By Kate Richlin-Zack
For anyone who’s ever tried it, you know exactly what I mean when I say long distance relationships suck.
Even with advances in modern technology, geography will challenge the strength of your relationship—not to mention your internet connection—when you’re physically separated. People give you tips on how to make it work: schedule Skype dates or phone calls, send each other text messages or emails throughout the day. Blah blah blah. It’s a load of crap. Living apart and spending every third weekend together is not sustainable. Skype and Whatsapp are not adequate substitutes for physical intimacy.
To put it simply, long distance relationships don’t work; either someone moves or you break up. Let’s leave the financial burden of travelling aside for the sake of argument because airline tickets alone are enough to make you bankrupt. If you’re trying to do an international long distance relationship, hopefully your boyfriend is the Sultan of Brunei because I don’t know how the average person can afford to fly halfway across the world on a consistent basis. But like I said, let’s leave the financial aspect out of this because I would like to believe, however naively, that true love conquers all.
Let’s start with the logistics. There’s a lot of planning and coordinating schedules: time off from work, booking airfare, whose turn is it to travel. And the packing, which may be the absolute worst part, because of course you’re going to forget something stupid but essential. Like the stilettos that go perfectly with the cocktail dress you plan to wear to dinner on Saturday and I guarantee you there are no Louboutin outlets or even a Payless wherever your boyfriend lives because his current job relocated him to Bumblefuck and modern conveniences like strip malls and chain retail stores are reserved for civilization. Every last detail needs to be planned. The ability to just stop by his place on your way home from work is nonexistent. There are no last minute spontaneous plans. You can not, under any circumstances “play it by ear.” Physically you are trying to be in two places at once which means emotionally you’re also in two places at once.
Your life is always divided between the life you have on your own and the life you have when you’re together and no matter how hard you try, it’s difficult to mesh them. The time that you are together tends to feel more like a surrealistic vacation than everyday life and that’s understandable, especially since you’re living out of a suitcase every other weekend. It’s jam packed with stuff to do because you want to make the most out of your time together. You’d feel guilty if you spent the entire weekend together in your pajamas because that’s a luxury you can’t afford. He’s only in town for three days so you have to make sure there’s an activity planned for every waking moment! How else will you make the most of your time?
But that make-the-most-of-your time philosophy is dangerous because problems that normally come up during the course of a relationship are usually swept under the rug. You end up avoiding important issues whether you’re physically together or apart because, seriously, who wants to waste a moment of the three impossibly short days together discussing problems? That’s no fun. And that fifteen minute phone conversation (the only time you’re both free once you factor in time zone differences and competing priorities) generally doesn’t kick off with “we need to talk” even if that’s really what you need to do. So you keep your mouth shut and the unresolved problems and resulting resentment and frustration accumulate.
Until one night you’re lying in bed with your phone against your ear struggling to keep your eyes open long enough to say your goodbyes but something is off. And what should have been the end of the conversation is actually the beginning of a laborious discussion about everything you’ve been avoiding in a futile attempt to “make the most of your time together” and the next thing you know, it’s four o’clock in the morning, you’re both exhausted and questioning your relationship, and nothing has been accomplished. Awesome.
Then there’s the time alone. And you are A.L.O.N.E. And you’re painfully aware of just how alone you are because for all intents and purposes you’re not really alone. You’re in a relationship so you shouldn’t feel alone. But you’re missing out on all of those relationship niceties that couples who are geographically compatible get to enjoy on a consistent basis. Like being each other’s guaranteed +1 for weddings and work dinners. Having someone to help you carry the groceries home. Falling asleep with your head on his shoulder every night. Waking up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee and pancakes on Sunday morning. Unless there’s a band of breakfast burglars in your neighborhood, you wake up alone and pancakeless. You fall asleep with your head next to a cold pillow. You carry your own groceries. You go to that midweek corporate dinner alone. The sting is especially apparent because somehow it’s not supposed to be that way. You’re not supposed to be so fucking alone. And you hate happy couples wandering down the street hand-in-hand on a post dinner stroll because instead of holding hands with your boyfriend after a romantic dinner at the restaurant that you refer to as “our place,” you’re schlepping your groceries home to your empty house to cook dinner for yourself and sadly, no one is going to criticize you for spending the duration of your evening catching up on the latest season of The Real Housewives.
Some people would view the aforementioned scenario as sweet freedom. Sleeping alone means you can hog the covers, keep the room a balmy 80 degrees, and sleep like a starfish with the TV off instead of waking up in the middle of the night with no covers in meatlocker-like conditions to the cinematic sounds of cars crashing or softcore porn on Skinemax. You can stay out late gossiping with your girlfriends and not feel a pang of guilt as you tipsily stumble back to your apartment well after your bedtime; no one was waiting up for you anyway. There are advantages to being alone. But if you like being alone, then be alone. Don’t opt for this unsustainable half-assed long distance relationship.
Because when things get difficult you wonder if it’s even worth it. You’re hesitant to walk away because you’ve already invested so much time/energy/money/effort/emotion/insert-seemingly-logical-excuse here. Being long distance makes it harder to break up and see the relationship as a sunk cost because so much cost has already been sunk. And why cut your losses when you can continue to invest in shit in the hopes that it could turn into something amazing especially since you’ve worked so hard, right?
It’s even worse if it’s not a shit relationship. What if, aside from the distance, you are meant to be together? Well that’s wonderful and congrats on finding your soulmate but if anything, that makes it even more difficult. It makes every moment you are together that much more precious. It makes saying goodbye at the end of a long weekend that much more heartbreaking because in your head all you can think about is the injustice of it all but you’re comforted knowing this situation is only temporary and you can remind yourself, “some day we’ll be together… Say, say, say it again” at least according to Diana Ross and the Supremes.
Bottom line, this lonely split existence routine you’ve got going will only last so long because inevitably those 4 A.M. discussions end one of two ways. He says, “This isn’t working for me anymore” and you break up, which logistically isn’t all that hard to do considering you weren’t seeing each other all that much to begin with. The emotional fallout however, is likely devastating but that’s a topic for another day. Or he says, “I’m counting the hours until we can be together in the same place at the same time and no one has to get on a plane to make that happen.”
There really isn’t anything in between.
Kate’s Dates runs every other Wednesday on Kate-book.com. It is written by the lovely Kate Richlin-Zack, who fully admits to majoring in engineering to meet guys. Her articles have been featured on xoJane, YourTango, and Romance Never Dies. She’s been quoted in Fox News Magazine and featured on Huffington Post Live. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.