Long-Distance isn’t fun. Anyone can tell you that. But you also can’t stop loving someone just because they live too far away. Most couples in a long distance relationship know the odds, but still want to give it a try.
To make a long distance relationship work, I think you need to understand exactly what happens in these relationships. I was in a long distance relationship between Texas and Japan for a year and a half, before I moved to Japan to be with my now-husband. Now that I am happily married and looking back in hindsight on our relationship, I have come up with a few observations.
Long distance relationships follow four general steps: Denial, Short-term depression, Loneliness, and Acceptance. These are my thoughts.
The Four Stages of Long Distance
Denial starts before the long distance relationship even begins. It’s that first stage, when you tell them “we can make it work.” You argue that while everyone else might have failed, what you have is real. You can survive the distance.
Denial comes in many different forms. It can be as simple as “just stay for a couple more hours and drive back after lunch” to “Push your flight back a couple days, I will pay the difference.”
It is that first stage of panic, tears, and anxiety of separation.
2. Short-term extreme depression/loneliness
This happens usually directly after your significant other leaves. This loneliness used to always hit me the hardest when my husband’s bus pulled away. I would run into a nearby bathroom and cry my eyes out.
It was even worse when we were at an airport.
At this point, you don’t actually miss them yet. You are just depressed because you know how much you are going to miss them.
You would think that as your relationship progresses, you get better at saying “goodbye,” but I’ve found the opposite to be true. As the months dragged on, the “goodbyes” became more brutal and heartbreaking. The “goodbyes” during our second year of long distance were just as painful (if not more) than that initial “goodbye” at the airport, when my husband was flying back to Japan.
For me, this stage usually lasts between a couple minutes to a couple days (depending on whether it is going to be a couple weeks or a couple months until I see my significant other again). Just to be safe, I try not to schedule anything that requires intense concentration for the days following each “goodbye.”
3. Steady depression
It’s exactly what it sounds like. When my husband and I are not in the same city, I am depressed. I’m not deeply depressed, at least not enough to require any medication. It’s just a little blanket of sadness that covers my life – just enough that people who know me can tell if he’s visiting or not.
This stage goes on for as long as you want it to. I have friends in long distance relationships that are depressed for several weeks every time their significant other visits, then leaves. I also have friends that recover almost instantly. Everything finally settles on the final step: Acceptance.
The problem with acceptance is that it can come in either one of two forms: Replacement or Surrender.
Replacement is by far the worst. I would estimate that 90% of couples in long-term relationships opt for replacement. Replacement means what it sounds like; you replace your significant other with something so that you don’t miss them so much.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that you are replacing them with another person; it is also common to replace a loved one with a hobby, job, friends, clubs, or horrible reality television (like Toddlers in Tiaras, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, or Judge Judy). The basic gist of replacement is that you’ve gotten tired of that hole in your heart, so you try to use all that frustration, depression, and loneliness and turn it into something productive.
During one particularly lonely Christmas, I made close to 100 cloth flowers with a mold I got from a friend. Each flower took about 20 minutes to make (at least), with another 10 minutes attaching it to something (a hair clip, hair band, or pin). In a four week period, I spent almost 60 hours making cloth flowers because I felt lonely.
At the time, I felt pretty proud of myself. Now – not so much.
You see, the problem with replacing your loved one with a hobby or craft is that it is taking up the energy you used to devote solely to your significant other. So, not only are you physically too far apart to see each other (which makes it much harder), by throwing yourself into a project, you are also making yourself emotionally unavailable.
I knew when I hit this phase because I didn’t want to Skype with my husband. I didn’t have energy for him, I didn’t want him to see me because I felt useless, and most importantly, I felt like I didn’t have enough time. Skyping became something I dreaded doing, instead of what used to be the highlight of my day (earlier in step 3).
This is how long distance relationships fail.
One or both parties start to replace their significant other with something (another person, a hobby, or extra work).
This causes resentment. Resentment causes fighting and even more depression.
Eventually one or both sides feels like the relationship is not worth it anymore. This can take anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months. I’ve even seen relationships last long-distance for several years, and then suddenly fall apart.
The other option is Surrender. Surrendering means that you realize that your situation is miserable. You wish you could see your significant other but you can’t.
And then, rather than trying to replace them with something else, you move on.
Of course when your significant other is gone, there’s going to be a hole. Something will be missing. But there’s nothing wrong with that. You can live with a little hole in your heart, as long as you learn to accept it – rather than fix it.
You can live with that tiny hole as long as you realize that whatever feeling you have right now will be “worth it” when you finally do get to see your significant other again. It helps if you can see them at least once every other month. If you can’t – just keep the date you get to see them again someone in plain view (like taped to the back of your door or on the refrigerator). Knowing that date makes the distance easier.
Every time you visit each other, the cycle repeats from step 1. Eventually you just get used to it. It doesn’t necessarily get any easier, but you do learn helpful tricks to managing the depression, frustration, and resentment that may pop up every once and a while.
Relationships are not easy, but long-distance relationships are especially challenging. If you really love each other and are 100% committed to making it work, regardless of the cost, then you have hope.
If you are not 100% committed… don’t try. I’ve been in a failed long-distance relationship (where I was putting in more effort than he was) and it was incredibly frustrating and painful. Don’t waste someone else’s time like that. I understand not wanting to break up because you love them, but you have to realize that every day they spend in a long-distance relationship, they are sacrificing opportunities (job, friends, potential lovers) to stay with you.
My failed long-distance relationship only lasted about a month and a half and the entire time I thought there was something wrong with me. I swore never to do another long-distance relationship… and then I met my husband, a Japanese student studying abroad at my college for a year. We lived in the same dorm and dated for about six months before he went back to Japan. I followed him for a 15 month study abroad in Japan (I had already planned to study in Japan, dating him extended my study abroad by an additional four months).
I never once felt worthless or alone in our relationship.
We’re married now, living in Tokyo. And although doing long distance was frustrating and at times painful, I’m so glad I tried. If I had just given up, I wouldn’t be married to my best friend right now and living an exciting adventure in a foreign country.
Grace Buchele Mineta is a quirky freelancer, living in Tokyo with her college sweetheart (and husband), Ryosuke. She blogs and draws comics about their daily life on her blog “Texan in Tokyo” as well as recording bi-weekly videos on her Youtube channel “Texan in Tokyo.” Want to hear more from her on Long Distance Relationships? Check out her post “13 Surprising Benefits of being in a Long Distance Relationship“