I'm sorry we're here. Or rather, I'm sorry that the Love of Your Life is way, way far out over there. It's not easy being in a long-distance relationship. Trust me. While absence makes the heart grow fonder or whatever, that absence is also exhausting, depressing, and can drive you crazy. You may find yourself waking up in the middle of the night to find that the person you thought you were spooning is actually a pile of pillows that you've unconsciously assembled into a humanlike (or at least human-length) pile. A temporarily lost phone might send you into a tailspin of rage; once you find it, the lack of a new text message from your beloved might drive you to paranoid theorizing. On tough weeks, you will want to scream-cry at the miles of land (or sea) that separate you, or question whether your partner understands that your passion for them burns like the heat of a million dying suns.
Please knock it off. Take a deep breath. You and your soulmate can make it through this if you try. (But really, you'll have to try.) Here are some tips to see you through. (Disclaimer: These presume that you two have indeed met in real life and at least briefly lived within a tolerable radius of each other before being separated by the cruel realities of your lives.)
1. Make sure you know what you want.
Let's get the tough love out of the way. Do you really want to be doing this? Or is it just harder to let each other go? Do you have the same relationship goals? I believe in the strength of your love as much as you do, but it's important to ask yourself these things. And then ask your distant significant other. Have a frank, honest conversation about your expectations in terms of time, patience, and frequency/intensity of communication. Talk about how much you're willing to talk.
As basic as it sounds, this is the time to get any of the more awkward assumptions out of the way. Explicitly discuss things that may seem like a "given," but might not be: Will you be monogamous? Which one of you will travel to visit the other? Will you alternate? How often? Who pays for all this? Revel in hearing the affirmation, "I couldn't even imagine having sex with anyone but you, you beautiful butterfly of a babe," b/w "I think I could come for a visit in four weeks, but I also would love for you to see where I live now, so let's go with whatever's cheapest!" (If only Hannah Horvath had been so wise.) Know that this conversation will likely be emotional and exhausting. Feel free to share a bottle of wine while having it.
2. Be aware of one another's schedules.
Be conscious of when your significant other is generally busy, working, or unreachable, and don't force yourself into that daily schedule. (As much as it may feel like it, this isn't prison, and you don't have strict visiting hours.) Learning some of the mundane regularities of each other's lives will help things feel a little more normal: Know the days of the week that typically involve early mornings, stressful deadlines, drudgery-filled meetings, or new episodes of Game of Thrones.
Living in different time zones can be especially tricky, seeing as you won't have the same sleep or work schedules (probably). Be patient when drunk-dials and texts come in at, say, 3 a.m. their time but 6 a.m. yours.
3. Communication is key.
This will be the hardest thing, and the easiest to over-analyze. (And the most surprising: You may be needier than you thought, or more stridently independent.) The important thing is to be open and honest. Be real about how much time you have to talk, or if you're having a particularly grumpy day and would rather not talk at all. Try not to take it personally—and respond lovingly—if you're on the receiving end of those messages.
The small stuff matters: Shoot "good morning" or "good night" texts as a reminder that you're thinking about them even at your groggiest (or cuddliest). Share basic, mundane-seeming details of your life: family gossip, your coworkers' inside jokes, and so on. When you see or hear or feel something that reminds you of him or her, by all means say so ... as long as it's not EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE LIKE THE VERY AIR THAT SURROUNDS AND SUSTAINS YOU.
In the year 2015, it doesn't matter if you hate technology: You'll need a smartphone and/or a webcam if this is going to work. Psychologists say that 55 percent of the way you communicate with other people is through nonverbal cues: your body language, facial expressions, and eye contact. Lucky for you, there's a free app for just about everything. Try to use FaceTime, Skype, and video chat for as much of your communicating as you can. Snapchat is great for unimportant silliness and voyeurism, if you're into that sort of thing. Get over yourself and take a selfie every now and then. Make sure that all of his or her visual peeks into your life aren't confined to friends' Facebook photo albums and Instagram party hashtags.
That said, avoid talking to each other constantly. (I've known couples who kept their webcams on as they slept at night, which seems Looney Toons crazytown to me.) I'd avoid instant-messaging if you're both online all day: You'll find yourself having meaningless, boring exchanges just for the sake of having them. You do not need to fill the physical distance between you with endless conversation! Instead save up for the times when you're genuinely excited to talk to each other. Try to spark conversations that would happen naturally if you were together: Ask their opinion on a work dilemma, talk about stuff going on in the news, and moan about the ridiculousness of your favorite shared TV show.
4. Sexytime is still on the table
This is obvious, right? While sexting or phone sex isn't the same as the real thing and will be undeniably awkward when you first try, it's better than the masturbatory cry that's waiting instead. You already know how to flirt with each other. You (presumably) already know how to do sex with each other. Do that, but with your words. (Here's some advice for the dudes and here's some for the ladies.) When you see each other, make out like teenagers and go at it in every room and on every available surface. (Any roommates' private areas/furniture should be left alone, of course. Don't be gross.) It'll give them something to think about when you're not around and spark vivid imagery for the sexting to come.
5. Remember that you're not living on different planets.
A friend of mine once told me that her boyfriend referred to her group of friends from home as "her other life." It didn't concern him because he never had to interact with any of them, even though they made up a huge part of who she was. Don't make that mistake. Don't diminish your partner's new, separate life just because you're not physically present in it. Instead, try to integrate those worlds when you can. Answer the phone when you're at a party with mutual friends and feel your emaciated heart fill with warmth as a bunch of people scream, "HEYYYYY" at someone you love through the telephone. Keep your partner on group emails about special events or big group outings even if they're not likely to make it. (The invite is still important, and can be just the excuse to make a spontaneous visit.)
For the person who has moved: Give your partner a walking tour of your new apartment and local hangs. If you have one, introduce them to your roommate(s) so they know you're not all alone or living with a lunatic. (Humanize new friends by referring to them by their names and giving them personalities and such, instead of going, "You know, that guy with the beard that I go to watch the sports with!") FaceTime them into a concert you're at to say, "Hi! This Calvin Harris rave is next level! I feel so close to you right now!" (It doesn't matter if you have terrible service and the video is a blurry glow of laser-light-show action.) Every now and then, plan a date night wherein you both Netflix the same movie while getting solo-drunk (and inevitably quit the movie to have phone sex instead and then pass out). But, really, try to keep a shared hobby of some kind: Agree to actually get to the same book you've both been wanting to read, or watch the same movie in theaters in the same week. And then actually do it! (Pro-tip: Have Amazon deliver your s/o said book or movie. Watch them melt with affection.)
6. Okay, but have your own life too.
They say that you can't love someone else if you don't love yourself first, and it's true. Please make sure you're staying sane through all of this, okay? Living in a depressing fantasy land where life is a horrible gray cloud unless you're in the fetal position making kissy-faces at your phone is not cute at all. Your life never revolved entirely your relationship before, and anyways, you have other things to worry about.
Let me be as explicit as possible: DO NOT SCHEDULE YOUR LIFE AROUND PHONE CALLS WITH A PERSON WHO LIVES FAR AWAY. You are a busy person with important things to attend to, like that happy hour your coworker invited you to. You'll also be thrilled to find that you now have some new free time to fill with other things you've always been meaning to do. Remember that knitting circle you wanted to start with all your old high school bros? Do that! That group ski trip that you were going to bail on now that your partner-in-crime can't come with? Bring a bottle of Jack and a book as your date.
These are the best of years of your life, kid. Go out and meet people and do the things that you love doing. (It is okay to tell your partner you miss them while doing so! You haven't forgotten them! You'd rather do most of these things with them, too!) Your partner will not resent you for living in the real world like a real human—if they do, consider pausing for a moment to talk about that. Stop moping around and/or exclusively talking about how hard your life is when your friends do manage to get ahold of you. Everyone thinks you're being a wet blanket, and they talk about it all the time.
7. Honor your sadness, but don't play into it.
Be prepared to feel helpless from time to time. It's unavoidable. Know that there will be days that you'll feel left behind and jealous of the people who get to bathe in your significant other's radiating goodness and best LOLs while you desperately long to do the same. You are allowed to call them to rant about how much you miss them and how life is miserable when you're not together, so long as you don't overdo it. There will be days when you ask your boo to remind you that he or she does indeed love you to the moon and back. (Which is a distance that's much greater than the one that separates the two of you now, by the way.) All of this is okay, because they probably feel the same way, too. Cry it out if you need to—you'll feel better afterward.
Remember that you (yes you!) are the master of your emotions. Try not to feed your wallow with depressing, hopeless shit like romantic movies about doomed relationships and lost loves. You will find parallels between this work of fiction and your life that are entirely imaginary. (An old ex of mine lost it after watching, um, Up.) Specifically avoid Closer, Blue Valentine, Goodbye Again, Take This Waltz, The Way We Were, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Husbands and Wives, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Atonement, Legends of the Fall, Brokeback Mountain, Revolutionary Road, Letter From an Unknown Woman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Lost in Translation, A Single Man, The Iron Lady, Weekend, The English Patient, Jules et Jim, The Notebook, etc etc etc. When you cave in and end up watching one or more of these movies, remember that I once wisely told you not to.
Puja Patel is a writer and editor who lives in New York and loves you very much. Find her shouting into the ether over here.
Image from ShutterStock.
Adequate Man is Deadspin's new self-improvement blog, dedicated to making you just good enough at everything. Suggestions for future topics are welcome below.