Dear Jo: Depth over Distance
Jo responds to an inquiry about long-distance relationships
Columns represent the views of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Tennessee Journalist
I am in a long distance relationship. My boyfriend and I have been dating for a long time (starting back in high school), and we are very happy. However, we go to colleges several hours away from each other. In fact, we are even in different time zones. We are not able to visit each other almost ever during the school year, and I know not seeing each other is a huge stress on our relationship. Any advice on long distance relationships and how to make them a little easier?
Depth over Distance
Dear Depth over Distance,
Relationships at this age are complicated enough with those immediately around us; but to love someone so far away is it’s own trial in and of itself. I admire and respect your commitment and will do my best to answer your question honestly.
I have been in pseudo-long distance relationships twice, one of them being my first boyfriend ever. And despite the breadth of the distance between us, the depth of understanding and connection we shared kept us together. Although it was long ago, there were things I learned to do differently, and that is what I will share with you.
Any kind of connection separated by time or space is necessarily bound to technology. For any kind of long distance relationship to work, you must embrace the concept of ‘separate but together.’ This means understanding and respecting the fact that your lives look very different from each other’s right now, but that you still have space in your heart to share that life with another. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk; and you will teeter and nearly fall either direction, a time or two, before you learn the perfect balance.
It’s far too easy to see your phone as a window from which to stare at your partner, fearing who they might be becoming and clamping down on that version of them– because you’re afraid the next version might not love you the same way. The problem with this thought is that you spend all your time staring out that window, letting life pass you by. Or as I often did, you’ll give in to the babble of those who are around you, believing the worst of your partner based on what you don’t know; so much so that you sever the connection at the root.
What you must remember is that fear and desire exist together. We cannot know one without the other. Fear seeks to show us what we must face to receive what we desire. When you embrace ‘separate but together,’ you give your boyfriend space to be and become who he’s meant to be, so that he might do the same to you. Things were a lot different in high school, and you must remember you made this choice, and he made his: to become the people you were meant to. You walk down different paths to do so, but this doesn’t mean your paths can’t intersect again in the future. Remembering and respecting this fact remains key as to not resent the time and space between you.
Be sure to communicate with one another. Your phone can be like a portal when both parties are present – a way to let one another peer into each other’s lives and cheer each other on from a different world. When you talk, share your whole lives. Your current and future hopes. Dreams. Successes. Failures. Tell him when you think of him. Tell him when you need space. Talk on the phone to hear each other’s voices, video chat, even set up a time every week or so to have a heart-to-heart.
Sure, it’s a tough balance, to live one’s own life so vividly you can remember it well enough to share it with another, but with practice, it’s like a form of alchemy; to jump between the stages of ‘separate’ and ‘together’ until it becomes second nature.
What you also must understand, Depth over Distance, is that just like the very earth we inhabit, we, too, have seasons and cycles of life and death, in personhood and in relationships. As the first line of a famous Bible verse begins, love is patient. Love is oh so patient– nothing like what we see on television or in the movies. These are caricatures of romantic love created to make money; you can’t compare your journey to what you see because you’ve got to learn to trust what you feel. Patience means viewing your beloved for who he is: someone who is growing into who he’s meant to be.
And although love may be made of patience, it is also made of grace. Grace means understanding that of course you’ll both make mistakes from time to time– such is life. But what matters is that each time you do, you still return to one another, willing to do better. For we are all on this earth to learn how to love. And when love is true, and right, neither time nor space can defeat it. For you will love every version of each other you meet.
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Featured photo: Creative Commons/JoAnna Brooker