I spent my boyfriend’s college graduation in 2012 barely holding myself together, trying to be celebratory when all I could feel was sadness. I had two years left of school — including a semester abroad in Switzerland, a time zone and ocean away — and he would be home in New England for graduate school. I worried that the impending time apart signaled the end of our relationship.
We got married a few years ago, those long-distance years long behind us. It was extremely challenging to be apart — full of miscommunications, longing, and heartache — but ultimately, it strengthened our connection to one another. Here’s how we made it through:
Phone calls and texts go a long way towards making you feel like you’re together, but it’s video that makes a big difference because you can more easily connect. We’d have meals together (my dinner and his lunch) when I was in a different time zone, and it was so much more natural than trying to talk over the phone. We learned how to communicate more clearly with each other and be patient, especially with glitchy wi-fi.
During midterms and finals season, there was no time for phone calls or video chats. Instead, I’d write an email before I went to bed — I was studying until about 1 a.m. — about how my day went, what I was worried about, and my next final, and my boyfriend would respond when he woke up at 5:30 a.m. for his workout. That way, we both got to wake up to “Hello’s!” and “You got this!” from each other.
Sending “mixtapes” to each other
We both love music, and since we couldn’t spend time together hanging out and listening together, we’d send each other “mixtapes” to study to — Spotify playlists shared only between the two of us. It was a totally different way to deepen our relationship, from him learning about my obsession with Fleetwood Mac to me being introduced to new artists before they hit the charts. Some of the songs from our mixtapes even made it into our wedding reception playlist.
Watching shows and reading books together
One of my favorite things to do is curl up with a good book, and every once in a while, I’d convince my boyfriend to read the same one together. We found that short stories with a sci-fi twist worked best for us, like Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories.” We did the same thing with a few of our favorite shows, binge-watching “Lost” and “Mad Men” separately and discussing next time we got the chance to chat.
Alternating trips to see one another
Digital connection only goes so far. I’m a big travel planner, so coordinating our next meetup always gave me something to look forward to. We made sure to alternate who came to each other’s campuses unless there was something special going on, like my track and field banquet or his final project presentation. Sometimes, it was easier to meet in the middle, so we had plenty of adventures exploring different parts of New England.
Enjoying time apart
No matter what, we did our best to stay engaged in our lives where we were. Even though we missed each other, it wasn’t going to stop us from going out for drinks with friends or spending a weekend camping with the outing club. I’ll admit — I wasn’t always great at getting away from my phone, where I could talk to my partner, to be fully present in the moment. But experiencing life to the fullest is what made our relationship stronger.
There’s a difference between showing up for your significant other through thick and thin and codependence. By throwing ourselves into our studies, our sports, and our friendships, we could still have fun and grow as people, so when we moved in together after graduation, it made our relationship that much stronger.
Originally published on November 10, 2020.