I’ve recently gotten into a relationship, but with winter break coming up soon, this is the first time my partner and I are going to be apart for more than a week. Fall break and Thanksgiving were fine since we were able to talk to each other nearly every day, but I’m worried that the longer duration of winter break might make things more difficult. How do I navigate a long-distance relationship?
Dear Distance Doubter,
Heading into a long-distance relationship can change your typical dynamic slightly, but it doesn’t have to be a negative experience. In fact, you can learn a lot about yourself and your relationship from long distance. In terms of navigating long-distance relationships, the first thing to note is that communication truly is key. I would advise trying to start a conversation with your partner now about expectations for each other during your time apart. If you’re feeling nervous or anxious about this, you can bet they are too. Some potential things to talk about include: how frequently you plan on talking, both through text and on the phone; how you will juggle communicating during busier times (e.g., family or other obligations like Princeternships, volunteering, shadowing, etc.), on completely unavailable times/days, or when you’ll be spending time with friends; or how you’ll maintain intimacy. For example, you may want to discuss access to private spaces, and what you would both feel comfortable doing together. However, remember that things may change and people can change their minds. The options for virtual intimacy are endless, but it really depends on the specific dynamics of your relationship, and it’s important to remember that consent is still important. This means that you always want to check in with your partner; never send any unsolicited pictures, videos, or texts. Ease into things, and make sure you are mindful about the space you’re in (e.g., you’d never want a coworker to look over your shoulder and see private messages).
It’s also important to know that it might not be realistic for you and your partner to talk every day, like you did during fall and Thanksgiving break, especially if you’re in different time zones. And that’s okay! But this might require both sides to intentionally make more time for each other in order to enable ease and frequency of communication. Virtual dates are a great way to do this. Some virtual date ideas could include: watching a movie or show together (there are several platforms that let you both watch the same thing remotely, some even have chats if you can’t be on call together), playing games together (find some virtual escape rooms or multiplayer online games!), sending each other a surprise meal through a delivery service and having a video dinner date, or taking online quizzes together during a call. Try to remain flexible with any changes as you both settle into your winter break schedules and routines.
Some of your fear may stem from how to deal with disagreements that might arise during a period of long distance, and that’s a valid fear to have. Disagreements over text can easily escalate because tone and messages can be easily misinterpreted. Sometimes a well-meaning text can be read as aggressive. A good way to combat miscommunication is to give your partner the benefit of the doubt and always assume that they have the best intentions at heart. If you’re ever in doubt, just ask them! You can also make sure you’re taking the time to listen intentionally to your partner and not multitasking while talking. When you’re not able to immediately participate in a discussion, let them know that you want to wait until you can fully dedicate yourself to listening to them. Additionally, when in a disagreement, make sure to communicate how you’re feeling and how you want the message to come across. It’s also important to remember to respond to situations rather than react. This can mean that sometimes you take a step back from a conversation or take some time before beginning a discussion or sending a response. The expectation for a relationship should not be to never have a disagreement, but to make sure that when one arises both of you are being heard, being respectful of each other’s feelings and opinions, and learning and growing from that specific moment.
Overall, long-distance relationships don’t have to be scary! You’ll probably miss your partner a lot, but setting up expectations before you leave for winter break and agreeing to have completely-open communication during your time apart are important steps. Some of these conversations might be difficult or even awkward to bring up, but once you begin one part of the conversation, the rest of the experience becomes a lot easier!