“If you really loved him, you wouldn’t have moved to New York.”
Since I chose to relocate indefinitely to the East Coast almost a year ago, several people have said this to me. I suspect many more have thought it.
I don’t hold it against them. I used to be incredibly judgmental of long-distance relationships (hereafter known as LDRs). Not only did I adamantly state that I could never be in one, I viewed those of people around me as less legitimate — training wheels to prepare you for a real relationship.
Of course it works, I would think to myself. You can censor interactions so they don’t see you at your worst. It’s a vacation every time you’re together. There’s a blind trust when they’re probably cheating.
Long-distance or not, a good relationship, at its core, is just that.
But since I made the move to New York, leaving my partner (but not my relationship) in a different city, my perspective has changed. Funny how that happens, huh? Now, I’m grateful for our LDR, and not for any of the reasons I stated above. (And also not just because I don't have to wake up to his alarm or shave my legs regularly, although those are definitely bonuses).
At some point, we’ll likely end up under the same roof again. But our current situation isn’t a penance we’ve agreed to suffer through as a pit stop to a conventional relationship. On the contrary, the distance has strengthened our relationship. Here are a few examples of how our long-distance relationship has improved our lives.
1. We continue to pursue our dreams and cultivate separate identities.
I once told my partner that the fact that I was able to leave without us breaking up was a testament to the health of our relationship. In past relationships, I wouldn’t have pursued my dreams. I would've been too fixated on maintaining a relationship in which I felt constantly anxious and insecure.
In previous relationships, I’ve sacrificed friends, family, school, work, sports, hobbies, aspirations — the list goes on. Now, despite loving each other deeply, living apart motivates us to maintain solid friendships, engage in hobbies, attend interesting events, and prioritize reflective time, and continue following our dreams.
2. We know we’re together out of love rather than fear.
In the past, I’ve stayed in unfulfilling relationships because I’ve been afraid of being single. I didn’t know myself outside of a relationship, and couldn’t picture my life without someone to fill the quiet moments of my day-to-day. In a long-distance relationship, we can trust that the interactions we have augment our already full lives, rather than resulting from convenience or fear.
Heartbroken as I would be if our relationship were to end, my ability to visualize a functional life without him prevents me from letting insecurity or jealousy make unnecessary appearances in our relationship.
3. We hone our relationship essentials.
We see each other every two months, spending exponentially more time apart than together. Consequently, I eat most meals alone. I “Netflix and chill” el solo. I don’t have someone to rub my feet after a long day or to comfort me at 3 a.m. if I wake up from a nightmare.
But I get to talk to someone on the phone every day who supports me in following my passion to the other side of the continent. Someone who can deal with uncertainty — with the answer “I don’t know,” when people ask us when I’m moving home. Doing long distance has caused us to develop trust, support, patience, understanding, and interdependence in our relationship.
4. When we fight, we have to rely on communication to make up.
Of course I miss make-up sex. But at the same time, not being able to have it has forced us to use our words to make up following a fight. And each time, we come out a little stronger and more connected than we used to be.
Some LDRs are the result of a night of romance while backpacking through Europe. Some develop online, with an in-person meeting yet to occur. And some start like mine — with a couple accustomed to taking turns cleaning the bathroom having to adjust to taking turns crossing the border.
However your long-distance relationship came to be, know that your relationship is real and valid, regardless of others’ opinions. The fact that we spend more time FaceTiming than we do face-to-face doesn’t make the content of our conversations any less vulnerable or intimate.
The fact that we don’t live in the same country doesn’t make us any less committed. The fact that we don’t have our future planned doesn’t mean we don’t see a future together. And the fact that we’re not following a conventional relationship path doesn’t make our relationship any less valuable or legitimate.
The other day, I was at a dinner party, explaining to a new friend why I wasn’t dating in the city.
“I’m trying to understand what you get out of it,” she asked, referring to my long-distance relationship. “A girl like you — you’re really doing yourself a disservice not dating.”
My answer? Love, support, comfort, validation, entertainment, shared experience — I get out of my long-distance relationship exactly the same things anyone who’s in a healthy, committed relationship gets out of theirs — long-distance or not, a good relationship, at its core, is just that.
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Megan Bruneau, M.A., is a therapist, executive coach, and wellness writer based in New York City. She received her bachelor of arts in psychology and family studies from the University of British Columbia and a masters of arts in counselling psychology from Simon Fraser University. She is a registered clinical counselor (RCC) in British Columbia, but now works with clients in New York and globally via remote work. Drawing inspiration from her own experiences, Bruneau has contributed to The Huffington Post, Forbes, and Thrillist and has appears on Good Morning America and New York 1 Morning News. She is also the host of the podcast Better Because of It.