Illustration by Sarah Bradbury

How to survive long-distance relationships in the time of COVID-19

Long-distance relationships are tough. The miles between you and your partner can strain your relationship in unexpected and confusing ways. However, long-distance relationships can work if you remain aware of the challenges and avoid the common pitfalls.

Before you question my credibility to give relationship advice as an idealistic romantic, you should know that I have been in three long-distance relationships, spanning nearly five years of my life. Now, my failed relationships may not qualify me as an expert, but they have taught me what not to do.

My first boyfriend and I met at the tender age of 16 at a summer arts program. After that summer, we never reunited in person, but continued the relationship for a year and a half. Our rose-tinted perspective kept us running on fumes more than anything else. It was a puppy love sort of romance that ended when we eventually accepted that we had no long-term plans. While nursing my first broken heart, I learned that love is not enough. If you want long distance to work, you must have an exit strategy. 

I met my second boyfriend shortly after and we went on to date for three years, two of which were long distance. For a while, we were madly in love and fantasized about our future together after college. However, towards the end, our conversations dwindled and we grew apart. Eventually, we broke up when I found out he had cheated on me. I learned a difficult truth: the promise of change in the future does not equate to tangible change in the present. With a broken heart and a newly jaded opinion on love, I swore it would be my last long-distance relationship. However, I had not planned for a global pandemic. 

My current boyfriend and I had been seeing each other for seven months when tremors of COVID-19 were felt on our campus. I knew I wanted to be with him, even if that meant another long-distance relationship. I have learned that a long-distance relationship is all things good and all things bad all at once. You cannot feel the joy of loving them without feeling the pain of being apart. All the same, I knew we could withstand the distance, not because we were destined to be together or any other notion of codependency-seeped romance you read about in fairy tales. I knew we would make it because we have shown each other time and time again that communication is more than talking. Communication is conversations followed by positive change. 

The success (or failure) of long-distance relationships is contingent on one factor: communication. Can you tell your partner everything that is on your mind? Can you be emotionally vulnerable to ensure that you are both on the same page? At first, communication can feel like pulling teeth, but if you and your partner work on it together, it gets easier.  

Beyond communication, the best way to ensure your long-distance relationship will work is to examine your own motives. Do your thoughts match your actions? If you were upset because your partner is not talking to you as much as you would like, think about how you would respond. Would your ego take a hit leading you to feel that you are too clingy? Would you resort to passive aggression and talk to them less to intentionally upset them? Would you try to make them jealous? These are all options I have chosen in past long-distance relationships, and I can assure you that you are simply delaying and complicating a necessary conversation. 

Use this time of separation to grow individually and address your emotional scars. Find out what each other’s love languages are and determine how to show your love in ways that your partner understands. Be explicit when you ask for what you need. Tell them if their behavior causes you stress or pain. The distance makes sensing emotions almost impossible, so take out the guessing work for your partner. 

If you can do all of these things, you can establish a foundation built on mutual love, respect and trust. Long-distance relationships are by no means easy, but if you find a person you are willing to bear the distance with, do not let your ego ruin it.

But for now, focus on the saving grace of long-distance: if you can successfully communicate with your partner despite the distance, it will teach you how to have a successful relationship moving forward. If you can make it now, almost nothing can get between you and your partner in the future. 

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