Especially now that jobs are hard to come by, a lot of people find themselves in long-distance relationships. And there's a lot of advice about to manage such relationships. But what about the rest of your life — how do you keep up with your friends when you're always jetting off to see your partner? Below, some tips on exactly that.
People in long-distance relationships already know the importance of scheduling. But breaking out the calendar can be good for your friendships, too. I talked to Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of The Commuter Marriage: Keep Your Relationship Close While You're Far Apart, who says,
Have a schedule for contact, especially if you're in different time zones. Set some boundaries, so you're not being rude to friends by chatting on the phone with your partner while they sit and wait. Let your partner know in advance (by text and email) when you'll be available, and when you're not going to pick up.
Having a schedule will help you balance friend-time and partner-time, meaning you'll be able to enjoy dinner with your buddies without worrying about missing your girlfriend's call. And when you do talk to her, you'll be able to give her your full attention. But build in a little flexibility, too — if you're frequently cutting social engagements short because you need to make your phone date, you may start to get resentful. Figure out a schedule that doesn't require either of you to sacrifice too much social time, and be prepared to switch things up if need be.
Caroline Tiger, author of The Long-Distance Relationship Guide: Advice for the Geographically Challenged, told me that committing to one long phone call with your partner ever night can be "a lot of pressure." She explains that "some nights you might miss it and that might turn into this huge deal" — and it's sometimes hard to think of all the things you want to tell your partner at once anyway. As an alternative, she says, "I always advocate for frequent small communications." Getting in touch with your partner via texts, emails, and/or short phone calls throughout the day can be a great way of staying connected without feeling like you have to block out a whole hour every night. It can help you share things with your partner as they're happening, and leave you with more time for socializing with friends too.
When you travel to visit your partner, you may not see your friends face-to-face for a while, and this presents some challenges. Says Tessina,
If you can't see, feel, and sense each other's vibes, you're missing a lot of nonverbal communication clues. In order to compensate for these missing cues, your communication skills need to be better than just OK.
Twitter, Facebook, email and the like aren't exactly a substitute for a real in-person dinner with an old friend, but you can use them to fill the gaps until you can sit down to dinner again. Something as simple as responding to a friend's party invitation with a nice email mentioning that you're in Boyfriend's Town, USA — and maybe telling a funny story that happened there — can help reassure your friend that you're thinking about her and that you haven't dropped off the face of the earth. Also fun is an old technology: the greeting card. Never underestimate how much people love getting mail, or how far a single card can go to rebuilding feelings of closeness. Postcards can be a good idea too. Just don't write your friend a postcard in invisible ink unless you know he has the invisible ink decoder pen with him. I learned this the hard way.
Traveling a lot to see your partner can be tiring, and at times, a long-distance relationship can leave you without much energy. So you may not feel like joining your friends in their bar crawl/10k run/ultimate fighting tournament. But that doesn't mean you can't see them. Tiger suggests having your pals over for a movie night or some other relaxing activity, so that you can catch up each other without further depleting your strength. Other fun but chilled-out options: board games, pedicures, a walk in the park, or a yoga class.
One big enemy of a fun social life is jealousy. If you're partner's far away, he may resent the good times you're having with other people. Or you may feel preemptively guilty about enjoying yourself without him. Obviously, if your partner's trying to control you or isolate you from your friends, that's a serious problem. But short of that, long-distance social lives can still stir up some uncomfortable feelings on both sides. One solution to this, says Tiger, is to "make [your SO] feel a part of things." If you make a new friend, tell her where you met him and what's cool about him. If you go to a fun new bar or show, tell her about it. Take pictures when you can. This kind of stuff is pretty intuitive for a lot of long-distance couples, but it's worth reiterating: involving your partner in your life, even if he or she can't be with you every day, is a good way to make sure you both feel good about the fun you're having.
A long-distance relationship can be draining, both physically (God, airplanes) and emotionally. Given this, it's a good idea to make sure you're taking good care of your body and your mind. Shellie Vandevoorde, author of Separated By Duty, United In Love: Guide to Long Distance Relationships for Military Couples advocates regular exercise and plenty of fruits and veggies as a way to keep your strength up when you're jetting (or busing, training, or driving) between cities a lot. And, she says, "one can also recharge by reflecting. Thinking about life, goals, dreams and making plans to move in that direction." Sometimes making plans for when you and your partner can be in the same place again can be a way to boost your spirits. But you can also focus on your personal goals, things you can get done on your own. Doing a headstand or putting that bookshelf together can make you feel powerful and competent, and remind you that your life is still rad, even if your partner can't be in it as much right now.
Be a great partner, be a great friend, be fun, be loving, go out a lot but also have plenty of time for phone calls and texting and email and Skype sex, and work full-time so you have money to buy shelter and food and plane tickets and Skype credits — if all this sounds like a lot to manage at one time, it's because it is. As Tiger points out, there are times in a long-distance relationship where you may just not be able to be as social as you once were — just like there are times when you may not be able to call your partner back right away because you need to work or sleep or have fun. You might need to clear your social calendar from time to time just to "recharge and be alone," and that's nothing to be ashamed of. While your relationship shouldn't torpedo all your friendships, it's reasonable to go out a little less if you're spending a lot of time traveling to see your SO. Your friends will understand — especially if you let them know how much you enjoy the time you do spend with them.
The Commuter Marriage: Keep Your Relationship Close While You're Far Apart
The Long-Distance Relationship Guide: Advice For The Geographically Challenged
Separated By Duty, United In Love: Guide To Long Distance Relationships For Military Couples
Image via Rob Wilson/Shutterstock.