Surviving a Long Distance Relationship

By Savanah Mandeville

My boyfriend and I recently survived living 1,400 miles apart for ten months.

It was rough.

And as every relationship is unique, our experience was one-of-a-kind. I hope that sharing our story and what I learned from the experience will help someone else who’s dealing with long distance. I read a lot of articles about LDRs during that ten months that helped me so much.

I found out that a lot of couples are long distance because one person is in the military. Another common reason is because the couple met online. Both of these examples obviously have distinct disadvantages and I’m glad to say there were definite perks to my situation … we were only one hour time zone difference, we were able to communicate any time we wanted, I wasn’t worried he was going to die in combat, and I knew he was eventually coming back.

Which leads me to my first bit of advice: look for the silver lining.

But there were distinct challenges that my boyfriend and I faced. One, we started dating in a very “hookup culture” kind of way and things weren’t “official” when he left. There was a lot of uncertainty about “what we were” on top of being in what I’d call a long distance situationship. Also, I knew he was eventually coming back but neither one of us knew when. There was no light at the end of the tunnel.

I dealt with issues that are present in any long-distance relationship … uncertainty, trust, anticipation, pressure, loneliness.

Here’s our story:

My boyfriend Ryan and I met in our hometown – Joplin – about five years ago. We were casual aquaintances for a couple years, until one night on July 31, 2015, we drunkenly made out at a local bar (we’re both party people). One thing led to another and soon we were texting everyday, all day and having casual hookups. We considered each other “fuck buddies” and weren’t in any rush to make things official.

But before long, we fell head over heels in love. I mean like … that kind of love where you feel like you’re on cocaine 24/7. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I was mad, mad, MADLY in love. I loved everything about him. Unless you’ve felt it, it’s a very difficult feeling to describe. It’s like nothing else. Your motivation just to be in the same room as that person is intense. It’s thrilling and invigorating.

Things were going great and I had optimism for the future pouring out my ears. I’d never been so happy in my entire life. Life was fun and carefree. I had met my match.

But then on Halloween 2015, three months after we started talking, he found out that his dad, who lived in West Palm Beach, Florida, had had emergency surgery on his leg and was in the hospital. His dad had no one in Florida to look after him, and Ryan was the only person in his family who could take time off work and go down there and take care of him.

The original plan was for him to go to Florida for one week.

I was freaking out. A whole week? I was a wreck when we didn’t hang out for a couple of days.

But I took him to the airport and saw him off and knew I had to just deal with it. It wasn’t about me, it was about his dad.

One week turned into two weeks, and as his father’s condition became worse. Ryan became a nervous wreck down in Florida. He was alone with his thoughts and fears that his dad wouldn’t make it. His dad slipped into a psychosis and things got really bad. Ryan asked me to come to Florida and I didn’t think twice. I put the plane ticket on my credit card and flew down there for four days.

It was a strange trip. I didn’t really know how to act. Ryan needed the company and a break from the stress and depression so we did some touristy things while I was there, but I could tell the whole time he wasn’t happy and wasn’t doing well. We’d always been basically party friends … I wasn’t sure how to handle this level of gravity. I was happy to see him, but at the same time I was empathizing with what he was dealing with so I didn’t want to act too happy-go-lucky … the way we usually were around each other. I met his father for the first time in the midst of a psychosis in the ICU. It was a very unusual way to meet your new guy’s dad.

I went back to Joplin feeling very weird and uncertain about the future of the relationship. I still loved Ryan like crazy, but I could tell things were different. He had bigger things to worry about than taking the relationship to the next level.

Two weeks later he came back to Joplin. It was the end of November. We hung out several times but I could feel him distancing himself from me. I was crushed. We still texted everyday and remained close, but I was more uncertain than ever. Back in Florida, his dad was still in the hospital and Ryan had just come back to Missouri to tie up loose ends and take a leave of absence from work.

He was going back to Florida for three months.

He moved out of the place he was sharing with a roommate and spent his last three weeks in Joplin staying with me until it was time to leave. The entire three weeks he stayed with me, I was elated but I didn’t show it. We went to bed together every night and woke up next to each other every morning. We binged out watching every episode of the TV show, “Stalked.” I was so happy to be with him and it felt like a normal relationship, but it was incredibly hard because with each passing day I knew it was coming to an end.

A lot of people gave me advice to end it and try again when he got back. It was too new to enter into a long distance thing. The pressure of long distance could hurt the potential for something good in the future.  Also, he had a lot on his plate. He didn’t need a long distance relationship on top of everything else.

I knew they were right, but my feelings for Ryan were undeniable.

We settled that we would stay friends and stay in touch and I’d be there for him if he needed someone to talk to. He said if I met someone else, he’d understand. I knew there was no way I was going to meet someone else nor did I want to, but accepted things as they were.

This is where hookup culture and modern dating is tricky. Pretty much everyone in town knew we were a thing, everyone knew I’d flown down to visit him in November, but we weren’t “Facebook official.”

Looking back on all this now, I think it’s kind of silly that we were being so dramatic about a three-month separation …

He left on January 24, 2016. I drove him to the airport, cried like a baby, then drove home and watched his plane fly over my house. I lied in bed and just felt numb.

About one month after Ryan left, his dad needed another emergency surgery, went into another psychosis, and the trip turned from a three month one to an indefinite one. His father’s recovery was going to take an extensive period in rehabilitation, physical therapy, and a series of several followup appointments. Ryan wasn’t going down there to just help his dad recover. His dad would never be able to live on his own again. The plan turned into, “Help dad get well enough that we can move to Joplin.”

I spent a lot of time at that point reading about tips to stay positive. I also read a lot about how to comfort a loved one/boyfriend/spouse dealing with a sick or dying parent. I had to accept that it was not about me no matter how bummed I was about the situation. Ryan’s feelings for me had to be on the backburner, and I had to be strong and accept that. I looked for ways to stay positive and keep myself busy. I started a blog, started learning how to code, and did a lot of writing and soul-searching during that time. Ryan and I talked every single day, and I found ways to navigate my role in his life as a confidant and a shoulder to cry on but not as a girlfriend. I learned the true meaning of caring about someone and wanting them to be happy even if you weren’t in the picture. I also learned what it meant to love someone and to be okay with them not being able to return the feeling. I guess I learned the meaning of unconditional love. And it’s a feeling I hold for Ryan to this day – I really do want him to be happy, with or without me.

But there was a light at the end of the tunnel!

Ryan’s dad’s health began to return and he started making plans to fly me down to visit!

Let me tell you, there is no anticipation in the world like waiting three months through the dead of winter to fly to South Florida to visit the man you’re head over heels for.

I was working out like a mad woman. I wanted to look amazing. I bought a new swimsuit. I bought four or five fabulous new outfits. I got a spray tan to make sure I had the perfect golden bronzey glow for the beach.

We counted down the days until they turned into hours. “50 days left.” “40 days left.” “Two weeks left.” “46 hours left.”

My second trip to West Palm Beach was amazing. It was a lot more light hearted as well.

His dad was out of the hospital and on the road to recovery. Ryan and I went to the beach, we had dinner on a yacht, we went to the bustling downtown. It was absolutely glorious.

But I had to go home and a major depression hit me. The vacation was over and I had nothing to look forward to.

I think one thing that helps with a long distance relationship is knowing when you’re going to see each other again. I guess if I can give one big piece of advice, it’s to always have a date set in the future for a visit so you have something to count down to.

And there was still the looming uncertainty. I referred to Ryan as my “boyfriend” to a friend of mine a couple days after the trip and my friend gave me a puzzled look.

“You’re saying ‘boyfriend’ now?”

I blushed. Was he my boyfriend? I mean, he had just dropped an enormous amount of money to fly me down to Palm Beach to visit him. I spent a week getting to know his dad. How much more official could we be? But there was still part of me holding back, and I knew there was part of him holding back too. We didn’t know how long we were going to be long distance. Ryan had iterated a couple of times that he would understand if I met someone else. In hindsight, those comments only confused the hell out of me. And we still weren’t Facebook official. I hate to admit it, but making that very public announcement on Facebook to all your friends and family is very important for Millennials.

I’m now seeing that defining the relationship and communication are huge factors. In our case, shit was weird because we had been dating for such a short time before he left. We didn’t want to lose touch with each other so we stayed “friends” although we were clearly more than friends the entire time. I never stopped loving him, but sometimes I resented the confusion and uncertainty.

Another thing you have to prepare for with long distance is the loneliness. My life was horribly lonely for awhile because I was the first employee for a new company so I had no coworkers and I lived alone. I was alone all day at work and then I went home and was alone. Couple that with the longing I had to be around Ryan and it was miserable. It was a very low point for me. If you’re going through a long distance deal, you’ve gotta use this time to connect with friends. I eventually did and it pulled me out of that slump, but it took awhile. If I could give any advice to myself during those months it would be to find ways to be social and find ways to stay busy. I had my blog and it helped, but I wasn’t always in the mood to write. My cat and I bonded a lot during that time, though.

That summer, my best friend moved in with me and things took a positive turn. We would hang out every single night, sitting in the summer heat on my deck, chatting the night away. I wish I would have had my friend move in with me sooner. If you’re dealing with a long distance relationship, you must find ways to fight the loneliness. It can be consuming.

One thing that Ryan and I did right was there was a total lack of jealousy or control. You can’t be in a long distance relationship and be jealous/controlling. It’ll drive you crazy. If I spent every day of ten months worrying about what he was doing down there and vice versa there’s no way we would’ve made it. That’s just how trust works. You have to let go. If your partner is going to cheat on you, they’re going to cheat on you and there’s nothing you can do about it. Blind trust is the only kind of trust there is. I’ve never quizzed him on what he did in Florida, and I don’t care. He’s returned the favor.

That’s not to say I was perfect though on the jealousy thing. Ryan and his dad made a trip to Joplin in June 2016 for a visit. I was so excited that I went nuts cleaning my house to perfection and making sure I looked perfect and trying to make sure that everything was going to go just perfectly for the visit.

I was making the mistake of putting too much pressure on things.

On his second night in town, we went to a local bar where one of his best friends was a bartender and I accidentally drank too much. At one point in the night, Ryan’s ex-girlfriend walked in and they talked for longer than I was comfortable with. I was drunk af and him spending time with his ex instead of me during his precious few hours in Joplin was NOT part of my perfect plan. I started fuming and we ended up getting in a huge fight.

The next day, I was so upset that we’d gotten in a fight on the weekend I’d spent so much time planning to be perfect. We forgave each other and, in a weird way, that stupid fight finally closed the gap between us that had been there. We finally realized that we were in it for real.

Ryan and his dad made another visit two months later in August 2016 to look at a house they were wanting to buy and go forward with the purchase. It had been one year since we’d starting talking and things were finally settling into a serious place.

Their visit in August was amazing. Ryan and I had an absolutely wonderful time together and the long distance was coming to an end. He left and we were jumping for joy that we’d be seeing each other again in just six weeks and the dreaded LDR would be over.

We joked about being in, “The Final Countdown.”

Ryan and his dad moved into their new place in Joplin on October 1, 2016.

My love was home for good and I was over the moon.

He’s been back now for six months and life has been a dream ever since. I’ve never known happiness like what I have with him. It was SO worth the wait.

Oh, and we’re “Facebook official” now.

We even have gone on a trip together. It was so cool to actually go on a flight together instead of saying goodbye at the airport. 🙂

Valuable Lessons I’ve Learned From Being in a Long Distance Situationship:

  1. Take things slow – getting to know your partner where you can only talk and not be physical helps solidify a bond. You can have sex with anyone. You can only talk on the phone for hours with someone you truly connect with.
  1. Trust each other – Like I said earlier, a relationship without trust where one partner is being controlling is never going to work. You can’t control their actions and you have to put faith in your partner even when it’s scary.
  1. Love unconditionally – when you’re in a LDR, there are times when you’re going to put love and work into the relationship and not get it in return, depending on the reason why you’re long distance. If they are in the military or dealing with a serious matter while they are away, they may not have a full cup to pour from at the moment. Be accepting and know it’s not forever.
  1. Appreciation – I appreciate every moment I have with Ryan. Sometimes when we’re just hanging out, not doing anything special, I look at him and have to pinch myself that we’re in the same room. It’s a very cool thing to 100% appreciate the person you’re with and live free of resentment.
  1. Independence – Too often people become codependent on their partner and get caught in a routine. Even when the relationship isn’t working, people stay in it because of codependency. When you’re in a LDR, you find ways to be happy alone. You have the chance to spend that time working on yourself, your friendships, your career, your hobbies. Kind of the same reasons it’s good to spend a significant amount of time in life being single. When you find reasons to live outside of your relationship, that eliminates a lot of the fear and anxiety of losing your partner that can make relationships become unhealthy and toxic. Looking at your LDR as an opportunity to grow also will help you stay positive and find the silver lining during the long lonely days.

Being in a long distance relationship was definitely hard, but there was so much good to come of it. If you’re in an LDR, don’t lose hope. If it’s meant to be, it’ll work out and there is so, so much to gain when your time apart comes to an end.


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