
You should have at least a general idea of how long you’re going to be apart and what the end date will be. Sometimes this is easy, like, “I’m studying abroad fall semester.” But sometimes it’s not, like, “I’m going to take this job across the country and if it works out I’ll stay and if it doesn’t I’ll come back.” There’s also a huge difference in being apart three months versus three years, obviously, and you need to have an idea of what yours will be. An end date doesn’t need to be set in stone, but it is something that needs to be discussed periodically, especially if plans change.
2. How often will you see each other?
If you haven’t already, sit down and discuss a schedule and budget. Find out how much gas/ bus tickets/plane tickets will cost to see each other. You won’t be able to control everything, but having an idea of who will travel and when will alleviate a lot of headaches and fights down the road. Consider these things: How will you travel? How frequently can you make the trip? Do you have the time off from work, school or other responsibilities to visit? Will you alternate visits? Can you afford to visit each other? If one person is making more money (or has more time off) than the other, will they travel more? Will you split travel costs?
3. How often will you communicate?
You’ll also need to consider how often and by what means you’ll talk to each other. Are you someone who wants to talk every day or is once a week best? Do you want to talk via video chat, the phone, instant messenger, text messages, or all of those? You can always make changes, of course, but try to establish what you’ll do before you separate. If you’re expecting nightly Skype video calls but your partner only has the time or ability to do that once a week, you’re going to need to compromise.
4. Will you be monogamous?
You’ll need to decide if you and your partner will be monogamous or if you’ll be allowed to date other people while you’re apart. There are no hard and fast rules on this, and what works for one couple might not work for others, but you and your partner need to be clear and agree on the rules and expectations of how you’ll act and what you’re allowed to do. Maybe one night stands are okay, but friends with benefits aren’t. Will you tell your partner when you hook up with someone else or will it happen on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” basis? How much do trust yourself and your partner to adhere to the rules?
5. Do you trust each other?
It takes a lot of trust and confidence in a relationship to make it work, and a relationship that’s already shaky probably isn’t going to get better just because you’re long distance. Long distance relationships typically require more trust simply because you don’t see each other that often. You (and your partner) are less accountable to each other for what you do. If you don’t trust your partner (or likewise he/she doesn’t trust you), long distance is going to be really hard.
6. Are you independent?
Distance is a strain, even on the strongest of relationships, and being apart sucks a lot of the time. If you’ve gone from spending most of your time with a person you love to only seeing each other once a month, you’re going to get lonely. It’s inevitable. So think about how dependent you are on your partner day to day and what you’ll have to do to make yourself okay. Do you have a solid set of friends or family members to rely on and to hang out with? Do you have hobbies and activities to keep you busy?
7. Do you have an backup plan?
Finally, even though it sucks, you need to think about what you’ll do if the long distance thing doesn’t work. If you’re miserable every day, will you break up? Move in together? Plan more frequent visits? It’s not fatalistic to have a backup plan in place about what you and your partner will do if the distance is killing your relationship.