I Survived A 5-Year Long Distance Relationship (And You Can, Too, With These 8 Tips)

We met, we fell in love, and then we said goodbye every month for five years.
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Allison Bowsher
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We met, we fell in love, and then we said goodbye every month for five years.

Let me just say it; five-and-a-half years is a crazy amount of time to be in a long- distance relationship. I know that. My husband knows that. It’s not like we thought it was a good idea. It just kinda happened.

While I don’t suggest anyone go that long living apart from their partner, I will say that it can be done and successfully. But again, try to keep it short. 

We met traveling in Europe. I knew I liked him right away. He was handsome and funny and kind and always looked calm and relaxed. This is significant for someone who has spent their life dealing with anxiety-induced IBS.

After nine days together, we tearfully said goodbye in Paris, which sounds like it should be romantic, but in fact was the two of us crying in front of a crappy hotel while we tried to not breathe in the fumes from a nearby bus. 

He promised to call when he got back from the second leg of his trip and I mentally promised myself to not blurt out “Sounds good, love you already!” as I got on the bus. Thankfully, we both kept our word.

After a few seven-hour car rides to see each other that summer, he packed his bags and moved to Florida for school. Before he left, I told him that I wanted us to stay together and would figure out the logistics. He had done long distance unsuccessfully and didn’t think it would work. But by that point I was done for. Common sense be damned, I was in love. 

Again, I assured him I would take care of everything. My pitch worked and our long distance love went from a few hours in the car to a few hours on the plane.

We dated for over five years, always two countries apart, always knowing that I would eventually move. I had a job I loved, but my then-boyfriend’s work required him to be in the US. 

In a way, it made things easier to not have to spend months arguing over who would move where. We kept up the long distance until I felt I had gone as far as I could in my position, which thankfully coincided with him graduating and finding a job of his own.

We got a lawyer, got married, and I waited in Canada for a year until my green card was approved and we could finally be together for good.

Five-and-a-half years is a long time for anyone to be in a relationship, let alone one where the two parties are in different countries. It’s not easy, but no relationship is. Here are my tips.

Pack Your Bags

Skype and FaceTime and texting are great, but nothing beats actually seeing the person. I had many friends over the years talk to me about problems they were having with their long distance partner. When I would ask when they were seeing one another next, the answer would sometimes be three or four months. Obligations, money, distance, all these things play a huge part in determining schedules, but if you can work it out, nothing beats face to face, or you know, skin to skin contact.

Money Is Important

It’s not romantic, but the hard truth of long distance is that finances play a huge role. Great relationships can end for the sad and simple fact that two people don’t have the disposable income to see one another. Love is all you need as long as you share a zip code. 

Spending 48 hours together may require a plane or train ticket and taking time off work. Become one with travel websites. Accept the unpleasantness of going to work on Monday after spending the night on a train. And if you can split the cost of travel with your partner, even better.

Know Your Audience

I distinctly remember my cousin showing up to dinner in tears one night telling me her fiancé had taken a job in another province for three months. “Now I know how you feel,” she said. 

I nodded and held her hand and sympathized. But the fact was she had no idea how I felt. Her partner would be back and soon. They had a timeframe, an end date, and even more, they shared the same citizenship. 

At that point in our relationship I was still unsure as to when I would move to the US, how much legal advice would cost, and how long I’d have to wait for a green card. 

On the other hand, standing around an airport and seeing people say goodbye to their partner in uniform makes you stop feeling sorry for yourself pretty damn fast. It’s great to have friends to lean on in similar situations, just know your audience before launching into a "woe is me" speech.

Haters To The Left

As with most things in life, there are the haters. It always shocked me when I would tell people why my boyfriend wasn’t at a party with me and listen to their response of "Don’t you worry he’s cheating on you?" 

Distance doesn’t determine cheating. People cheat on partners they eat breakfast with every day. 

There will be eye-rolling and snickering and shockingly stupid comments. People are going to think you’re nuts and maybe it is a bit nuts to date someone you only see every few weeks. If "love" meant "common sense" then we’d all be married to our third grade boyfriends. Prepare yourself for the haters and send them to the left.

Not Every Visit Is Going To Be Great

Seeing your partner once every few weeks or months puts a lot of pressure on very little time. Do you spend two days snuggling on the couch or try to interact with each other’s friends in social settings? Are there heavy conversations that you should have in person or should you keep things light and breezy? There’s no right answer and like any relationship, some phases won’t be great. Distance doesn’t equal a romantic getaway every few weeks. There are no free passes, even with distance.

Do You

There are definitely some upsides to long distance and these things are especially important to keep in mind when you’re feeling like an XXL sad sack over missing your boo. Living apart means you have more time to work on your own personal and professional projects. Spend time with family and friends. Try a new sport. Eat cereal for dinner (actually, I still do that). 

My husband started out worrying that being in a relationship wouldn’t be possible because of his demanding school schedule. In reality, we would have a FaceTime date for an hour and spend the rest of the night doing our own thing with a few texts here and there. We were young when we met, but being physically apart meant we still had the time and freedom to discover who we were as people outside of our relationship.

You’re Gonna Miss Stuff and That’s OK

Missing one another is a given, but living in different cities or countries means you won’t be there for all of life’s big and small events. Again, it sucks. But quality over quantity is a great thing and spending time apart builds a great foundation for appreciating spending time together.

You Got This

Staying positive, or at least managing to get through an entire day without crying is a huge achievement when you’re constantly missing your significant other. You got this. And when all else fails, I highly recommend Drew Barrymore and Justin Long’s Going The Distance. And a lot of ice cream.