Often times, when people talk about long-distance relationships, they refer to them at best as a temporary phase of the relationship, or at worst, as a couple’s ultimate enemy. I can't remember ever hearing anything positive about this kind of relationship, even though I’ve been in one for nearly three years. The first question I get when I mention that my partner and I live 340 miles from each other, is “How do you do it?” My answer is simple: I prefer a long-distance relationship.
For the past two and a half years, my partner and I went from seeing each other every three months, when he was living in our hometown in Puerto Rico and I was living in New York City, to once or twice a month after he recently relocated for work in the U.S. There’s not much reliable research on how many couples are in a long-distance relationship: a government survey found that around 3.9 million Americans lived apart from their spouses in 2017, The Atlantic reported, but that doesn't leave room for unmarried couples like my partner and me.
Regardless of how many others share our arrangement, I couldn't be happier. As a career-oriented woman, I’ve found that a long-distance relationship is the perfect way to have a significant other, while also having the space necessary to live my own life and set my own priorities. I spend most of my day at my full-time job, late nights networking, and, over the weekend, I devote some time for freelance work and self-care (meeting up with friends and watching Netflix included).
Plenty of couples are able to thrive in their careers with their partners nearby, and some even work together. If this is you, kudos to you! But instead of looking at the distance as a setback, my partner and I look at our current status as an opportunity for independence. Our long-distance relationship has allowed us to explore our own interests. Freedom in our decision making has been extremely beneficial for both of us — we don’t feel a sense of dependence on each other, or the inevitable monotony that comes with dating one person for a long time. One 2013 study, published in Journal of Communication, shows that long-distance couples can actually have stronger bonds than "proximate" couples (aka, couples that live close by each other), being of “equal or even more trust and satisfaction than their geographically close counterparts.”
When I’m busy doing my own thing, I don’t have time to miss my partner. Networking with other professionals after work can be a way to replace the regular dinner dates. Catching up with old friends or making new ones on the weekends can lead to strong connections in the future. And when I do get to see my partner on a carefully planned vacation, weekend getaway, or staycation, it feels that much more special and intimate.
And studies show that I'm not alone in feeling these benefits from my long-distance relationship: A 2013 study of 717 people in long-distance relationships shows that greater distance apart actually predicted “more intimacy, communication, and satisfaction in the relationship,” while partners who live further from each other reported more stability than those who lived close by, according to a 2007 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
When you’re around someone constantly, it can also be easy to take them for granted. By setting an exclusive time to enjoy each other’s company, my partner and I nourish that bond on a deeper level, which still leaves me enough time to focus on my self-growth. Long distance comes with long stretches of uninterrupted, concentrated time that you can use as you will. If you use it wisely, it’s truly a luxury. Plus, prioritizing yourself while in a long-distance relationship is one of the most common pieces of advice experts give to make the relationship work.
Still, having no physical distractions is priceless. If I were geographically close to my significant other, I’d probably spend my free time with them, as opposed to dedicating this time for self-improvement. To make up for this, my partner and I make sure to check on each other to ask “How was your day? What are you working on? How are you feeling?” — the usual after-work talk if we were living close to each other, but we connect via text or a phone call. Video calls also work wonders — they're our dates. Between that and spending hours planning our next adventure together, it gives us something to look forward to.
“I like us this way, in the distance. For now,” I told my partner over dinner one night recently. He agreed. Our relationship has also given him the time to focus on his career and rapidly advance, working overtime when he’s called on weekends and frequently traveling for work.
“It gives me plenty of time to do work-related stuff by my own and when we do come together, we do it with much more enthusiasm and desire,” he later told me over the phone. “Also, I have free time to do things that you don't necessarily like mountain biking, skiing, and playing video games, for example.”
But it's not all peaches and cream. For some long-distance couples, jealousy and trust can be big issues. For us, when our workloads get tough, communication falls short. Being flexible and understanding of each other's time has been key to get through these rough patches. After all, communication is all we have when we are apart; if there’s no proper time for a long conversation over the phone, simple gestures make the difference. A text saying “Hey, I’m thinking about you,” or even DMing each other memes on Instagram can make us feel more connected.
Quality time does not need to involve physical touch. Distance teaches you and your partner the value of your relationship, as well as a greater appreciation for the quality time you two get to spend together. Since we’re both on the same path, we can see the distance in our relationship for what it truly is: a blessing, rather than a curse.