Sex & Relationships - 3,310 Miles: A Long Distance Reflection

Image Credit: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Sex and Relationships Columnist Dasha Pebly chronicles the bittersweetness of having a love that is miles away from you

I've just come off the high of seeing my long distance boyfriend everyday for a month, spare exactly one day thanks to him getting his wisdom teeth out. Or, in other words, crack cocaine for the average long distance relationship.

I started dating my boyfriend two days after we graduated high school. Things were perfect. A true honeymoon phase. And then, three months later, university. We went from living ten minutes apart to the gaping Atlantic separating us.

My boyfriend and I are both very pragmatic people. We hadn't deluded ourselves, we knew this would be a massive adjustment. A speed bump here or there was expected. What we got was something more like a wild off-road plunge, full of Top Gear-tier disasters. Just a month in and we were falling apart. Every conversation seemed to turn into a disagreement. Weekly clashes were followed by a sweet period, and then inevitably disrupted by a new issue. It was a vicious cycle. By November, I had enough late night arguments and ‘do we end things?’ talks for a lifetime or two. 

But - and of course there's a but - we persisted.

Now, it wasn't easy. For me, the most valuable tool I found to cope with the distance was optimism (the second most valuable was a pint of Bulmers). I mean near-delusional levels of sunshine. That, admittedly, was almost impossible to summon at times. No one has the ability to piss you off like someone you love. Even so, I had to believe - really believe - we'd work. Mainly because I needed us to work. That need was crucial; without it, I'd have dipped at the first sign of trouble. 

My partner was the same way. He had to be. When it comes to any successful relationship, both parties must be prepared to put everything they have into making it work. We both had to commit ourselves to the teeth-gritting work of keeping us together - which is easier to preach. In practice, well. 

Long distance comes with all the downsides of a relationship with very few of the pluses. The petty arguments, the jealousy, the miscommunication, with no physical closeness to make up for these failings. It sounds shallow. I’d say it isn't at all. Humans are social creatures. Our brains are wired to crave connections - romantic or otherwise. A relationship sustained entirely through text and video call may very well be emotionally fulfilling. That doesn't negate how important touch is for people. Research suggests touch helps to reduce heart rate and blood pressure, as well as relax our nervous system. For many, the comfort of physical affection comes from their significant other. 

I’m no exception to this. I learned the hard way that you can miss someone so much it hurts. At the risk of seeming self-pitying, I’m convinced there’s a certain evilness to long distance. On my worst days, the only thing I wanted was to see one person. Even when I was frustrated to tears with him, all I wanted was to be in his arms. I'm a bit of a poetry snob, so I've read about how love can make you ache. I'd assumed it was hyperbole. It turns out, not so much. God bless my poor Squishmallow, who has borne the brunt of my touch starvation. 

I may have personal beef with long distance, but I'd be remiss to paint my experience as exclusively negative.

Long distance has banished the notion that arguments are necessarily harmful. In fact, for my own relationship, they turned out to be a good thing. Surely, continuous arguments can be indicative of a toxic relationship. But they can also be the growing pains in a healthy one. There was a period of time where my boyfriend and I were butting heads at least once a week. We were trying to sort out one another's triggers and communication styles. It's thanks to these that we've come to understand one another much better. We identified our limits and set boundaries. We've also become experts at reading one another. We're able to anticipate each other's anxieties and respond with sensitivity. Distance has not only made our hearts grow fonder, but also helped us build a foundation of trust and understanding. 

And, really, day to day in an LDR isn't so unbearable. When the issue is a matter of separation, the solution is doing anything to feel ever marginally closer. I am guilty of being a screenager, thanks to my relationship. Nine times out of ten, I will be found texting him. We send fit checks, I spam him with ridiculous vlogs and photos of any little thing that reminds me of him. We exchange cute cat TikToks (to which we obviously respond with “this is so us”). We call and talk about our lectures, our friends, our daily anecdotes. Sometimes, I almost forget we're on different continents. (That is, up until I have to go to sleep with just my Squishmallow Iobster for company.)

The holiday break was a blessing. It made up for every moment of my turbulent first semester. The second I saw my boyfriend again, everything else ceased to matter. I'm lucky to be in a situation where I can see my boyfriend at least semi-regularly. We monopolized each other's time. It was an overdue reminder of what we put up with everything for. And a relatively secondary advantage (but no less valued), I will be returning to Dublin with a gallery full of pictures. As it turns out, long distance is perfect leverage. It's easy: throw on puppy dog eyes and a reminder of how many days you have left together. Just like that, complete compliance for an unflattering 0.5 photo.

I'm no fonder of being so far from my partner. It's not ideal, but it is what is. I can only make the most of it. And for all my fellow victims of distance, hang in there. Maybe consider purchasing a weighted blanket and body pillow to simulate cuddling.