by CHARLIE PURCELL
When I left China at the beginning of summer, I left behind a lot of things: a great teaching job, a nice apartment, a circle of friends that I had slowly accumulated over three years. Most importantly, though, I left behind my boyfriend.
I’m living in East Africa now, and even though I haven’t seen my boyfriend for months, we’re still going strong. We’re still in love. This whole long distance thing is very new to me, but after a few months of growing pains, I feel like I’ve finally cracked the code on how to make things work. Here are the six things I’ve learned in the first few precarious months of my long distance relationship.
1. Don’t Live Through Pop Culture
Back in China, my boyfriend and I had plenty of long, romantic movie nights. We’d curl up and watch old horror movies or Disney cartoons or past seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race. It gave us a lot to talk about, but we still had plenty of real stuff–life stuff–to talk about, too.
Now that we’re living separately, it’s so easy for a conversation to slip into TV recap-mode. During our Skype conversations, we’d talk for a few minutes about work, or the weekend, or our friend’s regrettable new tattoo. And then BAM… we’d spend an hour talking about the last episode of Once Upon a Time.
Now, pop culture is an important part of life, but it’s not the only part. And I quickly realized that we were no longer sharing life experiences; we were living vicariously through fictional people. That’s not healthy. For a relationship to work, it’s best to limit TV and movie conversations to an appropriate level, so that your valuable Skype time is spent more on real life and less on American Horror Story.
2. Allow Arguments to Happen
Except for lawyers and my uncle Frank, nobody likes arguing. It’s annoying, it’s circular, and it’s a massive waste of the precious little time you have together. At least, that’s what it feels like. But arguing can also be a natural part of a relationship.
It can be so easy to see an argument brewing, click off your phone, and then go vent to your roommates about how wrong your boyfriend is. For a relationship to last, though, you need to talk things through. That talking can sometimes get a little heated, but it’s much healthier than unloading your problems on someone who’s never met your boyfriend before. Of course, that third party is going to agree with you. And of course your boyfriend will do the exact same thing with his friends. In the end, you’ll both end up thinking that you’re right and he’s wrong. Nothing gets settled, and the little annoyances will get bigger and bigger.
So argue a little. It’s healthy.
3. Set a Skype Schedule
Regularity is perhaps the least romantic word I can think of. It conjures images of your grandparents over-sharing information about how many prunes they have to eat. But in a long distance relationship, regularity is key.
Setting up a daily (or near-daily) Skype appointment with your boyfriend makes you feel connected to him in a meaningful way. You are now part of his routine. Without this schedule, the little things will start filling up your day, and slowly you’ll hear from each other less and less often. Especially if there is a significant time difference, it’s very easy to let life get in the way. Stick to a schedule, and you’ll have to make room for each other.
4. Introduce Him (or Her) to Your Friends
A romance is built on connections, and a serious relationship depends on as many connections as possible. I’m talking about mutual interests, mutual friends… even mutual life goals. Sometimes you randomly discover something that you both have in common (Oh! You like Battlestar Galactica too?!), but mostly these connections happen naturally after you’ve been together long enough.
When you’re both living in different cities (or countries, or continents), it’s a lot harder to find connections. Even if you talk every day, there will definitely be things that slip through the cracks. That’s why it’s so important to introduce him to your friends. Add him to your social group, even if he’s just a face on a computer. He might not be with you physically, but he’ll be with you in every other sense of the word.
5. Be Willing to Compromise
In a long distance relationship, there are plenty of obstacles between you and your boyfriend. When is the best time to call? Who is going to visit whom? How much money are you trying to save up? These are all real concerns with complicated answers. If you’re going to make this work, you need to make sure that both parties are willing to compromise. More specifically, you need to make sure that both parties are aware when the other side is compromising something.
For example, my boyfriend and I regularly called each other during my break time (mid-morning for me, but late night for him). I thought this was a good situation, and my boyfriend never complained about it, until one day he got upset and unloaded all his frustrations on me. It wasn’t fair, he said, that he had to stay up late to talk to me. He was making a compromise (a big one) and I was completely unaware that it was frustrating him. We talked about it, adjusted our schedules, and everything was okay. The point is to talk, to negotiate. Don’t be a martyr and suffer in silence, and don’t take advantage. Compromise.
6. Have an End Goal
“Indefinitely” is not an option. Even a death row prisoner has the benefit of an end-date, something he can remember and count toward. If you enter into a long-distance relationship, you can’t play it by ear. You have to look forward to the awesome, amazing, wonderful moment when you’re finally in the same place at the same time. Without a finish line in your brain, the uncertainly will slowly wear down on both of you. If there’s nothing concrete to wait for, the waiting will feel like eternity.
East Africa and China are worlds apart, but my boyfriend and I aren’t. We’ve figured out how to stay connected despite the distance. It’s frustrating, and there have been some rough patches, but I love him more than ever. And that’s all that matters. When you find someone you’re not willing to leave behind, it’s worth the effort to keep them in your life.
Charlie Purcell is an American living and working on beautiful Zanzibar Island off the coast of Tanzania. He’s a teacher by day and a writer by night. His latest novel, a road trip romance called Rev Your Engines, will be available on Amazon next month. For updates on his novels and short stories, visit ThisIsCharliePurcell.blogspot.com.