Going the Distance

Making a long distance relationship work

At first, you celebrated when your girlfriend got the amazing Internet job in Seattle; but that was before you got a fellowship to N.Y.U. Now, six months later, the two of you are experts at the ins and outs of cybersex, you've racked up enough frequent-flier miles to circle the globe, and your phone bills are through the roof. Welcome to the long-distance relationship, 21st century style.

If this scenario sounds familiar, you're in good company. There are some very high-profile LDRs (long-distance relationships) out there. Just ask Bush's Britain-bound Gavin Rossdale how much he misses his L.A. woman, Gwen Stefani of No Doubt. Or Yalie Claire Danes, who's literally on the other side of the planet from her sweetie, Australian rocker Ben Lee. Even those of us who aren't dating rock stars know that our turbocharged ambitions and fast-paced careers are taking us, and our relationships, across the country and all over the world.

Is an LDR For You? The most important factor to consider before getting into a long-distance relationship is whether you're ready to be in one. If you stay together because you're scared to be alone, you'll regret it later. If you have any doubts that this relationship is "the one", get out there and play the field. This is especially true if you are taking a relationship from high school to college, when one person is left behind or when the two of you are bound for different colleges.

"People in college (who have long-distance relationships) absolutely limit themselves in terms of meeting other people and experiencing college life," says Dr. Thomas Wise, director of research at the Sexual Behaviors Consultation Unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital. "For the person who leaves, I have to ask, "Why limit yourself?' and for the person who stays behind, 'Are you willing to sit there and wait for the other person?,'" he adds.

That said, the scenario isn't all doom and gloom. LDRs offer you the chance to pursue your dreams (career, school, traveling) and hold onto the one you love. Some people even claim to prefer the freedom of an LDR. Melinda, a writer in New York, has come to appreciate the rhythm of her relationship with her boyfriend, an airline pilot based in Miami. "When he's away, I can focus one hundred percent on my work and not feel selfish. And because we see each other only a couple of weekends a month, our time together becomes more special. Each visit is like a mini-vacation," she says.

Avoid the LDR Pitfalls To avoid wasting time, money and gasoline, look out for these four common potholes in the LDR road:

  • The Time-Suck When you're in a long-distance relationship, you've got less time to see friends, do laundry, and even just veg out on the couch. Don't allow yourself to fall into a situation where all your free time is devoted to the relationship. Set some boundaries. If you see each other every weekend, make sure you have time during the week, and some weekends, for yourself and your friends.
  • Wallet Whiplash An LDR can severely strain your wallet. With a long-distance relationship, you'll be saddled with higher phone bills and new traveling expenses. If you're in it for the long haul, make sure you've got a way to pay the bills.
  • The Road Warrior Decide who will visit whom and how often. Take turns being the one doing the traveling so that you don't feel stuck in the roles of long-distance trucker or bed-and-breakfast owner.
  • Wandering Hands Syndrome Monogamy is a huge issue in long-distance relationships. Discuss whether you both are free to see other people before you meet those other people, not after.

Increase Your Success With an LDR Got your LDR up and running? Keep it going with these five cornerstones:

  • Keep the visits and calls coming It's important to keep the lines of communication open, so make sure both of you are still psyched about making time for phone calls and weekends together. When time together becomes a burden, that's a warning that some larger issues are at stake.
  • Stay honest with your partner Long distances add strain to the healthiest of relationships. Staying honest with your partner will help keep small problems from becoming larger ones. Are you attracted to the people you meet at parties? Do you have trouble leaving your city every weekend? It doesn't necessarily mean the relationship is over. Every relationship goes through hard times. Just make sure you talk about it so you don't hold these frustrations against your mate. Openness can add new levels of depth to your relationship without causing it to crumble.
  • Talk about the future Try to find a point in the future when you will live in the same city. "You need to think about the future," says Dr. Wise. "Are you just going to have intense weekends and be lonely during the week? That doesn't sound good to me." Even if it's a year or so off, establishing a point in time when you can see yourself in the same city will take a lot of pressure off the relationship and help the future not look so bleak.
  • Don't leave angry If you get in a fight during the time you are together, try to work through the issues before you separate again. It's best not to let any heated issues linger since it may be a while before you are together again.
  • Little things mean a lot Plan romantic weekends away, write love letters, send naughty e-mails, surprise your partner with a candlelit picnic at the beach, or arrive at her/his place with a dozen handpicked flowers. Although it may feel like you're already going out of your way just to be in the relationship, make the extra effort to show your girlfriend/boyfriend that you don't take him/her for granted.