What living in a different city from my fiancé taught me about loving him, my home, and myself

May 12 2015 | Guest post by Kathryn
Always Under The Same Sky, Hand Stamped Coin from
GemsbyJohnna

Last September my fiancé "N" moved to Cambridge to pursue a teaching qualification. For us, this did not represent a massive upheaval — I was living a mere 63 miles away, and we were fortunate enough to be able to afford regular weekend visits. I tried to avoid filing this arrangement under the “long-distance relationship” category, a title that felt overly indulgent in our situation. Yet there were still valuable lessons for us in this place of semi-separation and changes were made that I now treasure.

you are the greatest thing ever

1: Diversify your expressions of love

Is it difficult when your partner is struggling and you cannot physically hold them? Emphatically yes, a thousand times yes — but there is another way for you to love them and finding it will be informative. N and I are both tactile, so physically comforting one another was our default setting. When that was forcibly removed I learned to fire up Skype and read P. G. Wodehouse books aloud until he drifted off to sleep. Now, even when we are not physically separated, I can recognise that some situations require a back massage, whilst others are best served by Wodehouse. Diversity is good.

2: Physically imprint yourself into your home

Over time we have built up a strong physical presence in our two shared homes. There are tiny morning messages taped onto shelves underneath coffee mugs or work shoes. Our mirrors are littered with whiteboard pen lines — proudly congratulating presumed morning hotness. Cards, letters and casual drawings are prominently displayed. Photographs are actually printed and treasured within our real-world spaces. Infusing our homes with these physical reminders of the good in our lives has made them feel much more alive — I wholeheartedly recommend it.

good morning note

3: Know your needs

I am better at self-care simply because I have had to engage with it more. Without N to gently remind me of my limits, I was forced to protect my own well-being. If I had been paying attention I could have made this change much earlier than I did but I simply didn’t prioritise this. I have to believe that making more effort to support myself has positively impacted my esteem and my concept of self-worth. Perhaps the Ben Franklin Effect has some merit? Perhaps I am more likely to treat myself well in the future if I have already done so in the past.

What are the life lessons you learned from being separated from your loves?

  1. Love this! My person and I were a 6 hour drive away from each other for 4 years. Not close enough for visits every weekend, but we could normally see each other once a month. Again, that doesn't compare to other long distance or some military relationships!

    We also made ridiculous cards for each other and hid notes. Some notes were meant to be seen daily, and some were hidden probably a little too well that they required hints. It doesn't work for everybody to live in different cities, but things like this definitely help.

  2. My husband and I live, respectively, in the Midwest and the East Coast. I see him roughly once a month. We actually lived together for two years before we got married, and then (somewhat hilariously I guess) we haven't lived together since the wedding since our jobs took us apart. As hard as it can be sometimes, living apart has been good for me. Before we lived apart, I was unemployed for two years and dependent on my spouse. This was really hard on me, and my self-esteem and self-care was at an all-time low. Living on my own–forcing myself to interact with utilities, scheduling my own stuff, being responsible for all of the household care ( I learned to install my own showerhead!), was a big time of growth and really helped boost my self-esteem. I was good at things, good at taking care of myself—and I learned I was very good at nurturing others. I forced myself to make new friends and actually snowballed myself into starting a Wednesday night hang-out time where I cooked for a group of friends. That was incredibly affirming – I sort of adopted the whole Penzey's motto of "Love People, Cook Them Tasty Food".

    I keep engaged with my husband with a million phone calls (at least twice a day 90% of the time!) and a fantastic free app called Couple. We installed it on our phones and it provides a 'private'/singular instant messaging system for two.

    You can send pictures, leave audio messages (which comes in handy since my husband never cleans out his voicemail inbox), geolocation checkin, a sketching feature, a *shared* sketching feature, the ability to "thumb kiss" if you're both on the app at the same time, and video capabilities .While you can obviously engage in these sorts of things without the app, having them bundled in one application (along with super cute people/dog/etc emoji!) has been awesome for us. We love being able to send a simple thought bubble that says "thinking of you", so even when we don't have the time or energy to spend quality time together electronically, we have the texting equivalent of post-it notes to leave each other.

    Like the original poster mentioned, we also have invested in our home. Although our arrangements are pretty temporary, I quickly learned that we both felt better when at least my house/apartment was infused with a lot of "home"– we invested in comfy, nice couches, have artwork up everywhere, picked up special coffee mugs for us to use together– just really made it feel like a retreat.

    Our somewhat unique thing has been that we bought each other matching stuff animals. Over the space of a year or two, we both went to Build-A-Bear and got matching hypoallergenic, very basic bears. And hell, cuddling those things at night is sometimes and okay substitute when we're missing each other! If one of us is feeling down, we'll often send one of us to bed with the admonishment to "have some tea and cuddle the bear". Whatever works, eh?

    Things I could do more to foster our relationship…well, I think I could certain stand to send more surprise care packages to my husband. He's still finishing up school and gets stressed frequently.

  3. Aaah so much feels. I'm doing the Cambridge-Oxford long-distance thing – sometimes the only comfort is that both cities seem to be full of people doing the same. It's not easy, and for while ended up with me in therapy for anxiety. People don't always get the semi-living-apart thing, or why it's difficult. In fact a relative is now (briefly) in a similar situation and just texted me this morning to say she finally understands!

    Well done for dealing so well with it all! Sounds like you're doing great.

    To anyone facing the same thing, I highly recommend biting the (slightly expensive) bullet and buying doubles of all your make up, skin care, bath products and phone chargers, and making sure you always have a few clothes in each place. It's so much nicer if you can go see your partner at the drop of a hat, rather than stopping to pack.

  4. Great article! These are thoughtful tips even for couples living together, who might have fallen into rote patterns of showing (or not showing, as the case may sometimes be) love and affection. Good stuff.

  5. This post comes at oddly a good time for me, as I have just started a moreorless LDR (~400km) myself. So, thank you for the words of wisdom! The knowledge that this worked for you and N — and has worked for other Homies as well — is very affirming, validating, and makes me a little bit less sad about not knowing when I will see my partner next.

    Thanks, OP!

  6. "Some situations require a back massage, whilst others are best served by Wodehouse." WORDS TO LIVE BY. My s.o. and I are on opposite sides of the US, each trying to break into academia, so it's a bit rough at the moment, and Wodehouse makes everything better.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.