BY: KIRSTEN POWLEY
I’m not the first person to think a foreign accent is sexy. I’m also not the first person to have had a relationship with someone while travelling or living abroad. As more adventurous souls pack their bags to seek life in another part of the world, whether that’s a working holiday visa, studying abroad or simply extended travel, falling in love with someone from another country isn’t a crazy notion.
The ride of exploring new places with a partner is invigorating: everything is new and you’re both in a major honeymoon period in terms of relationship and life satisfaction. But when it comes to the tearful goodbye at the airport and you’ve taken the massive decision to carry on long distance, how do you make it work?
Here’s my back story: I’m a British girl who met an American boy when we were both studying abroad in Melbourne, Australia. After just three months together, we decided we would carry our relationship on long distance when we both had to return to our home universities. I was based mainly in London, UK and he was in Boston, USA. We spent more than two years doing long distance and now, almost five years into our relationship, we’re living together in Toronto, Canada.
While we were doing long distance, we were met with a lot of criticism. People openly informed me it would never work and looked down on the relationship as if it wasn’t a ‘real’ relationship. We know who we are, what our relationship means, and just because it’s long distance doesn’t make it any less filled with love or hope than anyone else’s who is lucky enough to live in the same apartment or house. Fast forward to now, and people frequently ask me questions about how we made it work – many of these people because they’re in a similar situation.
So what is the secret? I by no means have all the answers and there’s no set recipe for everyone (just like anything in life). It was far from smooth sailing, but these are the pointers that, after much trial and error, I can say worked for me.
First of all, make sure you’re both fully committed to not only each other but giving it a go. There’s no room for being half-hearted about whether you like your prospective long distance partner enough; you’ve got to be pretty damn sure.
You also have to know straight off that it’s hard and a learning curve. There are plenty of arguments, some tears, but a whole lot of love.
Communication is key. You’re going through a difficult thing when you need to find a pattern that works for you, and as you don’t have the advantage of face to face conversations, being upfront about your concerns is the number one priority. My boyfriend and I also made sure we set aside certain days and times we would Skype each week which we’d have to arrange around our time difference (the UK being five hours ahead of Boston) and we both downloaded Whatsapp and would text each other throughout the day. Being able to picture each other’s routines and texting about small things during the day helped us feel closer to one another.
When it came to seeing each other, we did as much as money and time allowed for a transatlantic relationship, usually around once every three months. My boyfriend, being American, didn’t get much time off from work and I didn’t (ahem, still don’t) have much money. The longest we went without seeing each other was five months. They were really tough, but I found the trick was to forget about it being long distance.
The moment you accept the way it is and know what you’re working towards (being in the same country… preferably the same city, too), it’s all worth it. That’s what we always said to each other: this, us, is all worth it. Plus, we have some pretty amazing adventures in the world given the nature of our relationship. Together we’ve surfed in Bali, gone skydiving in California, toured waterfalls in Iceland, feasted on mussels in Belgium, pitched multiple tents under dark, starry skies and drank champagne on a sand bar in the Bahamas. Sometimes it was a joy to say: “so where in the world should we meet up next?”
Booking that next trip when you get to see each other is so therapeutic to getting through the next section of being apart. It’s easy to feel a lot of frustration in a long distance relationship – all you see around you are couples being able to spend the day together and it’s very easy to get bitter and feel like their happiness is getting shoved down your throat, so knowing when you’ll next see each other is a good way to dial those emotions down.
Reminding myself of the next visit and how much fun we have together was enough to get me through. Anyone who’s been through a long distance relationship understands the love-hate relationship with airports: a place of extreme happiness and jumping into each other’s arms, being able to feel that yes, they are actually real; yet also the (only acceptable public) place tears stream down your face when saying goodbye *cue Coldplay music*.
What it essentially boils down to is this: if you really like this person, love them, you will do what you can to be with them. Even if it means a six-hour flight, only seeing each other on Skype for three months at a time and the worst part, getting into arguments when long distance is really stressing you out and you think you can’t carry on. It’s in the tough moments like this that you rely on and support each other: when one of you is down and struggling, the other person tries not to freak out and keeps the other afloat, reminding them why you’re doing this and how worth it this will all be when you’re finally together.
When I look back on the two-plus years of long distance, I’m proud of what we’ve done. I remember how painful it was at times – a couple of near break-ups, one actual break-up – but I also knew my stubbornness to keep powering through, that it would all work out in the end, was for good reason: my boyfriend is someone I had clicked with when I met him, who made me laugh and had very similar music taste and political views as me. He loved adventure, nature and travel yet was laid back and thoughtful. If that’s not a match to fight for, I don’t know what is.