I love plans and order and for everything to fall into place at the “right” time. But I’ve learned, much to my surprise and delight, that you can’t always choose the timing for when you meet the right person.
I met my boyfriend at the end of my first year of college. I was heading to Washington D.C. for a summer internship; he was heading to Chile to work and study Spanish. Putting our fear of long distance romantic misery aside, we decided to take a risk and date anyway. From the get-go, we committed to 7 months of living in different places and, as with many ambitious pairs, we have done more long distance since. All combined, we've been apart a full year over the course of our three years together. That means that for 12 months we have grown as a couple through Skype, different time zones, and completely different lives.
At first glance our situation may seem less than ideal, but I am grateful for our sometimes-LDR because it has equipped us with the skills we need to go the distance—to get to marriage. The lessons we learned from afar are numerous, but here are three that I believe will play a dominate role in our future life together.
01. All that talk turned into deeper emotional intimacy
On numerous occasions, I can recall my mom telling me that my dad was her soft place to land. It was my parents' strong friendship that allowed them to be vulnerable. For my boyfriend and I, all those FaceTime chats and emails allowed us to grow in this type of emotional intimacy, rather than falling into the trap of making physical intimacy our default.
Ellie Lisitsa at The Gottman Institute discusses the concept of emotional attraction as being attracted to your partners heart, mind, and dreams and valuing them for who they are what they believe. "While you may be sexually attracted to your partner’s physical appearance, developing deeper emotional attraction will make these feelings much stronger," says Lisitsa. Marriage expert Dr. John Gottman explains that regular conversation and lots of questions helps you explore your partner's love map, their interior life made up of all their hopes and dreams. Our love maps are always evolving, and questions and quality conversation keeps us updated on every new twist and turn.
Lisitsa explains that emotional attraction to your partner is in large part determined by how you communicate. "Emotional attraction (and transitively, sexual attraction) grows when you feel your partner is listening to you, respecting and accepting your perspective, and expressing genuine care," Lisitsa said. Thanks to our LDR, my boyfriend and I have strong emotional attraction. We want to hear about each other's boring days, or be the first person we turn to when we want advice, or as my mom puts it, a soft place to land. I think that's a pretty good place to start a lifetime together.
02. All that confusion led to good communication.
One thing people dread the most about long distance is all that inevitable confusion and miscommunication over little things that, if you were in person, would have been a non-issue. I never realized that healthy communication was something I needed to improve until my relationship presented the challenge of being primarily held over Skype and text. There was no room in our relationship for my assumptions and silently hurt feelings. I had to learn how to effectively tell him what I meant, felt, and wanted. In fact, certified Gottman therapist Zach Brittle says that learning to tell your partner what you want is one of the most important things to learn before you get married.
Communication from hundreds of miles apart can be messy, but long distance taught me how to be attuned to his emotions and feelings without the benefit of being physically in the same place. I was forced to be better at texting and to fully use my words because actions and body language were not always there. Furthermore, we relearned the art of the conversation. We learned to take time to talk about the important serious issues, but would also tell each other the seemingly unimportant anecdotes from our day or our silliest of thoughts.
03. The lack of date nights inspired commitment to quality time.
One of the hardest things to adjust to was how to make real time for one another. We realized early on that we couldn’t coast through long distance relationship without being intentional about our time. This might be one of the most difficult parts of long distance, because simple logistics often make it hard to stay in touch.
From the beginning of our relationship, we committed to having a date night every Friday. In our blossoming LDR romance, we didn't have the opportunity to try a new restaurant or go to a live concert. Instead, we got creative; we took online quizzes at the same time and would share our results; we would both buy the same food and “eat dinner” together; we watched movies in tandem while on Skype, and got competitive with the games on our phones. Even if we did these activities during other nights of the week, we both knew that Friday was special, and set aside for the purpose of just being with one another.
How is this preparing me for marriage someday? Bill Doherty, professor of Marriage and Family Therapy at the University of Minnesota, says that a big part of staying happy in marriage is being intentional about not taking one another for granted. Verily contributor Peter McFadden says that making time for daily undistracted communication helped save his own marriage. In fact, almost every night, my own parents sit down over homemade cocktails and talk about their days. Even if it is short, this time is valuable; it has kept them on the same page.
This shared commitment to quality time helped us to learn new things about one another and gave us opportunities to continue to fall in love with each other. It's a habit we cultivated dating long distance and one I know we will continue to prioritize in the daily grind of married life too.
Photo Credit: Britt Rene Photography