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I get a lot of letters from people who are in long distance relationships or are about to start LDRs who want tips for how to make them work. Many of you know my own relationship — now marriage — began long distance, so I learned a few things in the year and a half Drew and I lived on different sides of the country. But what about when LDRs are so successful, one or both parties make a move and the relationship eventually becomes short distance? Transitioning from living hundreds of miles apart to living in the same town, or even the same apartment, can be a little bumpy, but there are some things you can do to ensure a smoother ride. After the jump, eight tips for transitioning from a long distance relationship to living nearby (or together!).
1. Get separate places. (Or at least plan to eventually get separate places).
This tip is especially essential if you and your significant other have never lived in the same town or if it’s been more than a year since you lived nearby. Living apart, you develop your own routines and ways of doing and liking things just so that rarely affect your significant other. Living together in the same place is a totally different story, and that hour you spend at six in the morning singing scales to “get your voice warmed up for the day” may put undue pressure on a relationship that’s very much adjusting to a whole lot of newness.
That said, I have to admit that I did not get my own place when I moved from Chicago to New York to be with Drew. But I had planned on it — or at least, that was the story I was sticking to. I left most of my things in storage in Chicago and brought a few suitcases and my two cats to New York, where the plan was to stay with Drew until I found a job and my own apartment.
In the back of my head, I suspected if things went really well, and we loved living together, I might just stay there. But I didn’t communicate that little idea with Drew. I knew doing so would put a lot of pressure on us to make it work. I wanted to see if it would work naturally. Luckily, it did. But if it had gone terribly, and I not only hated living with Drew, but I hated living in New York, I at least hadn’t yet paid to move all my things across the country, which leads me to tip number two.
2. Leave a trail of breadcrumbs to find your way home.
What I mean by this is: if you’re the one making the move, make sure you give yourself a way to get back to where you’ve moved from (or somewhere else you could move to) if things don’t work out where you’re going. Moving is always a leap of faith, and is love. Moving for love is really putting your heart on the line, so it’s important to give yourself a few safety nets.
For me, that meant leaving most of my belongings in Chicago until I was sure I wanted to stay in New York. For someone else, it might mean subletting or renting out an apartment or house you aren’t ready to let go of. Maybe it simply means having enough money set aside for a plane ticket home. Whatever “safety net” means for you, make sure you’ve got one. The last thing you want is to be miserable in a brand new city (or country, even) and not have any idea how to get back to the life you’ve left behind.
3. Make space for each other.
If you do plan to move in together — even temporarily — it’s important to make space for each other’s things and routines. Going from two apartments to one will surely mean downsizing at least a little bit. You’ll need to set aside space in the closet and dresser drawers for the other person’s belongings. You’ll also need to respect that if your significant other has a routine, like, say, practicing the guitar for an hour every other night, you’ll need to respect that routine and get out of his or her way during that designated time, which brings me to the next tip.
4. Keep some of your own space.
If you’re the one who practices guitar — or yoga, or what have you — every other night, don’t give that up just because your long distance love has moved close. The hobbies and activities that you enjoy — the things you’re passionate about — make you who you are. And while it’s important and necessary to adjust your schedule a little and make space for the VIP in your life, it shouldn’t be at the exclusion of everything else that makes you happy.
Instead of getting rid of your hobbies altogether, consider cutting back on the time you invest in them. Or, if you were taking a different class every night of the week to keep yourself busy when you’re significant other lived far away, think about choosing just one or two classes to keep and eliminating some of the ones you’re less passionate about. Then, use the extra time you’ve freed up in your schedule to invest in your relationship. It’s investment that can yield the highest of returns.
5. Make (or keep) your own friends.
Whether you’re the person who’s making the move, or the one who is staying put, it’s important to have a set of friends that you, and you alone, spend time with. Now that you’ll be a couple in the same city, you’ll find yourself doing lots of couple-y activities — and that’s all fine and good — but it’s that time away from your partner when you’re with other people that will remind you that you are a YOU before you’re a WE, and that’s a very important thing to be reminded of on a regular basis.
6. Keep in touch with your old friends and family.
This is a tip that’s pretty exclusive to the person doing the moving, but it’s a super important one to list nonetheless. Make sure you do whatever you can to stay close to the people you’ve left behind to follow your heart. Not only are they part of those breadcrumbs back home that I mentioned in tip number two, they will help alleviate the loneliness and isolation you may feel in a brand new city where you don’t know many people (at first).
Visit them when you can, call, email, text, send letters — whatever you preferred method(s) of communication, do it and do it often. Those people who know you and love you will be instrumental in keeping you grounded when you feel overwhelmed by your new life and surroundings. And, as you adjust to your new life, it’s as important to keep the ties to your old one strong. There’s nothing like an old friend to remind you how far you’ve come and how much you’re loved.
7. Give it at least three months.
It takes about ninety days to adjust to new surroundings and big change. So, even if you hate your new life, give it ninety days — about three months — before you decide to go back home or break up. Making any big decision before that would be premature and could possibly cause you to miss out on something really great.
8. Discover places and activities that are new to both of you.
If only one of you has made the move, it may seem like only one of you is making new discoveries on a regular basis. But that doesn’t have to be the case at all. Especially if you live in a large city — like New York, for example — there are always new things to discover, even if you were born and raised here like Drew was.
I found it really helpful when I first moved to New York, to find things that Drew had never done — restaurants he’d never tried, shows he hadn’t seen, tours he hadn’t been on — and experience them for the first time together (or, even better, introducing them to Drew after I discovered them on my own). This gives the new person a sense of shared ownership and makes the new city seem less like “his/her town” and more like “our town.”
Finally, if you’ve moved in together and have decided to stay put where you are, this column has some good tips for how to make his (or her) bachelor/ette pad, your home.