Dan and I had been happily dating in Hong Kong for over a year and a half, when we suddenly discovered we would have to do long distance for at least a year… possibly longer.
We had two weeks to make a decision: would we stay together despite the distance, or would we go on our separate, merry ways?
We had to ask ourselves, and each other, this very awkward (yet essential) question:
Is there a future for this relationship that makes it worth spending significant time apart?
In other words, is this relationship going anywhere? Is it for the long term? Are we thinking possible marriage in the future? Because we certainly weren’t going to do this for the fun of it.
We realized that if we chose to stay together we would need a plan for the future, and we would need to get creative about the present.
It was difficult for both of us (especially the first two months), but we viewed this time as a challenge to strengthen our verbal communication and relationship.
Here are some of our tried and tested hacks:
So this is not as romantic as a posted letter, but how many guys do you know that actually write and post letters? Plus, with the travel times and poor postal services in Africa, this was not really an option.
However, for the first time ever, we were actually able to communicate how we really felt about each other. There is something about writing that allows the heart to put into words what it really wants to say. We made a point of telling each other how much we appreciate one another, what we love and admire about each other, and why we want to make this relationship work.
Dan is such a guy and rarely communicates what he thinks and feels without major prying on my part…. and because I am such a girl and
sometimes often always doubt myself and the relationship when I don’t know what’s going on in Dan’s head and heart, these simple emails helped settle my doubts and fears immensely.
We made up a game, where one person has to come up with 5 questions. Both people have to answer the questions, and then send the answers to each other.
I came up with five questions:
1) What’s your guilty pleasure?
2) If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
3) What’s one thing you can’t live without?
4) What was your first job, and are there any funny stories attached to it?
5) Who was your first ever crush and how old were you?
I would send him these questions, and then we would each have to answer the questions and send our answers to each other.
Then Dan would come up with 5 questions, and so on. With each round, the questions became more intense and/or personal.
This was tons of fun, and we learned a WHOLE lot about each other!
This game is essentially the same as the previous one, except you have to answer on behalf of your partner.
For example, Dan would come up with 5 questions, and I would have to answer the questions as if I were Dan. He would answer the questions as if he were me.
This was hilarious, and I got to see and understand some of Dan’s perceptions of me. (Some of his answers made me sound a bit crazy…. meh.)
I believe that in order to have a successful relationship, you need to understand 1) yourself and 2) your partner. Understanding your partner means understanding their personality – how they think, how they respond to certain things, what they are good at, what they enjoy, what stresses them out and how to help them cope with stress. The same applies to you – you need to know these things about yourself if you are going to bring your best self to the relationship.
Dan knows that I love taking personality quizzes, and while in Hong Kong I used to try force him into taking them too (usually against his will). So imagine my surprise when he suggested that we take some personality quizzes to gain better perspectives on ourselves and each other!
We took some really helpful ones such as the Myers Briggs personality test, compatibility tests, and Strengthsfinder. We also took a few fun ones on quizony to keep things light and entertaining.
We learned a lot about ourselves and each other doing this, and it’s a fun way to help maintain connection over the oceans!
Gifts and surprises
This one is my favorite! I love gifts, and any good surprise will keep me smiling for days! But because of the poor postal services in Africa (as mentioned previously), sending via mail doesn’t always ensure that the recipient will get it on the other side.
For this reason, we had to look online. Its easy to find a flower shop in your partners city or town that will deliver. All you have to do is google it, and place your order online! SO simple! Any girl will attest to the fact that a surprise delivery of flowers with a special note is one of the best romantic gestures.
Of course, Dan would not appreciate a bouquet of roses as much as I would, so I was able to find small gifts (ones that I know he would like and appreciate) on Amazon and Canadian store sites that were able to deliver to his doorstep.
It’s so easy, it just takes the click of a button and a credit card, and your partner will be overwhelmed with love and appreciation.
Notes and treasure hunts
Before I left, I hid little notes all around Dan’s apartment for him to find. It took him weeks to find all of them, and we both got a kick out of it! I’ve done this before with small gifts and chocolates/snacks too. (I think he secretly really enjoys this one!)
We got to a point in our (FaceTime) relationship where things were feeling a little boring and uh… stale. So one day, after a Facebook chat video call (where discovered some fun filters) we decided to give Snapchat a try.
Every morning I wake up to Dan as a singing sausage or some strange animal, and every day I leave him a montage of songs and sweet words… all while looking like a banana or a bee.
This honestly serves no other purpose than to keep things entertaining, and we often find ourselves rolling on the floor laughing at each other’s goofiness.
Create a playlist of your favorite songs
This is great for a rainy day when you are desperately missing your partner, but they are asleep in a different timezone and you can’t talk to them. Music has a magical way of helping you to feel closer to someone when they aren’t there. Create a playlist for them, and get your partner to create a playlist of their favorite songs for you.
Focus on the good, and the present
I have a tendency to dig up stuff from the past, and focus too much on the future. I rarely am able to focus on the here and now. I can sometimes let past grievances haunt me, and for a while I was dragging old ghosts into our relationship. This can easily happen when you are in a long distance relationship, as you have far too much time alone to think, and your imagination can go crazy thinking of what your partner could be doing or thinking on the other side of the world.
I eventually realized that I needed to re-train my brain, for the sake of my own mental health and our relationship.
I started a daily mental exercise where I had to focus on the beauty of my surroundings and feel gratitude for all the beautiful and small things in my life – from the flowers outside my window, to the fact that I can speak and open a door. This kept my mind from being distracted by old and negative thoughts, and helped me to focus on the present.
Next, I had to purposefully focus on Dan and fill my thoughts with how much he loves me, all of his amazing qualities, and all the wonderful things he does for me. Sometimes its easy to lose sight of all the reasons why you love someone, and it’s even easier to start doubting somebody’s love for you. By making this a daily practice, I feel like I am more in love with Dan than ever because I am keeping my focus on him and all the positives of our relationship.
It’s easy to get sucked into the past or the future when you are not in the same place at the same time as your partner. But focusing too much on the past or future can destroy your present. Take time to focus on the good in your partner and in your present situation. It will truly make a difference to your emotional and mental state!
Have a plan
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly: You need to have plan.
When will you see each other again, when will you be able to make being together permanent and how will you make this happen? You need to discuss this and figure it out together.
You can feel overwhelmed if you think of the year you have to spend a part. It seems almost impossible. But if you take it one interval at a time, it’s much more attainable.
When I left Hong Kong, we both felt discouraged. We didn’t know how to process the thought of living a year or two a part. So we decided we should rather focus on the next time we could see each other again. Instead of seeing it as a whole year doing long distance, we saw it as two months until we were together again. After that was another 4 months we needed to get through, etc. Keeping your focus short term helps you to keep perspective.
At the same time though, you need to focus on the future – how can you make a way to be together long term, and when will that be? You need to have an end goal. A wise man once told me:
“Vision gives pain a purpose.”
No truer words!
Long distance relationships are not for casual relationships. They required lot of trust, hard work, and a shared vision for the future. But they can be so rewarding! I feel closer to Dan and more in love with him than ever before. Our communication has improved vastly…. and distance really does make the heart grow fonder!