A short guide to long distance relationships

Before I even start, let me tell you this: they work. My three kids are a testimony to that. And this blog, in a weird way, is too.

Because that was the reason I became a foreigner. You are not a foreigner until you are in a distant land, and I landed in foreign (for me) Chicago after a long distance relationship. I always intended to live abroad for a bit, to be honest, but the US was not in my radar. At all. Until I started dating a guy who lived there. Although dating was technically impossible. It was more phone calls, e-mails and letters, in that ancient time without Skype, Facebook or instant messaging (15 years ago, folks). And an encounter every now and then, here and there and everywhere.

Many of the foreigners I have met in Chicago have had long distance relationships, of one kind or the other, and that's how they ended up living there. At the end of the day, as reasons to move across the world come, love seems to be the best one.

36 year old cynical me has had to rescue the hopeless romantic 20 year old I once was in order to write this, as I see my niece enjoy and suffer the beginning of one of these painfully rewarding relationships. She will have a hard day tomorrow when she sees her newly found boyfriend part, with the uncertainty of not knowing when they will see each other again. But I know, and I can reassure them, that it can work. It just takes some effort. And some tips:

1. Set a goal. A long term one. Where do you want this relationship to go? Do you want to keep it casual, and open, meeting whenever possible but enjoying yourself in the meanwhile, no strings attached? Or you just found the love of your life and it will never be soon enough to move in together? Of course, there are as many middle grounds as couples, but you need to talk about yours in particular, so you can start planning and working towards it.

2. Always have the next trip planned. Having something to look forward to makes the time go faster, and the relationship grow stronger. Not knowing when you will meet next feels much more hopeless than knowing that you will have a lovely weekend in New York in three months. And, honestly, it will give you something new to talk about. Eventually you will grow out of telling each other how cute you are. Be creative. Don't just go back and forth from your house to his or hers. There are many other places to visit. It is often cheaper and easier to fly to big hubs like New York or London and meet there for a few days. Since you are going to be traveling anyway, see the world at the same time. We strolled together through London, Edinburgh, Madrid, Barcelona, Chicago and the Basque Country.

That's little young us at Paddington Station, in London. We met there to celebrate my 23rd birthday. It sounds like a good plan, doesn't it?

That's little young us at Paddington Station, in London. We met there to celebrate my 23rd birthday. It sounds like a good plan, doesn't it?

3. Look for employment or study opportunities wherever you are intending to move to. I would never recommend moving to another country just to be with someone, as much as you may love each other, unless you can stay there on your own. In the 21st century we should be way over dependency... In my case, I decided to do an MA in Hispanic Studies and finance it through a TAship. That way, if things hadn't gone well, I would have been able to survive in Chicago on my own. Find your calling, and make it happen. There is always a way where there is a will, isn't it?

4. Someone is going to have to move at some point. This is purely anecdotical, but in my experience women are the ones who move. Most likely this is due to the paycheck gap, it makes sense to look for opportunities where the person with the safest job situation lives. But if you are twenty, you can always go crazy and start over some place else, somewhere in between. Just know that if you ever end up having children, having family around, any family, most likely will be nice. Like an aunt, or something.

5. You have to be consistent. Back in the day (15 years ago, in case you forgot), we only had e-mail, letters, telephone and trips. We wrote each other an e-mail a day, occasional letters (but that's because I'm a sucker for anything stationery), made sure to meet every three months and talked on the phone every night. I watched the whole Sex and the City and and outrageous amount of movies while waiting for my boyfriend to get out of work so we could talk, often for a couple of hours. Keep in mind that there are seven hours of difference, which means he would call at my 1 am on lucky days, often later. Everyone thought I was crazy. Nowadays me thinks I was crazy.

Letters have a special appeal, a magic warmth that will never be part of an e-mail.

Letters have a special appeal, a magic warmth that will never be part of an e-mail.

6. Be patient. And chill... Distance makes everything seem bigger, from a fight to a sprained ankle. Take it easy on each other. Making up is harder when you are thousands of miles apart.

7. Have a playlist. Something to keep you in touch while you cannot be talking. Because, you know, even if you don't believe me right now, you will eventually need to stop crying and eat, go back to work, school, life... If you listen to that playlist while you do all that, it will be easier, and you will do it with a smile on your face. I have a whole list of airport songs that I could share with you right this moment. Can you believe that back then (again, all of 15 years ago), the only way to do this was by sending a CD? Maybe even a tape? They were actually cuter than a Spotify account...

8. Send things. As silly as it sounds, receiving something that the other person just held a few days ago is kind of magical. And the process of wrapping, picking a stamp, writing the address and shipping it knowing that the other person will touch it in a few days is very comforting. Plus, the postal services of this world could use your business.

9. Look for accomplices. Most people are going to think that you are nuts. You need to find someone who understands, listens, and helps plan, who can be a confidant. And who is as nuts as you.

10. Focus on the rendezvous. As hard as the wait and separation may seem, keep in mind that the reunions are spectacular. In every single aspect. At the same time, the distance will make you appreciate each other's presence more, and you will take advantage of every single minute of your days together. Kissing the lips you have been thinking about for months is way more intense than kissing whoever you were with last night. And that's just the start.

As I write this, I am waiting for the nth time for the boyfriend I referred to above, while I listen to our ever growing playlist. Now the separations are shorter, 10 days this time, but we still get as happy to see each other again. He is now my husband, and 15 years and three darling boys later I can say that ours was a successful story, one of those with a happy ending. When I moved in with him 13 years ago, we had been "dating" for 2 years. In those two years, we spent a whole total of 53 days in the same place. But we still made it work. And so can you. We argue like everyone else, and, actually, I would say that if we spend too much time in the same country tension starts to build up between us. But we still love each other most of the time, and keep planning that next trip together.

 

 
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