Making It Work Long-Distance

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Whoever said absence makes the heart grow fonder has probably never been in a long-distance relationship. But while long-distance relationships, or LDRs, get a bad rap, I think there are still plenty of good things about them and ways to make them work.

1. Play together.

So your beloved is never around to help carry groceries or take you to the movies. But consider this: every time you see each other, it's like a mini-vacation — a geographic and emotional holiday. "I lived in Seattle; he lived in San Francisco," says Aida,* a 40-year-old writer, who sometimes waited a month and a half between visits with her boyfriend. "We would meet each other on the California-Oregon border — we each had to drive six to seven hours to get there — for a long weekend of camping, hiking, drinking and sex."

But even when you don't travel, you can still keep that vacation glow alive. Jackson West, a San Francisco–based blogger, says that when his New York City girlfriend comes to visit, "I love showing her around San Francisco — it feels more like an extended weekend date, or even a trip. We both make a special effort to do interesting things that we probably wouldn't if we'd started seeing each other in the same city."

Of course, there are limits to how much "vacationing" couples should do. You don't want to cram so much activity into a day that you forget to enjoy some quiet time together — after all, this is a real relationship, not pure fantasy. "After three days and nights of going out, I think both of us start craving a night at home with a pint of ice cream and a good DVD," says West.

2. Manage expectations.

Eleanor Estes, a Los Angeles–based stylist, found herself in an extreme LDR when her boyfriend moved back to his native Greece. Like Aida, she indulged in the romance of the far-flung affair: "I loved the coming together and then leaving part," Estes confides. "It was always so thrilling."

After four years of doing the long-distance thing, Estes finally picked up and moved to Greece. Problem was, she hadn't sufficiently prepared for the hardship and loneliness of life in a foreign country, away from her friends and family, and without a job. She found herself having to return to the U.S. every three months to renew her tourist visa, which didn't help her already wearisome fish-out-of-water status. "It was difficult because I was moving somewhere where I didn't speak the language and I wasn't allowed to work. It was a new country, an impossible language, and I had no friends. I put a lot of pressure on him to help me get those things, but it was too much of a change for me."

In any relationship — and especially an LDR — people can't expect their partners to be their caretakers. If you make a life-changing decision like moving to another city to be together, try to establish your own support network as soon as possible, whether that means making a few friends of your own, finding a job or joining a group that shares your interests. And remember that you each need to maintain your independence and understand that your lives don't revolve solely around each other. Love, companionship and sex should be a given, but you also need to make time for your own interests — and for those of your partner.

3. Talk constantly.

It's hard enough to communicate when you live in the same house, let alone hundreds of miles apart. That's why, despite the distance, faraway couples actually need to communicate more than those who wake up next to each other every day.

Keep up a constant stream of e-mails and texts, but keep in mind that they're rife with potential for misinterpretation. A dashed-off note mentioning a brilliant new co-worker might have been idle chatter for you, but it could throw your partner into paroxysms of jealousy — particularly between couples who miss each other, haven't seen each other in weeks and might be feeling a little insecure. So, that means you have to talk. West says he and his girlfriend communicate through "daily e-mail and text messages, and many phone calls in a week." He often uses instant-messaging with friends, but he reserves the phone for his partner: "Why text-chat when we can talk on the phone?"

4. Take chances and have faith.

Analisa,* a writer in Rhode Island, has just embarked on an intercontinental coupling with a Parisian illustrator who responded to her profile on an online personals site. "He said he found the French dating sites very depressing, so he was poking around the Anglo sites and saw me," she says. "He said he could tell from what I'd written in my ad that I was a good person, so he sent an e-mail on a whim."

That act of optimism sparked some serious cross-cultural canoodling. The two began corresponding regularly (luckily, Analisa is fluent in French) and decided to meet up in San Francisco, where he was traveling for business. "You never know if chemistry is going to be there when you meet in person, but the rapport we established through our letters translated perfectly," says Analisa.

"I knew the chemistry was there as soon as I met him," she reports, her smitten glow obvious even through a phone line. "It was all warm and fuzzy." The pair spent their first date exploring San Francisco — and even ended up taking the much maligned "long walk on the beach." After two amazing nights together, he jetted back to Paris and she to her New England home. Where things will progress from here is unclear, but Analisa is hopeful. "The idea of living in Paris definitely gels with how I see my future," she admits. "Down the line, that doesn't scare me. But this tentative 'What's next? What do we want?' — that's scary."

* Not their real names.