Edited 5/17/20: Substantially rewritten to add experience from a second, vastly more successful long distance relationship.
After a long and mostly happy 1 year 5 month long distance relationship between me and my Filipino girlfriend, things turned south at a pretty fast rate after we met and finally we left each other last week, neither of us really fully knowing what had happened (several months later, I can guess, but unfortunately it will always be just a guess at this point). Despite this, I was open to the idea of future LDRs, even international LDRs, as long as we did a better job of communicating. And that’s indeed what happened: despite the fact I wasn’t explicitly searching for one, I landed in another long distance relationship that was taken all the way to marriage. So they’re indeed possible to pull off, and I wish the best of luck to anyone who might be in one. Here I want to share some tips for other couples in similar situations. This is primarily written for people in international relationships, but people in same-country relationships can learn something here too.
Anything to add to any of these? Tips, warnings, date ideas for those who the Internet is a rare treasure? Comment and I’ll add to the post.
– Communicate. You are both coming from different cultures. Depending on where you are coming from, the rules of dating, personal values, and etiquette may be very different. Ideally since the two of you are dating, there is SOME common ground between you, but do not underestimate the differences or it will come to kick both of you in the butt. This will take some understanding for both of you. You should actively do some research online to figure out as much as you can about each other’s culture. And, hey, it’s a pleasant surprise to the other person if you can demonstrate that you did do your research. PLEASE alert your significant other IMMEDIATELY if they do something on accident that is not considered good in your culture. They may genuinely not know what it is, and if so they will be confused when you aggressively maintain their behavior was inappropriate while they think they didn’t do anything wrong. And if you’re silently fuming at them, not revealing the reasons behind it, the greater the chances of a tense relationship.
– Don’t attempt to assign what the other person does to their labels. This one has some relevance to traditional ‘near distance’ relationships too. What I mean is, don’t simply let yourself think that your significant other is doing this or that because ‘they’re a girl’ or ‘they’re from this country’. One, that allows you to write off an issue prematurely, and perhaps prevent yourself from examining it from a more proper standpoint (“Ok, is there anything about this that maybe I’m at fault for, or could improve?”). Secondly, of course people don’t work that way. People don’t do the vast majority of the things they do simply ‘because they’re American’ or ‘because they’re a woman’. So you can at least extend that understanding first and foremost to your love interest.
– Tell the truth. This should go without saying for ANY relationship, but be honest to your significant other. This is several times more important than in a traditional relationship because it is easier to have doubts the less you are with each other. 99.9% of the time there is no excuse for not telling the truth (the remaining 0.01% is allotted for any surprise parties or gifts :P).
– Use emoji. Yes, some people may hate them with a passion. But they’re important if you can’t see your significant other while talking – most of our conversations were through text messages. Something you say may easily be taken as something else due to a variety of factors – the other person not knowing your language well, different meanings in a sentence between the sender and receiver, or simply mistaking your intent. Letting the other person know your mood along with the message helps in understanding it – after all, happy faces are universal.
(6/22/16 addendum: note that emoji are also subject to some miscommunication. One particular emoji, due to its position in the WhatsApp library, I thought to be a generally happy face. Today I found out that it’s really not but still easily mistakable, leading me to worry about all kinds of situations where a friend used it and I got the wrong message entirely. The page even says ‘use with caution’. For that reason, stick to the more basic, easily identifiable emoji. Related to that, please please please don’t ONLY use emoji to respond to something.)
– Whenever possible, talk in front of a camera. This is especially important, I feel, for arguments. There’s an odd tendency in email sometimes to come off meaner than you actually are when you’re making a grievance known. Talking in person or via a camera will help remove that possibility. And, hey, you would probably want to see your love interest as much as possible anyway 😉
– Be prepared to think outside the box. With long distance comes the question: how do we date? This can vary wildly depending on your circumstances: how long you can sit down together at one time, and HOW you can talk (Skype, phone, IM, …) can greatly affect you. In the most severe cases, you’ll find that most of the date ideas given for LDR relationships online just don’t work because they assume you are in the same countries, or on both of you having a reliable tech/internet connection. Neither was typically true in my first LDR! Take that away, and you’re up against a stiff handicap. But there are still things you can do. (http://instasync.com/ to sync up YouTube playlists, or sharing similar experiences like meals, books, or movies, but on your own time, and discussing them afterward. Those are just a few ways.)
– After enough time has passed, you’ll want to start thinking of how you could visit one another, even if it’s not possible in the current moment (maybe you’re both in college and need to wait until summer). Having those plans will give you both something to look forward to and sustain the relationship during bad times.
– Expect things to change after meeting in person. Depending on the circumstances, meeting your date in person for the first time can feel like a whole new relationship. You’ll see things about them that you’ve never picked up on before, and vice versa. This can be scary, and for good reason – for better or for worse, you’ll be able to finally know them in a more real sense, not just the persona they put on for an hour or two a day while talking to you. Just be understanding during this time.
– Tell your partner you love them. A lot. Again, should be applicable to all relationships, but I do believe this is a bit more important in LDRs. Don’t miss an opportunity to let them know your feelings. Especially if you don’t get to talk every day, and even if you do. In our relationship, every so often I would go a day or two – or even up to a week – without talking to my ex-girlfriend in the beginning before we found a good communication solution, so using the times I had were important.
– Have at least two reliable (daily) means of communication. In the beginning I only really had one – texting. Because she didn’t have a laptop of her own OR stable internet, Skype messages and email could have taken days to be seen/read (and of course international calling was out of the question, at least to me in 2014, due to costs, although solutions get better by the year). You need to have something to fall back on if something goes awry with your first method. Calling and texting, while indeed better than just texting, would not count as two in my mind – what if one of you loses their phone? Then both methods are shot. Similarly, two IM tools on the computer really only count as one since the internet can easily go down for either of you and ruin your usage of both. So the best scenario would be if you could call/text and had something internet-based like Skype.
– Make sure you negotiate communication times. If you’re international, you’re probably in different time zones. Make sure to establish which times you would like to hear from each other – and how often. It’s possible that you may not be able to communicate every day – expect it to hit you harder than you think 😦
– Make sure you see them before meeting them or sending money. This one is just a safety tip, really (nothing I personally ran into). Make seeing them a top priority while starting out. If they consistently make excuses, that is a red flag. Seeing them should start to alleviate many concerns that they aren’t who they say they are. And under no circumstances should you agree to meet them, give them money, or anything requiring a substantial amount of trust until this happens. Being computer-illiterate is not a sufficient excuse. If you met them through online dating, chances are they know their way around a computer to an extent – or at least they know somebody who does.
– If they try to rush things, make you feel sorry for them, or otherwise make you guilty, be wary. Just another safety tip. They may be taking advantage of you, pressuring you to make commitments. Even if they don’t want your money, do you really want to have a rushed relationship, or an attention-seeking partner?
There are many unique challenges to having and maintaining an LDR, especially if you’re used to a more traditional relationship style. But keep with it, have a willingness to try new things, and love boldly. Successes do happen! After almost four years in an LDR, me and my wife are proof the distance can be closed!