We all love love. Love can tear us down like nothing else in the world, but we still blindly chase after it without any rational thought. Then, when we’ve finally caught love in our hands, we lose ourselves in it like it’s a drug. Life is beautiful, and being able to share life’s wonders with another person is ultimately the most satisfying way to live. So what happens when love becomes intolerable? Because I’ve recently felt both the unbearable pain and absolute bliss of love, I decided to write the ultimate guide detailing the ten stages of every long distance relationship. I want to share my reasoning for living 2,000 miles away from the person I love most, how it feels and most importantly, why I do it.
Stage 1: Dread
The first stage of any long distance relationship is before the distance starts, when you begin to dread the idea of being away from your partner. If you and your SO are two freshly graduated high school seniors, summer is spent counting down the days until he or she leaves home for college and you’re left alone to fend for yourself. Even before graduation, you’ll dread “the talk” with your partner about whether or not you even want to try long distance. Nobody wants to say goodbye, and this is the stage that is going to determine whether or not you and your SO are going to make the big sacrifice and stay together despite the distance.
Stage 2: Hope
After you and your partner decide to try long distance, you’ll immediately be filled with a sensation of hope. We can beat the distance. We can prove everybody wrong. We can do this. You’ve never felt more ready to try long distance because you know that the love between you and your partner exceeds all time and space. Everything is well in the world as long as you have each other.
Stage 3: Worry & Stress
Then, your SO goes to his or her first college party and you see pictures of it all over social media. Who is that girl with her arm around my boyfriend? Who is that guy I see in all my girlfriend’s Instagram pictures? Pretty soon, you’ll start to doubt your sense of hope; once college sets in, all sorts of uncertainty follow along. You’ll worry whether or not your partner is going to be tempted by the single sharks and sharkettes constantly hitting on them. You’ll worry that if your SO isn’t returning your calls, he or she must be ignoring you on purpose. Your relationship will become overwhelmingly hard to keep up with and you’ll spend way too many hours stressing over the pain of missing your partner. You’ll realize that being away from your partner without building trust and understanding is starting to take a toll on your mental well being. That being said, this is the stage in which you and your partner must solidify your trust.
Stage 4: Trust
The key to every relationship is trust (and communication). You must learn to build trust in your relationship, meaning that if you see a picture of your SO from a party on social media, do not immediately jump to conclusions. Come to terms with the fact that you are no longer going to physically be a part of each other’s lives. That does not mean you aren’t still a vital part of your SO’s life, but you and your partner must be able to live as individuals and live independently. This sounds ridiculously difficult, but it is possible—with a lot of communication, trust and support.
Stage 5: Habit
Your relationship is going to start feeling habitual. Every morning without even thinking about it, you’ll text your SO “good morning” because “good mornings” between you and your SO have become a daily routine. All long distance couples go through this stage. Because you can’t physically be with your partner, most—if not all—of the spontaneity will be removed from your relationship. Additionally, you’ll be wrapped up in so much work that you’ll find yourself worrying more about school than missing your partner, which although is upsetting at first, will eventually help both of you deal with the hardships that arise from being away from each other.
Stage 6: Comfort
Because life constantly has its ups and downs, you’ll begin to find comfort knowing that throughout all the chaos in the world, you still have someone who loves you (even if they are not physically present). Your SO will become your one constant in life, someone who is always there for you both spiritually and mentally. Furthermore, you can focus on your job/schoolwork/obligations without being distracted by dating drama, yet still be in a dedicated relationship. After visits between you and your SO, you’ll realize that even simplest act of holding your partner is worth waiting out the distance.
Stage 7: Uncertainty
Uncertainty is a stage that will come up time and time again in any long distance relationship. It is natural to be uncertain; nobody can predict the future. When you enter this stage, you will wonder to yourself why you are going through all this pain for one person. You’ll wonder whether or not the relationship is worth holding onto and if you should just end things and move on; it would definitely make life easier. Fights are bound to happen and they will raise important questions about your relationship. The trick is to fight the core of the problem right away and make sure that it does not cause other issues to arise. If you and your SO just cannot work it out, then you might want to consider taking a break or spending some time alone to reflect on yourself and your own life.
Stage 8 & 9: Closure vs. Commitment
There comes a stage in your long distance relationship when you realize that you are doing something very irrational. If the two of you are having any regrets or doubts about the relationship, colleagues, parents, and friends will tell you that the wise decision is to let your partner go. In the end, you will both be better off dating someone who you can see a real future with, not someone who is 2,000 miles away. Maybe your relationship is no longer what it used to be. Maybe it’s causing more stress than it is happiness. At this point of your life, you realize that the timing is wrong and this relationship is just not for you. You’ll both be happier in the long run, so you end it and move on.
However, if you realize that even after all the pain, heartbreak and stress, you are still committed to your SO and cannot imagine life without him or her, you have truly entered the commitment stage of your long distance relationship. When this happens, you must make a decision based on what feels right for YOU. Make sure that you are not just committing because you are scared of a break-up or scared of being alone; make sure this is what you both want. If you both want to commit, that means staying with your partner and attempting to work things out.
Stage 10: Forming Goals
If you and your SO decide to stay together, then you need to set some new goals for your relationship, goals that work for both you and your partner. First, get a calendar or a journal and start setting up dates when you can visit your SO; if you are thinking about the future, it will give you something to look forward to. If marriage and settling down is not something you two want to consider right now, then form short-term goals for the next time you see your SO. If the short-term goals don’t work, then you won’t even have to worry about the long-term.
Next, work on ways that allow both of you to feel more connected to each other. Start a new hobby shared only between the two of you, like watching the same T.V. show, reading the same book, playing a video game together, or even working out at the same time. All of these little things will help solidify the foundation of your relationship and allow you to make new memories together (not just ones you are holding onto from before the distance).
Finally, you ARE your SO’s support system—and I mean that. You and your partner will come to a point when you realize that fights over trivial things will hurt you 10x more than a 10 minute phone call will help you. It is very important to remember that you are no longer in a normal relationship and you cannot do “couple-y” things like other people. Your relationship may start to feel more like a companionship than an actual love relationship, but find comfort in the fact that your partner is the ultimate best friend. Throughout this process, you must completely trust that your best friend is always going to have your back. Make sure that there are no stressful obligations in your relationship; your SO is your anchor and you must also be an anchor for your SO; remind him or her that you are there for them, no matter what. While a physical relationship is often temporary, a mental companionship will last a lifetime.