Almost nothing turns my stomach more than when I hear a friend say, “I want to backpack Europe… (pause) … but I just don’t know.” (When the pause is their reflection of how their boyfriend/girlfriend would react.)
Lots of people want to travel or study abroad or teach overseas but resist doing so because they are in a relationship. And the thought of surviving a long distance relationship (LDR) seems unrealistic.
Personal Experience with LDRs
I have been with my boyfriend for over three years. Of that time, I have spent 17 months in Asia. Even now, back in the US, we are still “technically” long distance because he lives in Boston and I live outside of Philadelphia. Of course, a couple hundred miles is nothing like a couple thousand. While we experienced ups and downs (especially in the beginning), being apart has only made our relationship stronger.
I know, that sounds counterintuitive. How can you get closer to another person when you’re in completely different timezones? But the reality is that while I was off living and working in Asia, I was becoming a better person. I was pursuing passions, discovering new interests and so forth. At the same time, on the other side of the globe, my boyfriend was following his own dreams and working towards his own goals. Simultaneously, we were both becoming more well-rounded individuals in our given fields. In the end, bettering our individual selves led to a better relationship with one another.
Because I experienced such fulfillment overseas, it kills me to hear others not take advantage of the opportunity just because of a relationship. Below is list of common reasons to not travel/study or work abroad/go to college in a different state and so on because of a relationship status. Following I kindly provide explanation why these excuses are simply myths.
“But I’ll miss him/her too much.”
February 2011 was the first time I was apart from my boyfriend. I was in China. It was a few days after I arrived for my study abroad orientation. The whole group was at the Great Wall. We were spending the night nearby so we could climb it at 4 AM the next day to catch the sunrise.
It was freezing. There was no running water. The beds in the room were small, without any real blanket. And my “pillow” was a sack of rice. Everyone in the group layered on pants and hats and scarves—just to go to sleep. I remember I was wearing a winter coat. I also vividly recall silently sobbing myself to sleep that night. All I wanted was to be back in the US with my boyfriend. And to be warm. And able to brush my teeth.
I am not going to lie and say it’s easy to be away from your significant other. My first sob session felt miserable. There’s really no way to avoid missing the other person. But looking back, I have to laugh. I was so young and dramatic. The reality is you won’t be crying yourself to sleep every night.
Overcoming challenges makes you stronger as a person. Working through obstacles in relationships can make those stronger, too. Every relationship is different. For me, being in a long distance relationship allowed me to trust my boyfriend more than I trusted anyone.
Again, it seems counterintuitive. It would appear as though you would trust someone less when you don’t see them. But when apart, all you have is trust and commitment to one another. No romantic dates, no hand holding — literally, no physical interaction. There is just conversation and written word. Ultimately, I believe not having physical interaction allows relationships to grow in other, non-physical ways.
To this day I recognize my experience in China as one of my most defining moments in life thus far. Despite the difficulties of being away from my beau, there is no way I would take back that semester in China.
“But what if they meet someone else while I am gone?”
First and foremost, I only think long distance relationships are for people who are serious. If you don’t see yourself spending the rest of your life with that person, you shouldn’t try to sustain a LDR. So, assuming it is “serious”, if the other can’t handle a month or two or six apart without “meeting someone else”, what do you think the future will entail?
In any relationship, whether six or 6,000 miles apart, there is always a risk that they “could” meet someone else. And you “could”, too. But the fact is if there is a strong foundation of trust and commitment, this won’t happen. And if it does, it’s probably for the best. Better now when you’re studying abroad than they “meet someone else” when you are married with kids.
“But what if things aren’t the same when we see each other again?”
Things won’t be the same when you see each other again; especially if the time apart is 6 months or longer. The amount of differences, though, is something that definitely varies from person to person.
While I was in Thailand I went nine months without seeing my boyfriend. Because of his schedule and the timing, he wasn’t even able to visit me like he had in China. Truthfully, after about month six I forgot what he looked like. I “saw” him all the time on Google Hangouts or in Facebook photos, but I totally forgot what it was like to be around him. All I had was the memory of what it was like to be around him.
That may sound scary. However, for me, it was like blind faith. I knew what we had was special. Even though I “forgot” what it was like to be around him, I knew it would still be good when we were together once again.
And I was right. Despite some initial awkwardness at the airport, we quickly fell into previous patterns. Before we knew it, it was like no time passed. That’s how it is with close friends, too. When it comes to best friends and family and boyfriends, things have a way of picking back up where you left off.
“My boyfriend/girlfriend doesn’t believe in long distance.”
Well… Reevaluate personal long and short term goals. Also, the relationship itself.
I know a few people who attempted a LDR with a person who blatantly said, “I don’t believe in long distance.” Sherlock Holmes isn’t needed to figure out those relationships failed fast.
Yes, spending as much time as possible with your significant other is important. “You only have one life to live.” But that same idea can apply to all your passions — not just a significant other. If one of your passions is learning a new culture, helping others overseas or just wanting to see a new part of the world— you should pursue it.
On your deathbed you will wish you had chased those dreams. Especially when you were healthy and young with the freedom to move about without the burden of poor health.
“I’m worried that he/she will break up with me.”
Maybe I’m wrong, but if chasing after something you are interested in is break-up worthy — that sounds like an unhealthy relationship.
“If you do this, I’ll break up with you.”
It seems sort of threatening.
However, if this is the case, really think about future obstacles. Again, if you plan on being with this person in the long-run, spending a short time apart will pale in comparison to other obstacles heading your way. Think raising kids. Career layoffs. Aging parents. Health issues.
What are a few months apart? And, ultimately, do you really want to be with someone who uses “breaking up” as a punishment for doing what you desire? (Within reason — if you desire to do illegal things, that’s a whole other story.)
In the end, travel or living abroad is not for everyone. And that’s fine. A couple doesn’t have to undergo long distance to be strong or successful. But what is important is that you follow your calling. A significant other should be supportive and your driving force — not holding you back. They should be pushing you to pursue your dreams. Whether that dream is to travel to India to empower impoverished girls or to start your own restaurant — they should be your number one cheerleader along the way.
As I have said to my boyfriend in the past: “What’s a few months apart when we’re going to spend the rest of our lives together?”
BONUS: a recent study showed that greater distance apart predicted more intimacy, communication, and satisfaction in relationships. See — distance DOES make the heart grow fonder!
Are you in a long distance relationship? What do you think about the myths I outlined above? Tell me in the comment section below! Or send a tweet! sharing your thoughts.