Against the odds, long distance relationships do work. But you have to end them.
Many people think long distance relationships are doomed to fail. In some respects, yes, especially when the idea of physically being together remains too distant. Long distance relationships can be draining, expensive and time-consuming. With internet connectivity choking in speed, they can also be frustrating and a likely cause of chronic misunderstanding.
But long distance relationships actually bring out your maturity as individuals and as a pair for life. They can improve your patience, test your creativity and break your self-centeredness. In some cases, they can sharpen your “reasoning” skills.
So why nurture a long distance relationship when you would have to put an end to it eventually?
Let me share some tips after providing you some context: I maintained a long distance relationship myself but ended it.
My Story of Long Distance Relationship
I met Trinny while in graduate school in Hong Kong in September 2016. She’s from Mainland China and was also pursuing master’s at the same Hong Kong university. She was a classmate of one of my flat mates. Much as I’d like to brag about it, it wasn’t my 6-pack hanging on the sides that drew her to me. Perhaps later? Nah. Food did.
A frustrated chef, I cooked for my flat mates to save money on food. It was an invitation for her to pool her lunch budget with ours that got us close to each other. It started with a conversation over how limited the choices in the cafeteria were and my flat mate bragging about my cooking skills then asking her: “Would you like to join us?” I guess my flat mate didn’t expect her to grab it, especially that he had not sought my permission beforehand; but as fate would have it, she did.
It was then moot for my flat mate to ask me later if it was okay for Trinny to come over to our flat for meals. Trinny’s flat was within our residential complex. While I initially hesitated, my Filipino hospitality prevailed: “If she’s pretty, why not?!”
The next day, I bumped into Trinny. That time, I did not know that it was her. Typical Chinese, my flat mate was very vague with his description of Trinny. Perhaps if she were a character in an online game, my flat mate would have summoned all the adjectives in the dictionary to carve her image up. As our paths crossed, Trinny stopped, smiled and said: “Hi, Mark!” Brought up to be conservative, I smiled back. I blushed and wondered: “How on earth did she know me?” Thor strike me now with his hammer if I lie that I fell for her that instant. She was my crush from Day 0.
Day 1 came. I was still clueless who Trinny was. Voila! As I was bringing the food out of the kitchen, I choked when I saw the same lady I bumped into a few days ago seated in our living room. My heart skipped a beat but controlled itself from falling into the hot soup in the bowl I was holding. From that time on, I knew cooking would take on a whole new purpose.
Unlike Uncle Roger’s MSG that makes an instant kick, our story unravelled quite gradually, no different from stew on low fire. Not an expert in relationships, with only one prior to this one — and short-lived at that — and not getting any younger, I told myself I’d better be bold and do this right.
Cut to the chase: 6 months later, on February 14, it became us. It was a very memorable but unromantic setting for the “Yes” moment. Anyway. We barely had 3 months more to be together as I needed to fly home by the end of May 2017 upon the completion of my graduate studies to resume work. Convinced that this relationship was for keeps, I dove into the middle of a whirlwind and proposed to her a month before I left home. “Yes, I will marry you!” That moment, I felt I was the most handsome person in the world; my fats disintegrated and my muscles bulked up to compete with Chris Hemsworth’s.
Fast-forward to the day of my departure.
Believe me, the feeling at the airport was horrendous and heart-wrenching. I couldn’t even sleep the night before I left. It was very painful. I didn’t like to leave. I kissed and hugged Trinny tight. I didn’t like to let go of her. If only she could fly with me. If only she could be with me. If only I could just stay in Hong Kong. I cried. She cried. We cried. Tears tailed me on the plane, on FaceTime, and for a month or so.
It was a beautiful long distance relationship. But in August 2018, I had to end it.
5 Tips on Surviving and Ending a Long Distance Relationship
Tip 1: Communicate
You need to keep your lines open. Communicate not only about yourselves but about the life that surrounds each of you. Let your partner have a peek into your life and you, a peek into hers. Decide when best in the day you can catch up on each other’s activities, when you can talk on the phone, when you can go live on FaceTime, and when you need to beat deadlines that you will have to delay your conversation for that evening.
Automated and surprise messages bring colour to the relationship. “Good morning, sweetheart!” every day would be nice; but a “driving past a coffee shop after lunch made me recall those times when we’d go to 7-11 at night to get a can of Starbucks iced coffee. Missing you…” in the middle of nowhere would be better.
Conversations don’t have to revolve around you or her. Be yourself. Gossip. Talk about your boss or colleagues. Mention a family celebration or issue. Update her on some of your friends’ affairs. Ask if she read the news about Iraq. Of course, all these are premised not only on interests that you share in common but also inclinations on each end that allow for one to adjust to the other.
Communication in a long distance relationship is tough. When there is a misunderstanding, you cannot chase your partner to hug and appease her. You can easily misconstrue a text message sent with either a wrong or no emoji at all for something else. You cannot fathom the sincerity of the message as you cannot hear the softness of the voice and see the calmness of the facial expression. But on the reverse, it is this kind of communication that makes you a better person and prepares you further into the relationship. It is this kind of communication that exposes you to the labor pains of true love.
Tip 2: Assure
In a situation where you cannot be physically there for each other, your thoughts wander at night how things would be if you could just drive around town together, eat popcorn while watching a movie, have a nice dinner by the boulevard, or plan a weekend trip to the beach. And as you mull over how things could be better “if only this and that”, you may get disappointed. When left unattended, this could spiral into hopelessness and one of you would contemplate on giving up.
Being able to be there for your partner in a long distance relationship is the strongest form of assurance. Knowing that you’re always there for her to run to is key. Lovers who are far apart do long for companionship, and constant assurances that you will always hold the bridge up come hell or high water, never letting go, means the world to your partner. There will be temptations to give up, thoughts to let the cons outweigh the pros, and hurt feelings that could cause you to coil back into your old shell. But do not despair, hold on to an assurance that if you could overcome these trials while still in a long distance relationship, what great magic you could do when physical absence ceases to be an obstruction.
Assurance is not only made to your partner. You also need to assure yourself that the sun will come shining through tomorrow. That “it is okay not to be okay”, but it is never okay to just settle for an okay. And as long distance relationships can be misleading, sometimes developing a false sense of assurance, you need to articulate and demonstrate this assurance in ways that at least two of your senses can confirm.
Tip 3: Plan
Like building a house, you plan your life together in phases. This is the exciting part. Whether it follows Peter Drucker’s SMART (specific and measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) or resembles a castle built on sand, it doesn’t matter — let your imaginations bring you places. After all, time will come when you will have to bring yourself back to the ground and face the music: What is it really that we want and how can we achieve it? Bottom-line: you bring each other on a journey from here to there, now and then.
While others may not give so much importance to long distance relationships, those who are in them actually feel the pressure more and tend to be more serious in proving that it is what it is. They double on the effort to keep the relationship intact. For why go long distance if there is someone more deserving within reach?
Planning is an exercise function not only of the mind but of the heart. It is a healing process of sorts that patches up grey areas in the relationship, mends wounds from loneliness, and sparks a light to uncertainties. When you plan, you affirm the role of the other person in your life from that time on; and when the other person does the same, you thrust yourself into a self-reflection on the extent to which you can keep your promises.
More than words written in air, planning is a test of your propensity to compromise. In many ways, long distance relationships pluck you out of your comfort zone — and getting past the hurdles require and offer more. If you live in different time zones, who will stay up late for the morning call at your partner’s end? Or if you come from two different cultures, will it be okay if on Christmas and New Year’s Eves your partner decides to stick to her bedtime, instead of virtually joining you in the festivities and watching the fireworks? And when the day comes, who will relocate to where and quit his or her job in favour of a leap of faith elsewhere? Big or small, simple or complex, this is part of the planning that couples in a long distance relationship needs to do – together.
Tip 4: Invest
When you have the resources, make a sacrifice to make the distance as narrow as possible. Send a bouquet of flowers to your partner at work. Dump email and write a handwritten love letter and send it via snail mail or DHL. And when you have the extra funds, travel to where your partner is in order to spend time with her and catch up on those moments that would have been ordinary evenings or weekends if only you were physically together. In my case, Trinny and I took turns: I visited her in Hong Kong then she visited me in the Philippines, at least once every two months. These might be one-off or momentary gestures but they gradually piece up the puzzle for your partner in convincing herself that the relationship is worth fighting for. Affirmations being a human need, tangible gestures are a happy pill that unlike anaesthesia that wears off, builds on the momentum to the big day.
But long distance relationships need not burn your wallet. Investing on them doesn’t have to be cheap either. Be classy with whatever raw talent you have. If you are good at arts and crafts, create an artwork using dried flowers and leaves then take a photo of it and send it to your partner on your anniversary. If you can compose a poem, use each letter of her name at the start of every line and curate a narrative that binds her thoughts to yours. If you’re a musician hiding in the closet, send her a private recording of you singing an original piece or a song that renders her journeying down memory lane.
When you invest yourself in a way that you capitalise not only on your strengths but explore how you can tease the best out of your innermost weaknesses and insecurities in order to bring her joy, you show your partner what kind of a person you truly are. That when the worst of circumstances swamp you both, you will always be that beacon of light that she can draw hope and strength from. That person who once had done all he could for her, thus could only be the same who could paint the world for her.
Tip 5: End
Lest I be misunderstood, ending a long distance relationship doesn’t mean abandoning the relationship; it means abandoning the distance. One has to make a sacrifice to be physically together with the other.
Never make the mistake of being too comfortable in a long distance relationship. Do not be trapped in a situation where it is okay to just maintain a relationship online and not take it further. Long distance relationships are healthy but they need to end. Prolonging long distance relationships could lead to the breakdown of the very essence of being in a relationship: that of being together.
When one becomes too accustomed to carrying on with his activities while his partner is at the other end of the globe, that person may not be able to experience the value of shared responsibility and collective decisions. What one doesn’t know won’t hurt her, some would say. And oftentimes this is bred in long distance relationships. The sheer physical absence of a person causes complacency and makes it too easy to find excuses. It blurs to a certain extent the concept of commitment and honesty. And this spirals out of hand when the other party appears to tolerate it unknowingly.
But there are a number of considerations when you end a long distance relationship. You need to be realistic and practical. Just as love cannot be fried, boiled or baked, leaving home to be with your partner in another place involves calculated risks. I do believe in leap of faith but it needs to be done with a strong support system, a firm resolve in what you can accomplish, and a carefully thought out plan of how to get from point A to B. And this is where the planning step comes to significant play. Early on in the relationship, plans anchor you on what it takes to bring the relationship further; and if you’re willing to go full speed ahead, what it demands of you psycho-emotionally and financially.
What happened to mine?
I ended it in August 2018. That’s when I relocated to Hong Kong from the Philippines where I had a good position at a university just to be with Trinny. I felt I was done with the proving game in my career. I wanted this time to support Trinny in her endeavours and let her spread her own wings. Hong Kong was a neutral ground for us. It’s a place she’s more familiar with than the Philippines. Thus, I made the sacrifice of leaving Dumaguete — but not home… for home is where the heart is.
It took a whole lot of planning, not only on my part but also on Trinny. Part of the bigger picture was for us to get married. My finances were modest and enough only for X number of months, given the high cost of living in Hong Kong. Naturally I was worrying about my expenses, especially being able to sustain payment for the monthly rent which was almost double my monthly salary back home. Perhaps my vision board worked. In less than a month, my prayer was answered: I received a job offer.
As I promised her before I left Hong Kong following completion of my graduate degree, I will return to be with her. That I will be by her side. That in the same way that we first met, I will never get tired cooking for her. I kept it. In May 2020, we got married. With the grace of God, we’re enjoying the blessings of each other and living a decent life in Hong Kong with our two dogs, Timberton and Theodore.
Long distance no more.