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How to Have a Successful Long-Distance Relationship

Stephanie with her boyfriend Ted. (Elizabeth Scerra)

You were high school sweethearts, Prom King and Queen, forbidden lovers, summer lovers. Regardless of what you were then, it’s hard to figure out what you are now. With you away at school, the only way you can describe your relationship is “long-distance.” Everyone tells you distance is hard, maybe even impossible. So is it doable? What does it take to have a successful long-distance relationship?

I’m no expert, but my boyfriend and I went the distance last year. In fact, it went so well that we’re doing it again this year. So here are five tricks that worked for me.

Tip #1: Be honest about what you want and what you can have.

A wise friend once told me the reason most long-distance relationships don’t work is because couples refuse to acknowledge their relationship is long-distance. There is nothing worse than having expectations that cannot be met. Back home, you hung out every night. Now that you’re a six-hour drive away, spending time together that often is unrealistic. Take the time to sit down and talk to your boy/girlfriend and outline what you want out of the relationship. Maybe you want good-morning and night phone calls. Maybe you want to visit each other, but if you do, keep it to a minimum. Depending on how far away from each other the two of you are, the time and money costs can be huge. The last thing you want to do is create stress on your relationship by trying to meet each other halfway home every weekend. Instead, set up realistic and logical visits. Maybe you visit him/her during the three major breaks – Thanksgiving, winter and spring – and he/she comes to you three other times this year. As long as you recognize it’s a long-distance relationship – and as long as both of you are okay with that – you won’t feel let down when things aren’t the way they were when you two were living in the same area.

Tip #2: Use technology to your advantage…

There are serious benefits to living in the 21st century, one of which is instant communication. While you and your honey may be apart, it’s getting easier and easier to stay in touch. Catch-up on the phone while you walk to and from class. Keep up that game of Punch-Buggy you’ve been playing since the day you met by sending a pix message every time you see a slug-bug drive by. Send a flirtatious e-card the next time you’re on the Web. But if you do nothing else, you must use Skype. Nothing comes closer to being face-to-face than a video call, and with the screen share feature, you can even watch this season of House together like you used to. Best of all, it’s free.

Tip #3: …but still do some things old-fashioned.

As much as you may enjoy seeing your sweetheart’s smile over Skype, nothing can replace a classic love letter. Send the occasional, over-the-top billet-doux, complete with vibrant stationery, a spritz of perfume and a sticker (or a kiss) to seal the envelope. Target features hand-made cards by All in the Cards for just a dollar and Barnes & Noble sells stationery sets with letters, envelopes and seals. Don’t forget to send a few care packages as well. Send him/her a custom chocolate bar with crazy ingredients like crystallized rose petals, graham crackers or Sour Patch kids from Chocomize. Or send them a Build-a-Bear with a voice chip inside. Packages can be as elaborate or as inexpensive as you like, especially when you get your packaging from the Reuse Depot.

Tip #4: Be open.

With your partner miles away and therefore unable to pick up on your emotions, it’s tempting to keep the negative ones to yourself. However, it’s important to vocalize how you’re feeling – good and bad – frequently. Long-distance relationships lack most of the physical aspects of traditional romances, which makes keeping the emotional part of the relationship healthy absolutely crucial to your success. While it may be easy to keep problems to yourself when your boy/girlfriend isn’t around to see you fuming, secrets and frustrations can cause major damage in the long run. Keep it candid. Agree to have an open dialogue whenever you get upset, right when you get upset.

Tip #5: Know your limits.

Let’s face it: When you’re in a relationship, other people don’t just vanish. That girl in your science class still has a cute smile; that E.F. boy still makes you blush. What ultimately makes a relationship work or not work is your ability to answer this question honestly: Even with these other attractive people available, would I still prefer to be with who I’m with now? Only pursue a long-distance relationship – or any serious relationship, for that matter – if your answer is yes. It takes a certain type of person to commit to a long-distance relationship, and even after a person decides to go the distance, circumstances can change. Know your limits. Know when it’s time to keep pushing forward, and know when it’s time to call it quits. Know when your answer is yes, I want to be with this person and when it’s no, this isn’t working anymore.

Looking back on the two-years Ted and I have been together, I consider myself really lucky. Although a little less than half of the relationship has taken place with me up at Mills and him back home in Redondo Beach, we’ve managed to have a loving, healthy relationship. While my story isn’t necessarily the norm, it is the possibility. “Distance” doesn’t automatically equate to “break-up.” Let distance make you two stronger. As French writer Roger de Bussy-Rabutin once said, “Absence is to love what wind is to fire; it extinguishes the small, it kindles the great.”