Without the distance hurdle added to it, a relationship in and of itself is a windy tricky road to maneuver. Love has this unorthodox way of making personalities unravel, putting one's intentions through the test of time. And no you don't get disclaimer-style warnings.
Kudos to people who know what they want, I've met folks who adamantly emphasize on their belief that they are not cut out for long distance relationship. Who can blame them? What can possibly explain why someone would add limitations on top of something that requires work?
I used to be one of those folks.
"Unfortunately, I have a 50 mile radius limit"
Was what I said to him when he asked if we could get to know each other better, after only messaging back and forth on Facebook. Yes, I met my husband, the man of my heart's desires, on social media.
How? you may ask.
Well, I kept responding to his messages and caved in on that distance limit. You know, compromised and extended it a little. 4000 oceanic miles to be exact.
I knew very little about this man and almost all of it came from scrutinizing his Facebook profile. Of course I knew there would be more, I mean, there was so much more to me than what one could scroll through and absorb on my page.
The dating dynamics in the Ethiopian diaspora community which I remained in for the most part had it's perks to it, debatable on value as they may be. You would know a girl who knows a guy who knows the guy who is showing interest in you. Which meant most of your background research would already be done for you by the time you agree to a first date. Needless to say, with him, I was like a fish out of water who somehow was convinced it has lungs for gills. I later found out it was similar with him too.
Bonus? We both happen to love in a wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeves and hit-the-ground-running kinda seemingly hopeless ways. Just perfect!
All the rest had to unfold with long distance relationship pace and a whole 5 years of it. Agonizingly slow but deeply real.
There was a force that pulled us to an unknown far out of the zones of our blissful comforts literally and figuratively speaking and it was for more than each other's 'as advertised' qualities on the surface.
Now, we are married, have merged our lives and are expecting our first child together.
I've become a believer in the realness of something being measured in how much it changes you. In the growth it brings about.
And oh hell yes it gets difficult before you learn your lessons, you will feel the burn the longer you endure before the grand theme strikes a chord with both your souls. One or both of you will have unrealistic expectations, will fail at the timing and level of communication the relationship needs to thrive. Demons old and new, insecurities, power struggles, loneliness and things left unsaid will eat away at whatever you hoped for your union. You will be tempted to give up, you will give up, again and again.
Scared yet? Don't be, a 'but' is on the way!
But if you keep coming back and each time you do, allow the love playing you for a yo yo actually change you, you will realize that distance was in fact a blessing to be uncovered from underneath a blanket of limitations woven as a disguise just so you will dare look deeper.
“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”– Mother Teresa
The world continues to shrink smaller with more of us traveling to unfamiliar territories, presented with endless virtual possibilities of meeting people so far away that we otherwise would't have come or stayed in contact with. That's what excites me about this blog post. There will be some of you out there wondering if it's worth it to take the dive, how far is too far, if it's at all doable and if so, what are things to keep in mind?
I got you with with all I've come to know about love that endures, even from afar.
So, what does it REALLY take?
1. NOT a village
Let's face it, many women make the mistake on overindulging their friends with details of their relationships. Sometimes for a healthy level of support and guidance and other times due to a dangerous lust for their validation and approval. You guessed it, I was the later!
A repeat offender on this charge I might add, anxious to please others in exchange for their stamps of approval also in other personal and sensitive areas of my life. Don't get me wrong, we are no islands. It's a human need to have a pair of ears to listen to and offer a fresh and uncluttered perspective that you otherwise may be blind to as flames of impulse rage out of control fueled by ill-trained hormonal pathways .
But those boundaries though! Don't you neglect those!
Especially in long distance relationships where you have more unknowns than you can get answers to, more gaps in information that elongate the amount of time you are probably used to uncovering truths about the other person. In such instances, you are more likely to make your relationship a communal matter just because you have little to go by in a beginning that seems to linger. This is where you bring whatever half-baked knowledge you may have of your partner and most likely the juicy details of reluctance to your girl's brunch tables and phone chats. Then you watch and reluctantly participate as a personality you haven't even given yourself time to understand get scrutinized by well-meaning friends who know no better about it than you do.
Gaps that you should allow only the one you love and the flow of time to fill, those then become group text topics where you don't know weather to defend your strong affinity towards giving love a chance and risk seeming like a fool or keep your cool little corner letting a consensus determine your nest step.
Only you can attest to the force of gravity of love you are experiencing. It's only you that needs to jump, you don't need anybody's approval to take the leap. Go in the exact direction where your heart pulls and you will find bliss somewhere in the full commitment of your well-meant intentions. Bliss sometimes in exactly what you want, other times in lessons you needed to learn anyway.
2. Expectations, expectations, expectations...
You wish you never had them so you can avoid being hurt. Same way you would sometimes prefer to stay awake lest nightmares visit. If anyone says to you, 'no expectations', including yourself, laugh aloud because you have just been told the biggest joke.
We all have them in abundance, especially towards someone we are willing to open our hearts for. Maybe we are good at hiding them to not seem 'needy' but that always backfires the more our souls feel abandoned by our choice of filters that block out our true feelings.
My husband was so good at honoring his soul and allowing his expectations to be seen all the way from the first Facebook 'poke' (don't judge, those were in season back then and more like waves ). He knew exactly what he wanted and that I was the kind of woman he wanted to pursue it with. What I failed to explain was exactly how unusual that was from my angle, in a truly too-good-to-be-true kind of way.
While I once was the 'I think I like you, lets get lost in wherever this may take us kind of lover, I had successfully and gradually tamed my expectations to the 'acceptable' norms of what was in style, safe, young and hip. All from bad experiences and mimicking the trends of the community I was in. You don't lay it all down until you've waited and played some games and ensured you would be the one who cared just a little less for the power in a relationship would only then be yours to keep. Or so I made myself believe.
My point here is, lay your expectations bare. Never too early to do that if you are leaning towards wanting more of whatever that person seems to embody. Holding them back only lets assumptions fester, morph into disappointments and can only bring hurt to both of you.
How much is too much and how little is too little? How early is too early and why? Say it all with the intention to be understood and not to push away or rather suffocate. Don't allow each other attempt to fill blanks with guesses or try and derive them from mere tendencies. Chances are you will both guess and derive wrong and will soon head for the hills assuming the worst.
2. Communicate like a pro
Long distance relationship doesn't have the monopoly on benefiting from a steady and diligent communication habits between lovers but consider it brain dead without one. We joke about naming out future child 'Viber' for a good reason. We Lived on viber. Tango and WhatsApp whenever Viber drained the last ounce of patience out of us. A day without my earphones has an emptiness to it. I took him into museums, basilicas, parks, restaurants and all I needed was a phone and the longing to connect with him.
We spent hours talking, sometimes just quietly doing our own things while we remained on line and on an active call.
Photos exchanged and video calls go further in depicting how the day is going for the other human at the other end of the line whom you don't get to see often. You need to grab opportunities to relate to each other, discuss issues weather they are personal or what happens to be on the news. Debate on that hot political news, share your woes about a mutually disliked public figure like (go figure).
It's never been better, technologically speaking, to be a part of someone's day however far away. Use all the tools you got.
3. Yup, you CAN overdo it
Sometimes you just need me time, away from your gadgets and closer to just your own breath. Your brain, fingers, eyes and ears all to yourself. You could be hanging our with friends and family or binge watching your favorite show.
If he/she happens to be one who doesn't enjoy or value solitude, this conversation needs to be had as early on as possible. Otherwise, it's likely to be taken as an act of taking someone for granted or being bored with , even as being sneaky behind their back unless trust levels are nice and healthy. On the other hand, the enthusiasm towards communication can be misunderstood as possessiveness. It's amazing how many unnecessary pain can be prevented by just saying what you think and stating it in absolute clarity.
If you have to be the one in the relationship to assert that, then by all means take the lead!
4. Practice, earn and renew trust
Little things can bug you.
After all , you are two different beings with completely different ways of seeing the world and handling yourselves. Your past experiences also shape your outlooks. If insecurities can grow and fester anywhere, long distance relationships are the breeding grounds.
You don't have the luxury of seeing your loved one on frequent dates or weekend outings where physical presence reassures both of you of continued commitment and that what you have started not being just a seasonal fling. You don't have the luxury to see your lover in different social scenarios often enough to rest assured on how they carry themselves.
By communicating your plans and covering grounds of doubt, trust can be built and maintained even while living miles away. Your partner deserves to know important details of your social life away from him/her. If you get into an egotistic face off for the sake of asserting that you are independent, you are doing the relationship a disservice. A fertile ground of openness breeds trust and trust is the backbone of any healthy relationship. Build it with all your might and you will realize that true freedom as a part of a pair is actually strengthened through it.
5. Keep the fire burning
You don't get to go on dates as often as you'd like. Bummer! But that doesn't mean you two can't go on dates!
Grab a glass of (insert beverage of choice), resist the urge to feel sorry for yourself as you dress up to feel your best, dim the lights , light up some candles and sit in front of your (insert electronic gadget). You have yourself a date night!
The sight of your lover is sure to bring the joy of companionship. Do this regularly or just whenever you feel the longing. Send each other small pieces of personal belongings that bring a scent of your memory your partner's senses to feast on.
Love can't die unless you let it.
6. Spend less money and more quality time
It's so easy to get lost in celebratory fiestas whenever you two meet. Resist the strong urge to cram the weeks or months you have been apart into one weekend of going-all-out shenanigans of the expensive kinds.
You want to do it all. Go to every place you have frequented solo and envied seeing couples stroll holding hands. It’s time you asserted to your loner self and showed the world you have a partner to do things with! Right?
Fine but pace yourself.
Celebratory tendencies, if left unchecked, are sure to impact not only your wallets but also the habits you set the tone for in your relationship going forward.
Me and my husband failed miserably on this, amongst other truths.
He aimed to sweep me off my feet with his taste for the finer things in life, I got comfortable being swept away. It was a while before we realized it was our combined vision for our future that deserved investing in, not the posh long weekends we spent together.
It wasn't until we did "boring" things together that didn't cost much if anything at all that we realized our connection getting deeper, our conversations becoming more honest and our plans extended well into our future together.
Take that walk in the park, watch a documentary together, spend a day at a free entry museum. More money left in your bank, more banking on true and lasting connections.
7. Leave room for emotions, yes, even pain
You are in of the hardest kinds of relationships to initiate, maintain and grow. Go easy on yourself and your lover!
Most of us lack the proper emotional training to nurture healthy connections with others even while we have all the time and physical proximity in the world to get to know them. Forget that, how many of us are content and joyful with our own selves? May I remind you of how long you've lived with yourself and ask you if even that relationship has blossomed?
Nobody you happen to relate with, near or far, by choice or what cards you were dealt to by good old genetics, owes you your happiness. The most important battle we must fight and win is the one with our own selves. Once you are a warrior for the truth of the nature of your psychology and experiences that have shaped it, you will sure have empathy. Empathy towards yourself as you dive deeper into yourself, empathy for the other human who is bringing a whole another world of existence to you.
There will be days you will resent ever falling in love or committing to this painful arrangement of here and there. And that’s ok. It should surprise you if you don’t care or are not affected by the realization of what you have gotten yourself into. Your heart will never get used to the flights away after spending beautiful days together. Your fights will be exaggerated just simply because physical presence is lacking.
If there is ever a time you need to go easy on yourself and need to offer the understanding you seek, it’s now. Evaluate, re-evaluate and remind yourself with the why’s. You may not see it right away but weather or not the relationship blossoms into something more, the two of you had something vital to teach one another. Pay attention to the lessons and replace judgement with empathy.
6. Lemonade anyone?
You’ve got yourself a bitter reality with the potential to be sweetened with the correct ingredients. Get creative with your recipe!
We live in a time where technology makes most things possible without much hassle. Surprise each other with deliveries of thoughtfulness to compensate for any gap distance is bound to create.
Never left your city? Well, this is your chance! Countries or oceans apart? Get some stamps on your passport with the excuse of visiting your loved one. Meet somewhere new, explore cultures together. Being out of your comfort zones in unison is the best getting to know each other trick.
Your lover will not complete you, he/she isn’t the missing piece in the giant jigsaw you call your life. Distance is a blessing in disguise in this scenario. Don’t waste too much time resenting it, trust me, the work you do on yourself, the self care you indulge in will get you ready to be one part of a lasting and joyous relationship.