All Posts, Long Distance Relationships, Relationship Advice

What I learned from my three-year long distance relationship

After three whole years spent living in different apartments, cities, then landmasses, I’m finally nearing the end of the long distance chapter of my relationship.

Finally.

My partner Nate and I met in college in December 2013 (we say “partner” because we’re ~mature adults~ and equals). After I sat next to him in class and we talked briefly, I stalked him on Facebook, he asked me out a bunch of times and showed up to my social events until my friends checked him out and I got jealous and realized I liked him, and the rest is history!

We fell in love quickly, and even during the first month of our relationship, I knew he was the person I wanted to marry someday.

The only problem was that he’s a few years older than me and was graduating in a matter of months. We dreaded talking about the future and letting the reality of our inevitable long distance or breakup set in.

The week before he graduated, we finally sat down and had the talk: what was going to happen when he moved back to Orange County and started law school, while I was continuing college in Santa Barbara?

Among the many qualities Nate and I share that make us a great couple is our ability to openly talk to each other and solve our problems rationally — and most importantly, as a team. We’re also both relatively narcissistic (if you couldn’t already tell by reading the previous sentence).

We sat down and talked through every one of our worst fears about the outcomes of both a LDR (long distance relationship) and breaking up. We discussed every possible aspect of LDR we could think of and how we’d each like to handle it.

I visited him every other weekend during my senior year — I came to him because he needed to focus on studying during his first year of law school. Also, I loved coming over because his parents would feed me and I was broke as hell (and his mom’s homemade pho ga is the best ever).

After I graduated, I moved back in with my parents in Davis, California and we flew to each other every three weeks between NorCal and SoCal for over a year.

But during that last year, I battled with insecurities, unhappiness, and dissatisfaction with myself while I worked in retail and lost a lot of my confidence.

I relied heavily on Nate to be there for me when I needed encouragement, validation, and friendship. I got frustrated with him often because I didn’t have anything else in my life going on and focused mostly on him and our relationship.

I was desperate for something in my life to change and get me out of the rut I’d been in for over a year.

I ended up choosing to take a job in journalism back on Guam, where I was born and raised. I knew it could mean the end of our relationship eventually as I accepted a yearlong contract across the world from him, but I needed to do it for my own happiness and professional success.

We ended up breaking up only two months after I left California. We were both so heartbroken because we still loved each other deeply, but I wanted to stay on Guam with my new life and he was too scared to move and was still in the middle of his last year of law school. (Don’t worry, this story has a happy ending — we got back together!)

Nate and I are excellent at many things, but treating each other like normal exes isn’t one of them. We ended up still texting every day, we said “I love you” for months, and continued to be best friends who supported each other.

I can’t say I ever imagined my life (and our relationship) to unfold this way when I first sat down next to this random (well-dressed) dude with glasses and poofy hair in class, but no matter what happens in the future, I’ve changed and matured so much in the past three years we’ve been together.

These are a few of the most important lessons I’ve learned during three years of long distance (from a three-hour drive, to a one-hour plane ride, to an ocean apart):

Being alone is actually really great (and healthy).

When Nate and I first started dating, we spent allllll our time together. We took another class together, we ate lunch together between classes, we walked home together and watched TV shows in my bed for hours until he went to bed late, then we met up again in the morning in class and repeated the whole thing every day.

I got so used to spending every waking moment with him (and bailing on plans with other friends and extracurricular commitments just to be with him) that it physically hurt to be apart when he moved.

Eventually I just learned to distract myself and count down the days until we could visit each other, but it wasn’t until I moved far away from him and my family that I actually learned how to live my life fully for myself.

I cultivated a group of close friends who I hung out with every weekend (and during the week too), I grew closer to my coworkers and went out with them after hours, I made time to reconnect with my extended family, I went to the beach and tried new things on my time off. I grew so much getting thrown into new environments every day for work, too.

I actually had a full life for the first time since we started dating (maybe even for the first time in my life), and I absolutely loved it. I loved it so much that I chose this life for myself instead of putting romance first, for the first time ever (I’ve been boy-crazy since elementary school, unfortunately).

Living very far apart forced me to grow like crazy. Even though I love Nate so much, I’m grateful I got the chance to go somewhere on my own and figure my life out for myself. We had a rough half year when we broke up, but I still wouldn’t change it if I could because it made me into the independent, self-sufficient, and happy person I am today.

It also worked out best for our relationship too, because I needed this growth to be a better partner to Nate, instead of getting mad at him for every little thing because I was unsatisfied with my own life. Going through this rough patch also strengthened our relationship so much, and now we’re even more connected and smitten than we were during the honeymoon phase. #smitten4ages

It’s easy to take each other for granted, but make sure you don’t.

I can’t stress how important it is to remember how much the other person is right for you and is there for you, even when you’re not physically together.

After he goes to bed and can’t text me for the rest of the day, I think about him a lot. We’re apart all day, but when I can’t even talk to him, I take some time to sit and actively think about him, our future, fun times in the past, or why I love him so much. (This is all so sappy, I usually don’t write this many nice things about him all at once)

Having a period every day when I can’t talk to him makes me even more grateful for his presence when we get to text regularly during the time we’re both awake.

Don’t sweat the small stuff — but the small stuff also matters so much.

This sounds confusing, but these are two different definitions of “small stuff.”

I used to nitpick every little thing Nate would say to me and get irritated if it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear. If I texted him something fishing for a compliment and he didn’t praise me the way I wanted, I’d get upset and sometimes ignored him or gave him a bad attitude.

Since we got back together, I try not to to read too much into the wording of his messages (plus I just stay too busy with work and my social life to over-analyze as much as I did when I had no job/friends). Texting is a difficult and ambiguous form of communication, and getting mad about it just creates more tension — and it’s already hard enough not seeing each other in person.

But it’s also hard not to read closely into texts when texts are sometimes all we have to connect in a LDR.

Even though I’m busy with work most of the time, and I end up texting a bit mindlessly sometimes, I try to make time to be thoughtful about my messages to Nate. If I’m busy in the moment, I hold onto a thought and bring it up to him later or if it’s a serious topic I make time for him.

It’s easy to let things fall through the cracks, but it’s important to make time for your partner and let them know they’re worth it.

You need to treat it like a real relationship even when you’re not physically together.

Even though we can’t actually sit down to dinner or show physical affection, we try our best to show each other we’re still each other’s priorities.

When I first moved to Guam, sometimes we’d have to cancel or delay Skype dates last minute, because other things got in the way of our face-to-face time. If he didn’t make time for me, I felt hurt because I didn’t feel like I was important enough to him. And if I didn’t make time for him, I felt like our connection was becoming less tangible and we were fading out of each other’s lives.

Now we make time to Skype every Friday or Saturday (my time), which is a lot easier now that Nate is done with school. It takes some rearranging of our schedules, and sometimes I have to turn down plans with friends or family in person. It’s easy to cancel a Skype date since we’re not physically together, but the time commitment and effort made to be available for the other person are still real.

People aren’t static.

When Nate and I first got together, I thought he was this cool English major who loved writing and reading fiction (basically I thought he was just like me). For his birthday, I even bought him a book with hundreds of writing prompts because I thought it’d be fun for him.

Months into the relationship, I learned he didn’t like writing for fun at all (besides getting some enjoyment using flowery language for his school assignments). He’s a nice person so he thanked me for the gift, but it’s still sitting on his bookshelf, untouched. Instead, his interests were mainly basketball and poker. He also didn’t reveal he was a huge anime geek until half a year into our relationship — maybe that was my bad for talking about how weird anime lovers were, before I knew his true nature.

About half a year to a year in, I realized he wasn’t the person I thought I was falling in love with at all.

But that was okay, because I loved the person I was getting to know even more than the fantasy I made him out to be in my head.

During the course of our relationship, we’ve both changed a lot from who we were when we met. I’m not the same 20-year-old campus activist and he’s not the lazy party animal he used to be (jk, the lazy part is still somewhat true). But we’ve changed so much, together.

Three years in, we’re starting our careers, he’s done with law school, I’m more self-assured, he’s more liberal than he used to be, I’m less religious than I used to be. He wrote a chapter for my LDR advice book and had fun with it. And I even started watching anime with him! Now that’s true love.

We’ve both gotten to know each other so well that we can handle any problem together and know what to say to make the other feel better.

I used to be sad that the honeymoon phase was over, but sharing lifelong mutual growth and support is so much more fulfilling.

If you’ve found someone you can grow steadily with over time and encourage each other, even with the difficulties of distance keeping you apart, you’re incredibly lucky. I know I am.