Long distance relationships are tough, everyone knows that. Danielle and I have made what we can of it and have developed some pretty good ways of coping with the 1100 miles between us. I've compiled a narrative of the things we've done over the past almost year and a half that have helped us both grow as a couple and make the distance a little more manageable.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS
It may sound pretty obvious for anyone in a long distance relationship, but communication is key! There's no other way to build the trust and understanding needed in a relationship without communication. When talking over the phone, it's difficult to pick up on the subtle nuances that one can easily observe in person. I'm not a huge fan of talking on the phone with anyone really, but doing just that is what really solidified Danielle and I's relationship early on. When we first started dating, we felt like we knew each other fairly well from our weekend on TEC and the wheat crew meetings leading up to the weekend. Once we were officially dating, we would talk on the phone for hours - which for me was semi-difficult due to my disliking of talking on the phone to anyone for any length of time. We would talk about anything from how our day was to asking each other random questions. Stupid ones like "Coke or Pepsi?" and more serious ones such as "How many kids to you want to have?"
We even incorporated the silly questions into emails early on. We would email each other about pretty much anything. About having a rough day at work, a good day at work, plans for the next trip to DC or KC, etc. At the end of every email we would attach a list of questions for the other to answer. Again questions ranged from the dumb/mundane, "When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up and why?" to more serious, "Where do you want to raise a family? (Small town country, big city, etc.)." This was such a great way for us to get to know each other early on in the relationship. Danielle and I both hate the distance between us, but at the same time, if it wasn't for the distance, we would not have gotten to know each other so quickly, so early. For that, we are thankful...most of the time. Now we usually talk on the phone in the evening before heading to bed and also in the morning on my way into work.
THE OLD FASHIONED WAY
Another way her and I communicate with each other is through the mail. Yes, folks, the honest to god, old fashioned United States Postal Service. A lot of people may discount the mail since now sending emails and even long distance phone calls are so easy and cheap. Answer me this then, who among you doesn't like to receive a card or letter in the mail? I submit that there's hardly anyone that doesn't like to receive a personal letter in the mail. Yes, it’s slow. Yes, it’s more expensive than email. Seriously though, it's fun. We'll send each other cards fairly regularly. Sometimes just a quick note inside. Other times a lengthy narrative of how much we miss the other person. Sometimes we'll find a photo inside or some other present. Both of us have kept all the cards and plan on figuring out how much we've spent on cards and postage over the past year and a half - though I'm pretty sure it's going to be ridiculous. One important note to make here is to make sure you have the right address and postage. Someone I know had some trouble with that at one point :)
One step up from cards and letters- we've also sent each other care packages and countdown packages. Care packages are pretty self-explanatory (Google it if you must) but the countdown ones were my favorite. Countdown packages were usually some sort of way to count down the time to the next visit. One that I made was simply a power point presentation that I printed out. Each slide had a number on it made from a photo I pulled off of Google images. With the number, each page also had a photo of us or a quote or song lyric (usually something sappy). It was a great way for Danielle to count down the days till I was home or she was in DC (she made a similar one too). One of them she made for me was an 8 week long countdown. Each week I got to open a small present. One was a photo; another, a coupon book with coupons I could redeem for a massage, or dinner, etc. The packages are/were awesome. The more creative the better.
WHEN THE "NORM" GETS OLD
So, after talking on the phone all the time and nothing else, it gets old. Danielle and I both agree, sometimes you just don't want to talk or simply we have nothing new to talk about. You just want to lie on the couch and watch some TV. However, it's pretty tough to do that with someone 1100 miles away. You don't not want to talk to them, but you also don't have much to say. To combat this, Danielle and I started recording "24" and then watching it together over the phone the following night. It was great! It was like we were watching it together...sort of. We were able to spend time together, but now if we didn't have much to say, we didn't have to. Once "24" was over with, she bought us each a "Cosby Show" DVD that we could watch together. $5 at Wal-Mart...not bad. We also began watching "The Big Bang Theory" together. We've talked about renting a movie together and watching that, but we just haven't gotten around to it yet.
Spending time together doing something - even when not in person - is where a lot of our ideas come from (that and the internet). Danielle found a book by Gary Chapman, famous author of "The 5 Love Languages" series of books. We each bought a copy of "Things I Wish I'd Known Before We Got Married." We picked one night a week where we each read one chapter and then discuss it. It was great! Each chapter had a different topic ranging from kids, to financing, to roles around the house followed by discussion questions. Each chapter was 4-5 pages so it didn't take long to read one chapter and discuss. Most of the topics Danielle and I had talked about already and nothing huge was really "discovered" that we strongly disagreed with each other on, but it was still a great tool to prepare for marriage. We both highly recommend this book for anyone considering marriage (even if you haven't found that someone yet).
Another creative way to combat the mundaneness of chatting on the phone all the time is with journaling. I credit this one to Danielle because I was skeptical at first but it turned out to be pretty fun. We keep a journal that we send back and forth and in it we can write whatever is on our minds - how much we miss the other person; how excited we are about our next trip to see each other; etc. It's just another way for us to communicate with one another that's not "just talking on the phone." I do have to admit though that I am not as good about writing in the journal as she is. I've had it for about a month now and have maybe 5 entries. Good thing Danielle is as patient as she is :)
Danielle is full of great ideas that I seem to drop the ball on. Another of which is the photo scavenger hunt. The idea is that we take turns making up a list of 5 things that we then have to both take pictures of over the course of the following week. The picture may include multiple items from the list but it must include us in some way (us meaning the person taking the photos). The first round was a complete success and it was pretty fun too. Now I just need to make up the list for our second round.
At this point, most of you have probably been wondering, "Haven't they ever heard of Skype?" The answer is, "Well, duh!" We do Skype quite often. However, we've found the same issue with Skype as we have with the phone. Sometimes we just don't want to talk. We still want to "spend time" with each other, but neither one of us really has much to say. That being said, Skype is still a great tool in managing the heartache of 1100 miles. We recently found out that Skype has games on it though which has made it that much better. Now we can get on Skype and chat but have something to do besides just sitting there making small talk. The games are pretty lame, I think, but it is nice to have something to do on the days that there's just nothing new to say.
Ultimately, communication is the keystone to the success of a long distance relationship. Be creative in the ways you develop that communication in order to prevent the "just talking on the phone" mentality. Be open to each other - in both talking to the other person and listening. It is very easy to misinterpret something over the phone or email. So, if something upsets you, tell them. Chances are, they're not going to pick up on it over the phone or through email. Be honest with one another. Forgive and forget. When all you have is two-way communication you must rely on each other to keep it going and to keep it strong.
For all of you long distance relationship people reading this, hang in there, it'll get better.
Persevere- verb 1. to persist in anything undertaken; maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles, or discouragement; continue steadfastly. (courtesy of Danielle)