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Heavy Meddle: How To Survive A Long Distance Relationship

This article is more than 9 years old.

Dear Steve,

I’m 25-years-old and in a very long distance relationship with an Australian I met living abroad.

Any advice on how to make the long distance thing a bit easier?



Pining Paula

Dear PP,

Well, you’ve come to the right advice columnist, anyway. During my 20s and 30s, I acquired an advanced degree in long-distance relationships, with a concentration in histrionic ambivalence.

There was, of course, the college girlfriend. We were on the books for four years, only two of which we spent in the same time zone. We needed to distance to “appreciate” each other. Translation: we sort of hated each other. Then there was the Italian graphic artist. We spent a couple of weeks together in Miami, where I lived, then spent several months panting into phones. And the girl from Iowa who raced off to Mexico a few months after we met, but wanted to stick it out. And of course the Eastern European beauty I met in grad school. I visited her three times in 18 months. We spent more time in airports than anywhere else.

It all seemed incredibly hot at the time. And it was, as a simple matter of biology. When offered on a variable reinforcement schedule, romantic gratification makes us monkeys go ape. To translate that into cliché-ese, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Though actually, it’s probably more accurate to say that absence makes the heart grow less discerning. And that absence has a tendency to inflate an infatuation into a full-blown romantic drama. And that absence relieves us of the burden of living with someone else, like, every day.

If you think this guy is special, don’t dilly-dally around. Do the work of deepening the relationship. Write those letters. Find a way to spend more time with him. Don’t drift along in a state of suspended romantic animation.

All that being said, long-distance relationships have always been a part of the human arrangement. And there are certain tried and true measures you can take. One thing I’d exhort you to do, Pining, is to write letters to each other. Not emails. Not text messages. Letters. As in: words on paper. Because you’re not seeing each other every day, you need to work that much harder to let your Aussie hunk know who you are and what’s going on inside you. And there’s nothing like a real correspondence to cut away the small-talk and get down to the real. Just take a look at the letters that lovers exchanged during the Civil War. Or any war from the pre-digital era. Letters are also the perfect way to test whether your guy can engage on a deeper level. If he responds to a long, soul-bearing epistle with an Instagram... well, chances are you guys are not going to find true love.

In the final analysis, long-distance relationships are inconvenient. They require a deep willingness to sacrifice. In your case, unless you’ve always dreamed of abandoning your family and career and support system to live in a far-flung continent (or your guy has dreamed of doing the same thing), one of you is facing a major dislocation. And that’s going to put extra strain on both of you.

But hey: I’m a sucker for love. Obviously. And beneath every long-distance paramour lurks the swollen heart of a sucker. We all want to believe in the impossible. And sometimes it does come true. Sometimes you meet the person of your dreams halfway across the world.

Here’s the thing, though, Pining: Don’t delude yourself. If you think this guy is special, don’t dilly-dally around. Do the work of deepening the relationship. Write those letters. Find a way to spend more time with him. Don’t drift along in a state of suspended romantic animation.

Because one thing I know from my own long history of woe is that I used long-distance relationships (over and over) as a way of deferring the hard work of courtship and cohabitation. I went looking for people who were not really available. I got caught up in the dream because I didn’t yet have the internal resources to deal with the reality.

That’s no way to lead a life. In fact, that’s how you forestall leading a life.

Okay folks, now it's your turn. Did I get it right, or muck it up? Let me know in the comments section. And please do send your own question along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don't have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your dilemmas via email.

This program aired on September 2, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.


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