Beyond the first few months of giddy affection and the feeling of butterflies, few — if any — romantic relationships are easy. Sure, some look that way, but usually that’s because two people are putting in a lot of work behind the scenes.
Long-distance relationships are even more difficult to maintain, and the reasons why they can fail are numerous. Many long-distance relationships certainly succeed, but they require careful navigation from the people involved to steer through the obstacles brought on by geography.
Of course, with the right mindset, plenty of emotional preparation and lots of work throughout, long-distance relationships can and do work out. But many potential pitfalls await every hopeful attempt at cross-country love.
10: Communication Breakdown
Couples in long-distance relationships have to make up for a serious lack of face time. In this modern age, there are plenty of alternatives: phone calls, text messages, instant messaging and pretty much any other communication technology developed since the carrier pigeon. However, much of our hasty electronic communications are hammered out in shorthand, and this can easily become the native language of long-distance relationships.
The flip-side of this is that these forms of communication often don’t pay off with a truly fulfilling interaction. Whereas it was once easy to chat in person, now those normal, daily interactions are severely curtailed. It requires real effort to keep in touch and feel connected.
If the relationship began long distance, it might be easier to communicate from afar because that dynamic is the only one that’s existed. If both parties are used to being in one another’s presence, it might become increasingly disheartening to communicate in less personal ways as time goes on.
A relationship can morph into a voice-and-text situation that assumes its own shape, making it somewhat strange when a couple actually spends time together in person after a long absence.
There is one type of person who does well with long-distance communication: the man or woman who truly values his or her own space (and a lot of it), but also wants to nurture a connection with a loved one.
9: A Murky Future
If you and your significant other (S.O.) are in a long-distance relationship, it’s a sign that your lives are different enough that circumstances prevent you from living in same ZIP code, state or even country.
Maybe you just met but don’t know each other well enough to move to the same city. While there’s strong chemistry, both of your lives are chugging along on parallel tracks. You can’t just sell your house, quit your job and move. Or can you? And what if you moved but it didn’t work out? What if he or she moved to your city (or into your home)? Would it be a dream come true or a suffocating nightmare?
Or perhaps you started off together, but circumstances, dreams, desires or conscious decisions created the physical distance now between you. It’s important for a relationship to foster a sense of togetherness, and that the bond has a mutually acceptable sense of stability and momentum. But over time in a long-distance relationship, you may feel as present in your S.O.’s life as you do in the life of the coffee-shop regular you keep bumping into in your own ZIP code — and you may realize the same could hold true for your S.O.
If further long-term commitments are made by both parties (like a lease extension or acceptance of a big job promotion or transfer), and those commitments don’t bring the two any closer together, someone’s likely to pull the plug.
8: The ZIP Code Rule
The “ZIP code rule” establishes the scoundrel’s primary philosophical question when it comes to monogamy: Is it cheating if it happens in a different ZIP code from the one occupied by your S.O? And all too often, the conclusion is: “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.” As a bonus, if the S.O. does find out, he or she will likely be too far away to key a car or smash some plates. A cad will behave like a cad no matter what, but the chances are perhaps greater when his or her S.O. lives far, far away.
Monogamy can be a challenge over time even under direct supervision. (Of course, ideally, direct supervision isn’t a requirement for monogamy.) Most people, though, are either the cheating sort or decidedly not. But some people who would normally stay true to their S.O. don’t respond well to long-term physical separation. Loneliness creeps in, new and interesting people appear when you least expect it, and then there’s alcohol. More than a few bad romantic decisions have been made under less-than-clear-headed circumstances. (It also presents a twist on the ZIP code question for deceitful boyfriends and girlfriends everywhere: “Does it count if I barely remember it?”)
Distance, loneliness and alcohol often grease the tracks for the derailment of a long-distance relationship.
This leads to our next reason long-distance relationships just don’t work: a lack of trust.
7: Lack of Trust
If you’re currently in a long-distance relationship and have just read the preceding section, you’re probably freaked out by now. And by freaking out, you may just jeopardize an otherwise healthy long-distance relationship. (Sorry about that.)
Plenty of relationships end because of trust issues (whether real or perceived), and long-distance relationships are a minefield of them. There’s really no way of knowing whether or not an S.O. on the other side of the country is cheating on you. But remember that close proximity offers no guarantees, either. A healthy, monogamous relationship requires of its participants a moral compass, ethical grounding, commitment and devotion. A trusting relationship has a lot to do with your personalities, your dating histories, your behavioral patterns and whether you’re naturally a jealous person.
If your S.O. is very flirtatious or has issues with being on his or her own, you may be dealing with a batch of real or perceived problems — and the difference between the two, as it relates to the health of your relationship, is negligible.
Your S.O. may not have a wandering eye, but your fear that he or she does may cause your long-distance relationship to collapse under the weight of suspicion. Or, in a misguided effort to protect your heart, you may decide to make some bad decisions of your own.
But, as we’ll find out next, even if jealousy doesn’t ruin your long-distance relationship, financial strain could.
6: The Cost of Keeping in Touch
While you were once able to meet for a sandwich and hang out downtown, getting together with your S.O. these days may mean booking airline tickets and securing hotel reservations.
For people in romantic relationships who live in different regions of the country, a few yearly visits to maintain the relationship could cost big bucks. Add to that long-distance phone bills, the shipping costs for care packages, and going all-out when you do get to spend time together, and you may be looking at a pretty pricy love connection.
Of course, overall, your relationship’s financial costs may actually be the same or less, since all those former daily outings and nighttime entertainments aren’t happening — but that’s assuming your social life shuts down in the absence of your S.O. More likely, you still go out, but now you hit the town with your friends instead of your sweetie. In fact, a sense of loneliness or a need for distraction may leave you with a fuller social schedule than you had before the commencement of your long-distance relationship.
Even if you tighten your financial belt on regular social outings, the costs of maintaining that long-distance relationship can be quite high. There’s the expense of traveling to one another (pricy either by car, train or plane), taking time off from work and kenneling a dog, as well as what you’ll actually pay while in each other’s presence after long periods of separation.
5: Time Versus Returns
Depending on the personalities and approaches of both parties, maintaining a long-distance relationship can be time-consuming with little in the way of return on the investment.
The frequent e-mails, phone calls and cards sent through the mail take up a lot of time and effort, and as it turns out, keeping up with each other’s news isn’t necessarily the same as growing closer.
As more time passes, the distant object of your affections can begin to seem like something abstract and less than real. An e-mail in your inbox isn’t the same as having someone nearby who can help you in person, who can share your day with you, and who can create new memories with you. The distance can be a serious wound to a relationship, and the efforts to maintain long-distance contact can seem like mere bandages placed on a gushing artery.
Eventually, the growing loneliness may make the wound too severe to warrant more “treatment” — it may be time to declare time of death.
If concrete plans to reunite aren’t in the near future, the projected gains may be too little to warrant moving the relationship down the temporal road.
4: Prelude to a Breakup
You’ve done everything in your power to keep your long-distance relationship going strong, but it still seems like it’s faltering. You write letters, keep up with your S.O.’s life through phone calls, and plan frequent get-togethers whenever your schedules allow. So why isn’t it working out?
Sometimes, long-distance relationships are designed to fail. It can be — in one person’s thinking, at least — a safe way to start a new life without right away losing the security and stability of his or her previous life. Even if a person has no intention of staying in a long-distance relationship, he or she may also fear jumping into a new environment without any support system whatsoever. However, once the new surroundings start to feel familiar, those phone calls “back home” may decrease in frequency, duration and interest.
Aside from the sense of security a (temporary) long-distance relationship can provide, some people just don’t like initiating the emotional havoc that breaking up inevitably causes. For people who prefer to avoid confrontation at all costs, going long-distance with a S.O. may be one in a series of never-ending steps that lead to an eventual breakup — likely after the other person takes the initiative on their own after finally getting the hint. Whereas breaking up on the telephone is in exceedingly poor taste in a normal relationship, there may be no other option in a long-distance relationship, and this may appeal to someone who’s scheduling a move across the country — and a breakup to go with it.
3: Different Expectations
What we — and our partners — expect out of a long-distance relationship goes a long way in determining our happiness and the success of those relationships.
“Long-distance relationship” can mean different things to different people. It may mean “heart-wrenching tragedy” to one person, while for the other partner it means “year-long vacation.”
If a couple doesn’t share the same expectations before the separation occurs, it can spell doom for a long-distance relationship. For one half of the couple, it may be viewed as a test of the relationship’s strength, with an eye toward reuniting as soon as possible. The other, however, may view the separation as a fresh taste of life all on one’s own. A boyfriend or girlfriend who wants to talk 10 times a day isn’t going to appreciate a partner who thinks it’s ideal to check in every few days. Even over a scratchy phone connection, it won’t take long for someone to realize that his or her S.O. doesn’t share the same feelings about the separation.
Not only do expectations matter when it comes to navigating the pitfalls of long-distance relationships, they also matter when it comes to determining where the whole thing is even going. Is the separation somehow moving the relationship ahead a step, or does the distance mean it’s moving in a less hopeful direction?
2: Separation Issues
Nobody likes to feel abandoned, and that feeling can rear its head when one member of a romantic couple moves out of town. The weeks and months leading up to it are likely to be colored by the impending physical separation. The anxiety and even anger that can result can drive a couple emotionally apart before they’ve even stopped sharing a location.
Some people respond to separation better than others. For those who have experienced some real or perceived episode of abandonment as a child, it can prove nearly overwhelming when a romantic partner moves away without first severing emotional ties. The situation can be exacerbated if one person in the relationship didn’t have any say in the decision and feels powerless to affect how the relationship is evolving.
Of course, physical separation will almost always result in an initial sense of increased anxiety and unhappiness. Often, the hurt feelings fade away and the relationship recovers, even at a distance. On the other hand, these feelings can also contribute to a sharp deterioration of the relationship, which is now measured in miles instead of shared dreams.
1: Life Goes On
Many long-distance relationships are the result of not having a better answer to shifting circumstances that require two people in a relationship to live in different cities or regions.
With lease arrangements, career concerns and indecision, long-distance relationships can represent a holding pattern. Life doesn’t naturally maintain holding patterns for very long. A couple in a long-distance relationship may not even notice the seismic change that is pulling them apart emotionally. Interests, values and friends may cause them to drift apart slowly and subtly. Or, depending on how different the two living environments are, these foundation-shifting changes may occur quickly and noticeably.
Not all relationships are built to last, and the ending of a long-distance relationship can only sometimes be blamed on the distance alone. There’s always the possibility the distance served as a catalyst for something inevitable. Some relationships simply aren’t workable in the first place, and attempting to maintain them at a great distance can only serve to illustrate it with additional clarity.
Unpredictable X-factors occur: One day, someone wakes up feeling like he or she isn’t in love anymore, or meets a new romantic interest. Careers advance and new opportunities present themselves that only serve to move people even further apart on the map than they already are.
Many long-distance relationships end because the world keeps turning, but fortunately for those whose long-distance relationship ends, life goes on for them, as well.