A few months ago, at the age of 29, I conducted my first booty call.
Well, I almost did, before I changed my mind. “Actually, I’m tired,” I texted my boyfriend. “Maybe tomorrow?”
It’s not that I’m a late bloomer. Until my boyfriend moved to my city last year, I never even had the opportunity to make a booty call, as I’ve been in long-distance relationships since I first started dating. It all began with my high-school boyfriend, whom I met at summer camp. Since then, outside of a handful of dates in college — none of which led to booty call-level intimacy — all of my subsequent boyfriends have lived a plane, train, or 10-hour car ride away.
While long-distance relationships have their perks, like a sense of independence and lots of personal space, there are some downsides. You miss your significant other. Double dates are a no-go. Flights are expensive. And every time you plan a visit, there’s the expectation for it to be rom-com perfect. Luckily, there are ways to troubleshoot some of these common issues. And for those you can’t, there’s a good reason why.
1. You miss out on the nitty-gritty details.
You and your partner might not have a few hours to catch up on a daily basis, depending on your schedules and respective time zones. And with an abbreviated window to chat, you’re forced to narrow down your topics of conversation — so you might talk about big-picture things only, like a promotion or your next visit. “Closeness, however, is based in part on knowing each other’s lives, including the boring stuff,” says Theresa DiDonato, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Loyola University Maryland. “When individuals stop sharing the small moments with each other, they risk losing the kind of intimacy that promotes a healthy long-term relationship.” Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and host of “The Washington Post’s” Baggage Check column, agrees. “It’s all being narrated to you,” she explains.
Bonior recommends using texting and FaceTime to share updates throughout the day. Plus, it’s essential to build in time to chat via voice. “Make each other part of your day in a ritual, whether you call to say goodnight or touch base on your morning commutes,” she adds. Until my boyfriend moved closer to me, we had a “Call of the Day,” a.k.a. a COTD, that was a non-negotiable. Now, on days where we don’t see each other due to conflicting schedules or late nights at work, we revive the ritual. Plus, “you can also have long-distance ‘dates’ where you watch your favorite show at the same time and discuss it afterward, or cook dinner at the same time,” says Samantha Burns, dating coach and author of “Breaking Up & Bouncing Back.” “There are many creative ways to prioritize your partner even though you’re not in the same physical space.”
2. You haven’t talked about the endgame.
Communication is key in every relationship, but when it’s long distance, it can make or break you. “If one [of you] sees being long distance as a tough sacrifice that’s temporary because you’ll be in the same place eventually, and the other doesn’t see the end date and isn’t bothered by long distance, that’s going to cause problems,” Bonior says. And don’t rely on a decision you made at the outset to last forever. As you both grow and the relationship develops, things may change — which is why it’s important to check in.
Aside from keeping you from being blindsided, regular check-ins with your significant other on the status and future of your relationship can ensure that you both have realistic expectations. Doing so can pack a lot of benefits for your relationship, too. “Individuals who are more certain about their relationships, have expectations aligned with their partners, and are less distressed by being in a long-distance relationship tend to have higher-quality relationships,” says DiDonato.
3. You put too much pressure on in-person visits.
So you’ve got a weekend with your partner coming up. Awesome, right? Sort of. “Healthy romantic relationships are based on small moments and integrated lives,” DiDonato says. “With long-distance relationships, individuals may be so excited to see each other that they create special weekends that don’t reflect how they usually spend their time.” If you’ve planned eight museum visits and a candlelit dinner, that itinerary is not at all reflective of what a full-time relationship between you would be like.
While doing nothing might not sound like you’re making the most of your time together, it’s more important than you’d think. “Downtime is good,” Bonior explains. In terms of your relationship, big plans have nothing on binge-watching your favorite sitcom together. “You need those random few days where one of you is sick and the other is in a bad mood, and you’re watching a movie together,” she adds. “When you get into squabbles, that’s how relationships grow.” Only then will you get a sense of what a relationship together will be like.
4. You don’t trust each other — but for good reason.
The biggest red flag is easy to ignore or excuse if you try hard enough. But while bad behavior can seem minor in the moment, over time it can add up to a big deal. “If they say they’ll be there when you call but never are, their stories are conflicting, they back out of visits at the last minute, or they seem secretive — those are the types of things that erode trust,” Bonior says. “It’s important to be on the lookout a little more because you don’t have the advantage to see things day-in and day-out.” And it’s not just infidelity. If your partner lost his job three weeks ago and didn’t tell you, that’s a problem.
Either way, it needs to be addressed stat if you want the relationship to continue. “First, have a direct conversation about boundaries in your relationship, which means discussing what you consider to be unfaithful behaviors, taking into account emotional, physical, and virtual infidelity, and any expectations you have of each other,” Burns advises. “If trust has become a problem, then you’ll need to be very transparent in your communication and intentions while you’re rebuilding the relationship.” It’s work, yes — but only you know if the relationship is worth the effort.
5. You assume living in the same place will be a breeze.
If you or your S.O. makes the leap to be closer after being long distance, it’s obviously a good sign. But the transition to meeting your boo for dinner on Wednesday or even moving in together can be surprisingly difficult. In fact, without the excitement of seeing each other after a month and day-to-day autonomy, the relationship can suffer, says DiDonato. “In their united relationships, couples are likely to experience more negative interactions, more time-management challenges, and more conflict than when they were living apart,” she explains.
While reunions are high risk, it’s possible to work through the challenges. When my boyfriend moved near me, it took time to navigate the new version of our relationship. We had to learn how to respect each other’s space, for one, and find a balance between nurturing our relationship and maintaining our individual friendships. While being near each other is definitely a net positive, there are still kinks to work out.
6. You never question why you’re long distance.
While the states or hours between you can seem like the root of all your relationship problems, it may actually be a symptom of something else. If someone has been dragging their feet about moving or doesn’t want to talk about it, that could point to commitment issues. “That’s [something] that would be hard to reconcile, because it means you’re in two different places — literally and figuratively,” Bonior says.
Or, if you’ve been doing long distance for ages, you might not realize how the relationship (and the people in it) have changed. Maybe you’ve grown apart. Maybe your goals no longer line up. “Long distance masks the fact that you’re not compatible,” she adds. Plus, it can allow you to procrastinate on a breakup, since you can blame these new incompatibilities on the long-distance relationship. So if you think you or your significant other may be less invested, take a step back and assess how being long distance factors into your relationship. Is it a necessary evil? Or are you a little too comfortable with it? Once you’re honest, you can then take the next step — usually for the better.