Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

7 Questions to Ask Before You Start a Long Distance Relationship

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.

* In the last five years, Meredith Cox has lived in America, England and Thailand. She currently lives and works in Shanghai, China. She likes new music, old music, and planning her next holiday.




7 comments… add one
  • Kerrycontrary December 7, 2011, 2:27 pm

    Totally agree on all these things! My boyfriend and I have been in an LDR for over 2 years, and these are things I always tell people to talk about.

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  • savannah December 7, 2011, 2:34 pm

    LDR are not for the weak or insecure. They also suck. But if it sucks more to not be with the person than it does to be in a LDR than it’s worth it. Rounding on 2 years with my boyfriend, and he’s stayed with my through both his and then my college graduation, me moving to bangkok for a year and then back to the states where we continue to be a 6 hour drive from each other. Trust is key and handwritten letters keep my paranoid alter ego at bay.

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  • GatorGirl December 7, 2011, 2:34 pm

    Overall, I think these are great. LDR are challenging. I would maybe add a question about communication. It’s woven into a bunch of the questions, but one thing that made my BF and my 3 year LDR work was open communication. We talked about what ever came to mind no matter if it made the other person mad or sad or what ever. If you and your partner are not willing to be totaly open and transparent in your conversations, I don’t think it’s going to work.

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    theattack December 7, 2011, 3:02 pm

    LDRs are not for the faint of heart. I’ve done it with my guy for a year and a half now, then 2 and a half years a while ago. They are very, very hard, and it can be miserable at times. The most important question to ask yourself is if continuing to be in a relationship together is more important to you than all the sacrifices you’ll have to make: giving up many weekends, a lot of phone and/or Skype calls that may take up your week nights, money in travel, not having a date to a lot of things and wishing he could be there, sleeping alone, etc.

    You cannot be jealous if they go out to lunch with other people. In fact, jealousy in an LDR is a lot worse than in a regular relationship. Because of that, questionable behavior is also a lot worse. For example, I let my boyfriend know if I’m going to dinner with a guy friend, because if someone else saw and told him about it, it might make him worried over nothing. Those worries fester more in LDRs and are more difficult to deal with. I’ve found that it’s better to be tell each other some things like that that aren’t normally necessary in in-person relationships. It’s a confirmation of trust and openness, and it avoids problems. You also end up having to interact with other people differently. Other guys never see me with my bf, so they don’t know he exists. I end up having to drop him into the conversation a lot more on purpose so that people get the hint.

    The end date cannot be emphasized enough. Not everyone will have a clear-cut end date, so you may need two or three plans, or phases that change over time.

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    CatsMeow December 7, 2011, 3:26 pm

    I’d like to know if anyone has LDR advice specifically for military deployments? A lot of the above applies, except visiting each other is out of the question and frequency of communication may depend largely on outside factors. My boyfriend is getting sent away and I’m trying to prepare myself/us as much as possible.

    I’m scared for his safety and well-being first and foremost, but also for our relationship – and wondering if we’ll be able to reconnect when he gets back. Has this been a problem for anyone?

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      Laura December 9, 2011, 12:56 pm

      Are you on a military girlfriend/wife forum at all? They always have super great advice. I’m on a small-ish one and it’s pretty great. They’re always full of advice because they’ve been there before, and it’s nice to have a group of supportive people to really talk with and vent to when you can’t talk to you boyfriend.

      While you may not be able to directly communicate often, you can still write tons of letters (handwritten or emails) and send packages often. Some ladies on the forum I’m on have been able to talk to their man every couple of days/once a week, while others have gone through deployments where the communication has been pretty non-existent the entire time. It just depends on what your guy is going out there to do, and is different for everyone.
      As far as reconnecting, I’ve never directly heard of that being a huge problem. I’ve been told it can sometimes be a little awkward at first, but that goes away pretty quickly. There is definitely an adjustment period for both of you, though. Him adjusting to being back, and for you since you’ve been getting used to being apart all this time.

      I wish I had better advice, but since my boyfriend has not deployed yet, most of that is secondhand. I highly suggest a forum! Good luck, thanks to your boyfriend for his service, and my best wishes for his safe return.

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  • Em December 9, 2011, 10:55 pm

    I’m going to be in a unique LDR relationship next year, and I’m really worried. My boyfriend and I are both stationed at the same place right now, but next year he leaves and he’ll be either be on a ship or in seal training. And then soon after he leaves, I’ll either be on a ship or overseas (or both). We plan to get married in 5 years, but I don’t know what to do when we won’t even be able to reliably communicate on a regular basis…

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