Do you have a lot of long-distance relationships in your life? Do you sometimes tend to feel very sad about that, and feel a deep yearning for them?
In the technological dark ages of my youth, when the phone would ring, Dad would pick it up. And then I’d hear, “Hey Bet, quick. Get on the phone. It’s so and so calling long distance.” And Mother would come flying. Not only did a long-distance call cost a lot of money, but the message must be very special for a loved one to phone in. Hopefully, the news was happy. But sometimes it was because whoever was on the other end of the line needed comfort or quick information. So being there was paramount.
After all, it was “long-distance.”
Now when you think of long-distance, it has nothing to do with urgency. You might think of two people in love whose jobs require frequent trips to Chicago or India. Or your high schooler being headed to Paris for their senior trip. Or a friend doing an internship in Brazil. The reality of normal “family life” in 2020 frequently means that you’re trying to maintain close ties with parents, children, and grandchildren who are living in another part of the country, or even the world. And friendships often have to weather the hellos and goodbyes of living far apart.
Technology makes all of that easier of course. Between FaceTime, What’s App, Skype, Instagram, or Snapchat, you can keep in close touch. Or at least, you can “see” each other and keep conversations going.
But bear hugs aren’t possible over FaceBook. Nor can tears be dried over a text. So healthy long-distance relationships require some basic core beliefs that can help to maintain their warmth and depth, while simultaneously managing their inherent vulnerability.
I’m quite familiar with this topic. I moved away from my hometown when I was seventeen years old, my adult son lives hundreds of miles away from us, and many of my best friends live in different cities. So I know what it’s like to be separated from people I care about, all of us living busy lives and yet surviving through it all — and connecting with each other in person when we can.
It’s very possible to have happy, warm, loving relationships with people you don’t see as often as you’d like. Here are some basic skills you can adopt to help keep those relationships thriving, despite time and distance intervening.
Four skills to keep long-distance relationships thriving…
1. Let the time you have together be whatever it shapes up to be.
Avoid the impulse to think, “The weekend has to be perfect!” Or the infamous, “I have to cook all his favorite things.” Because you actually may not know his favorite things any more… maybe he’s trying out vegan. Or no longer drinks chai tea.
Don’t force things. Prioritize what’s most important but be flexible about the rest. Enjoy being together while you have the chance, allowing the moments to evolve naturally. Remind yourself that if you try to make everything special, you might miss “normal.”
2. Realize that celebrations can happen any day.
You can perform incredible Cirque du Soleil-like twists and turns (and demand that others do the same) in trying to make a certain celebration or event. Obviously, if it’s something that only happens once, it makes sense to do all you can to be there, front and center, smiling and applauding
However, when there are hundreds of miles between you, long-distance relationships can thrive if you adjust your expectations and realize that holidays or birthdays can be celebrated on whatever day that you can be together. Birthdays might fall during finals week, or when your boss needs you for a presentation.
Life gets complicated and being tied to a calendar date can bring unneeded stress. It’s the togetherness that matters, whenever you can make that can happen.
3. Don’t compare yourself to others.
Maybe your best friend has her daughter and grandchildren living a couple of blocks away, but yours is on the other side of the country expecting her first child.