It seems like a lifetime ago, but before I dated Chia, I was in a long distance relationship for almost two years with an ex-girlfriend (let’s call her X) back when I was in college.
We went to schools in different states and X also studied abroad for a semester in Europe, so the distance between us quadrupled for several months during that time as well. After we both graduated from college, she started work on the West Coast and I took a job in Asia. Once again, we were thousands of miles apart.
Long distance is tough regardless of how far you two are, but especially in our case, where we were often trying to make things work across different continents, time zones, and cultures.
While the relationship ultimately didn’t last because we realized we weren’t right for each other (rather than just the distance), I learned some valuable lessons about being in a long-distance relationship. Hopefully, these tips will be helpful to anyone going through something similar. There are many success stories of couples who came out of long distance relationships even better and stronger–so don’t be discouraged!
Tip #1: Both parties need to be willing to put in the work and be 💯 committed.
Long distance takes A LOT of hard work, commitment and sacrifice from both parties.
When X and I decided to be in a committed long distance relationship, I knew we were both committed to giving it our all to make this work. There were weekends where we would sacrifice going out with our friends in order to travel to see each other and skip out on eating out and buying that extra cup of coffee so we could save up more money to do so.
During my last year in college, there were often a lot of activities and social events happening for seniors and having to decide between attending these events or seeing X was sometimes difficult.
The important thing is that it shouldn’t feel like one person is putting in more effort than the other and it’s important to let the other person know when they do make a sacrifice, how much you appreciate it.
Lastly, if you don’t actually see long-term potential in this person, the best thing is to actually break up before you become long distance and save yourself the work and stress.
Tip #2: Set short-term and long-term goals to look forward to. 🎯
When X and I began our relationship, we knew we were starting off long distance, but we made an ongoing short-term goal to see each other at least every other weekend whether it was visiting each other’s campuses or going to an entirely new place/city together.
Our long-term goal was to find jobs in the same city together after we graduated (at that time, we didn’t know I would have an opportunity to work in Asia). That way, we had a big milestone to look forward to over the long stretch but also more immediate plans to meet every two weeks as well.
After X and I had been long distance for almost a year, we decided to plan a month-long summer trip abroad in Europe together. At the time, X was already studying abroad in France during her second semester of college, so we took advantage of the opportunity and began planning our Euro trip months in advance. The planning of a long summer getaway together made us both feel like we were both saving up and working towards something new and exciting.
You’re probably wondering how we could afford to travel to see each other so often as poor college students. Well, when there’s a will, there’s a way -- read on to tip #3!
Tip #3: Plan ahead and save up for your trips with these 3 hacks.
Hack #1: Get a travel credit card with a great sign-up bonus and high points-earning potential. ✈️
When X and I knew I was going to be living in Asia for a year, we definitely weren’t going to be able to meet every two weekends anymore, but we did each want to make at least one international trip to visit each other. Accordingly, we both tried to find a credit card that offered a generous sign-up bonus that could cover our trips.
I love and use the Chase Sapphire Reserve card which offered enough bonus miles to cover one economy round-trip flight from the U.S. to Asia once I spent a certain amount within a few months. It also comes with great perks like complimentary access to certain airport lounges (super useful when your flight gets delayed) and a Global Entry (TSA Pre-check) credit so you can skip the long security lines, which is a life-saver for traveling.
You can also consider hotel credit cards like the Marriott Bonvoy Bold (which doesn’t have an annual fee), if you and your partner are planning a trip where you both need accommodations (rather than staying with each other).
Keep in mind that you should plan several months in advance because there’s often a spending limit you have to reach to get those bonus points and, even if you meet that spending limit, it can take some time to get those points awarded to your account.
Hack #2: Utilize sites that offer discounted hotels and activities. 🏠
We would use sites like Hotwire and Skyscanner to track cheap hotels and flights. We also leveraged cheap Airbnbs, public transportation, and found hole-in-the-wall restaurants that were both delicious and budget friendly. Once in awhile, we would splurge on a nice hotel, expensive restaurant, or date experience but for the most part we were both fine with living more like nomads than like royalty.
Hack #3: Sign up for paid studies to make extra cash for flights & travel. 💸
This isn’t for everyone, but I kept my eyes peeled for posts on campus about paid clinical trial opportunities in order to make additional income on the side. I participated in studies that ranged from taste testing, where I tried different liquids, and rated their saltiness, to psych studies, where I was asked how I felt after reviewing various images. The amount that you can earn may vary from just $5 to quite a lot. In one case, I did a 4-day study for $1,000, which paid for an entire month’s worth of travel.
The best way to find studies to participate in is to check your college campus postings/bulletin boards, or visit sites like clinicaltrials.gov. But again, be careful and make sure to weigh the risks and benefits when selecting clinical trials to participate in. Nowadays, there are also newer user research sites like Respondent and User Interviews.
Tip #4: Schedule a set time to talk and be thoughtful about how you’re communicating. 💬
Life can get busy, especially with different time zones, so setting a clear time to catch up with your boo is important.
X had a full-time job on the West Coast while I was in Asia. This worked out perfectly because her nights were free for calls and, with the time difference, that overlapped with my mornings, which were more flexible. It may feel really structured, but knowing when you can generally expect to talk to one another can be the key to consistently staying in touch. We used Google Hangouts, Skype and Whatsapp (Zoom didn't exist then!) to communicate for free, so make sure you download and set up the appropriate software on your laptop and/or phone ahead of time!
One of the best parts about dating a woman is that women tend to be more in tune with their feelings and can sense when something is wrong. For example, Chia always knows when I’m having a bad day even if I don’t say it out loud and I have my spidey-senses too. Thus, when doing a long distance relationship with another woman, sometimes what you don’t say out loud but express through your facial expressions, tone and body language can be just as telling as what you do say.
During my long distance relationship, there were days when I could tell that X had a long day at work and wanted to go to bed early. Even though I might’ve been super excited to tell her about something that happened in my day, I might decide to wait until tomorrow after she’s had a good night of rest. Or sometimes we might sense that the other person is getting sensitive about a particular topic we’re discussing, so we might tone things down a little or pivot the conversation to avoid it taking the wrong turn.
Because your time spent talking to that person is so limited and precious, you want to make sure that most of your interactions are positive rather than combative if not necessary. At times when your partner might say something that annoys you–in a normal relationship, it’s easy to cuddle it out or get over it with face-to-face communication, but you don’t have that luxury in a long distance relationship.
Instead of unleashing all of your anger and frustration and saying hurtful things to the other person, sometimes it’s worth writing out your feelings first and sleeping on it. You'll find that when you wake up the next morning, it wasn’t that big of a deal to begin with and you'll be able to express your thoughts the next day in a much more productive and positive way.
Tip #5: Don't let long-distance consume your life. 🌦
During the first few months of living in Asia, I realized that I was spending more time talking with X than doing anything else and there was so much to do in a new country! If we got into an argument that day, I would wallow in sadness and let that affect my mood for the rest of the day which wasn’t helpful. I would also feel guilty for not making the most of my days.
While communication is important, it's also important to live your life apart. Otherwise, you might grow resentful of the other person for holding you back.
Just like how you should schedule time to talk to your partner, you should schedule time to do things that you want to do without your partner whether that means hanging out with friends, pursuing a hobby, working, etc. Feeling fulfilled outside of your relationship makes you a better and happy partner to begin with.
Tip #6: Be emotionally and personally independent 💪
Both parties should be able to find happiness outside of each other and to be their own person. I don’t believe the cliche that your partner should make “you whole”, but rather you should be whole on your own by cultivating your own identity and self-dependence.
One challenge of being in a lesbian long-distance relationship though is that you might not be or want to be out to everyone you meet (especially when you’re living in a more conservative country) so it makes it harder to build that support network you need. It took some time for myself as well, but I was able ultimately able to find a few friends whom I trusted and opened up about my personal life with.
Tip #7: Trust each other. 🤝
One of the signs of a healthy relationship, whether it’s long-distance or not, is trust. It’s easy to get paranoid and feel FOMO about what the other person is doing when you’re not there or when they haven’t responded to your text, but the more you obsess over that, the more toxic it becomes and the more you erode your trust in one another.
X liked going and staying out late a bit too much at times, and while I would stay up worrying, I realized that all I can do after I’ve expressed my concerns is trust her and trust that she has our relationship’s best interests in mind.
Tip #8: Find cute and creative ways to express your love and how much you miss the other person! 💌
One of the things I enjoyed the most about being in a long distance relationship is thinking of cute romantic ideas to surprise my partner with because it required being really creative and resourceful.
One idea would be to get a subscription gift box of things that they like (i.e. snacks, books, etc.). The two of you could even open it together virtually while laying down on these cute long distance pillows.
Don’t forget about hand-written letters as well! I know we all live in the digital age nowadays and can’t be without our phones or social media, but there’s nothing more exciting than getting a hand-written note card in the mail from your girlfriend. Get inspired by more ideas here.
For X and I, living and traveling abroad as a lesbian couple also had its additional challenges. Not every country is as accepting of LGBTQ folks as the U.S. where we are from so we did have to be mindful of PDA and things like that when we were out. The world has gotten more tolerant since, but this is also why doing other creative cute things to keep the love alive is just as important!
Tip #9: Show compassion and empathy. ❤️
Sometimes you might be in the middle of a disagreement and the video call drops or the other person is cut off. In that heated moment, you might assume your partner just hung up on you (how dare they!), but sometimes technology and wifi (as much as it has helped with long distance) can still be crappy at times and it might not be your partner’s fault at all.
It’s always good to remind yourself to take a deep breath and don’t blurt out the first thing that comes to your mind. Sometimes saying something hurtful to the other person in the spur of the moment, no matter how good it might feel, can be something you regret later and can never take back.
On the other hand, if they forget to call or text you that day, it’s also not the end of the world. Sometimes life and random things happen. Trust that the other person didn’t intend to forget about you and give them some time to call you later once they free up some time. You also don’t need to sit and wait around all day for them (remember tips #5 & 6!).
Tip #10: When things aren’t going well, take time to assess your relationship honestly. 🤔
Sometimes two people are just not a great fit for each other and long distance only helps to highlight that and make it more obvious.
X and I officially broke up during our second year in the middle of the year while I was in Asia. It was definitely a lowlight of my year living abroad. At this moment, it’s often easy to go through all the emotions of grief and become angry and resentful towards the other person.
“Why did I waste all my time talking to you instead of exploring the country I was living in, deepening my friendships, and focusing on my research project?” But instead of letting these emotions and thoughts take over, you have to remember that at the end of the day this was a person that you truly cared for and still had a lot of positive memories with.
The best and most mature thing to do is to give each other space to heal, wish them well, and move on with your life. It’s definitely easier said than done and as with all things, time truly helps.
Long-distance is hard and one of the ultimate tests of a relationship. In all cases, successfully navigating through long distance is usually a balance of a bunch of different things including, but not limited to these 10 tips:
- Both parties need to agree to put in the work and long-term commitment.
- Set short-term and long-term goals that you two can look forward to.
- Save up for your visits and plan ahead.
- Schedule a set time to communicate and be thoughtful about how you’re communicating.
- Don't let long-distance consume your life.
- Be emotionally and personally independent.
- Trust each other.
- Find cute and creative ways to express your love and how much you miss the other person!
- Have compassion and empathy.
- When things aren’t going well, assess your relationship honestly.
The great thing about long distance is that distance makes the heart grow fonder so when you do get to see each other in person, you’ll cherish those moments together that much more.
If you’re currently in or will be in a long-distance relationship, hopefully, some of this was helpful and remember to stay positive and hang in there!
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Let us know your experiences and questions with long-distance relationships in the comments below!
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