Recently I was leaning against a bar in Bristol. I was drinking to avoid the early evening rain and was passing time by eavesdropping on four students. Surrounded by almost empty glasses, they were talking about modern love and the long distance relationships some had entered into when they started university. One admitted she wanted to make hers a success but was struggling with the practicalities. "Do they ever even work?" She asked nobody in particular. I took a sip of my beer and fell into thought.
When it didn't work out, after two years of long distance, I spent a while in disbelief. I knew the long distance thing would be challenging, but I'd hoped that it might become easier over time. Long distance, though, can make the most firm relationship feel fragile regardless of hope, time and expectation. It's like throwing an egg in the air and catching it again and again, knowing it could break in your hands no matter how careful you are. It's not a ceramic egg either.
Many people seem understandably sceptical when you tell them you're in a long distance relationship, particularly if you liken it to catching an egg. Yet despite personal experience of long distance not working out, I remain convinced that it can work. Perhaps I'm just a sucker for hopeless romance but I'm not one of the sceptics, and to avoid being covered in egg white I think there are three things that that student should be particularly wary of.
1. Find closeness
Before going long distance, I understood love to be trapped in the wild feelings, like the butterflies I felt when our glancing eyes met and the embers I felt when she smiled at my jokes. My idea of love relied on us being in the same space, whether that meant sitting opposite each other in a dim restaurant or holding hands by the kettle. Love meant closeness.
Surviving a long distance relationship means adapting closeness so that you feel something between the moments of physical unity other than just the absence of it. Instead, closeness might mean brief midnight conversations or sharing the quiet parts of your heart in rambling letters. Amidst all the longing, treasure the interactions that make you feel connected to each other. Long distance doesn't mean you have to become good at being apart, but while you are do all you can to feel anything approaching closeness.
2. Accept the changes
You'll both change and you might worry about that like nobody's business. You might become jealous in ways you never were, or you might find that your strengths together become vulnerabilities apart. You might go from extrovert to introvert, and you'll notice even the most subtle changes in each other. That might frighten you, but you've just got to go with it. The soul of the person you love will become richer and stronger over time and it's up to you to recognise and appreciate that. Do all you can not to fear change and what it could mean for your long term compatibility, because change will happen whether you're distant from each other or not.
3. Talk, and talk and talk
In the limited windows you'll have to talk, be truly present and say everything. Say what you're too nervous to say. Say if the distance is making you feel strong or weak. Say sweet things, and be sincere. Say that you're certain you'll both make it, and mean it. Say that you're all about them and always will be, and let them keep that in the corner of their heart and be sure of it. Say if you're concerned that you're not aligned with each other. Say if you think it isn't working. Say what you're thinking, especially that, because communication is all you've got. Communication is your closeness.
They're obvious points, but it's smart to remind yourself of the obvious sometimes. If you want it to work then believe in it and give yourself completely to its ups and downs. Of course, it just might not work out. That's the game.
As for the student who wondered if they ever work? Well, who knows, but I sure hope so. If I had a ceramic egg on me, I'd have handed it to her to wish her good fortune. I never have a ceramic egg when I need one.