I’ve never been much of a “phone person.” I remember as a teenager being completely baffled by the way my sister would come home from school and spend hours talking to friends on the phone. “What could they possibly have to say to each other?” I wondered. I found phone chats awkward and stilted, and I would always find my mind wandering after about 15 minutes. As an adult, I’ve gotten better about talking on the phone, and have accepted it as a necessary evil in keeping in touch with loved ones who are far away. Even so, I still find myself getting restless and fidgety during phone conversations that drag on for too long, and the people I'm talking to can usually tell. I even had a friend tell me once — in regard to my subpar phone habits — "If you ever meet a guy who you can manage to talk on the phone with for 20 minutes without getting edgy, you should marry him." Was it chance or some sort of grand cosmic irony that, years later, I found myself in a relationship that depended almost entirely on communicating via phone?
When my boyfriend (now husband) announced that he had gotten a fellowship in England and would be moving across the pond for two years, I was freaked out, to say the least. In addition to all of the ways that being in a long distance relationship sucks (and it does suck), our whole relationship would rely on my least favorite mode of communication. How was that going to work?
It would be easy to answer “How does a phone-hater handle an LDR?” by simply saying, “Just don’t talk on the phone.” That solution might work if the distance separating you and your S.O. is fairly short — if you’re able to see someone every weekend, or every couple of weeks, then maybe you can get through the rest of it with emailing, texting, and other forms of unspoken communication. But if the “long” in your long distance relationship is very long — mine was 5,400 miles — then talking on the phone is impossible to avoid. When you’re only seeing someone every few months, at best, there’s really no way to get around speaking to each other out loud. Email and texting are great, but they’re not substitutes for verbal conversations, and without spontaneous, real interaction, it’s just too easy for the relationship to stagnate. Thus, the key to figuring out how to survive an LDR when you hate talking on the phone is less about finding ways to not talk on the phone than it is about finding ways to make frequent, long-distance phone chats a little more bearable. Here’s how:
1. VIDEO CHAT IS ALL.
I am not exaggerating when I say, “Skype saved my relationship.” The first week that my boyfriend was gone, we tried to talk on the phone everyday. By Day Three, we had run out of new things to talk about (“What did you do today?” “The same thing as yesterday. You?” “The same”). And this is where I realized just why I have never been someone who’s into casual chatting on the phone: When I’m on the phone, I have a really hard time transitioning from “What’s new in your life?” to the random, just-shooting-the-sh*t type of conversations that you have when you’re actually in the same room as someone. And how can you sustain a relationship if you can’t figure out how to have those rambling discussions about movies, or the weird encounter you had at the store, or how much you both hate that commercial with the song that you can't get out of your heads? That kind of easy, aimless interaction matters.
When my boyfriend and I finally started using Skype, it was like the heavens opened and rained diamonds and pearls upon us, as music swelled in the background. OK, so not really. But I found that being able to see him — even if the image was stuttery and pixelated sometimes — made all the difference in getting us over the hurdle, from “catching up on what’s new” to “casual conversation.” It really was the moment that I thought we might actually be able to make it through the two years apart.
That’s only my experience, of course, but if you’re having trouble connecting with your S.O. over the phone, the very first thing to do is to get on video — Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, whatever works best for you — ASAP.
2. Fold laundry.
If you’re someone who gets restless or distracted on the phone, set up your phone to be hands-free, and give yourself a menial, brainless task to do while you talk, like folding laundry or sweeping (nothing too loud, though, like doing the dishes). You may find that having something simple to do with your hands will help you stay focused on the conversation. Of course, the trick is to find something that keeps your hands busy but not your brain — you don’t want your task to distract you from what your partner is saying. (Another perk to this method: You get housework done).
3. You don’t have to talk everyday.
Every relationship works differently, but most LDRs need a lot of regular communication to keep going. However, if talking on the phone every day makes you feel crazy, mix it up — give your self some days when you can communicate via text or email, or days here and there when you don’t communicate at all. It’s a good idea to talk regularly, but if you feel locked into a schedule that you find overwhelming, you’ll only get resentful.
4. Allow yourself to have quick chats.
Again — mix things up! In an LDR, there can be pressure to have long, meaningful conversations every time you talk, but sometimes that simply doesn’t work (and remember, people don’t have constant, long, meaningful convos when they’re in not-long-distance relationships either). Give yourself and your partner permission to have short conversations, in which you can say “Hi!” and share a bit of your day, without feeling pressure to keep the dialogue going. You can schedule a longer Skype date when you have more time.
5. Schedule phone dates.
Scheduling phone calls may sound dull in the extreme, but though it might not be the most romantic thing, it’ll make phone conversations less stressful. By planning and putting aside time to talk, you won’t end up in a situation in which one of you wants to chat, but the other is in the middle of doing something else, or feeling stressed about other tasks.
6. Think about time zones.
If you and your partner are in separate time zones, keep that in mind when you talk. In my situation, my boyfriend and I were eight time zones apart, which meant his evening was my mid-morning, which meant that often we were in very different mindsets when we spoke. (Me: Stressed about so much work to do today! Him: Exhausted from work he's already done.) There’s not really a way to fix that, of course, but being sensitive to where your partner is in his or her day — and the fact that it might not coincide with where you are in your day — can do a lot to prevent friction and misunderstandings.
7. Email and text — but don’t rely on it completely.
Emailing and texting are awesome, of course, but be careful not to let them (or other modes of silent communication) replace verbal conversations. When you can’t hear someone’s tone of voice, or listen to their purely spontaneous response to what you’ve said, it’s way too easy to have miscommunications.
8. Send letters and packages.
When someone is far away from you, nothing makes them feel close again like a package or a letter — something physical that they touched or wrote. And, while electronic communication is incredibly convenient and necessary, is there anything more happy than getting a real letter or care package in the mail? They’re sure to chase away the LDR blues.
9. Give yourself things to talk about.
When you’re dating someone, you give yourselves things to talk about all the time — you go to movies, you cook together, you go hiking together, you hang out with other people together. All of those activities are the fodder for your conversations. When you’re in an LDR, those moments are harder to come by, but you can create them. Watch a movie together — either simultaneously while on the phone, or separately so that you can talk about it later. Start watching a TV show together. Try out the same recipes and talk about how they went. Have a book club for two. It may feel silly at first, but you’ll have fun with your partner in the long run — and isn’t that the point of being in the relationship in the first place?