by: Katie Vota
First thing about long distance relationships: Like every other type of relationship, they are different for everyone. Don’t buy into the stereotypes like, “People who go abroad immediately go crazy and fuck a pile of boys/girls/indiscriminate persons all at once, regardless of whether they have someone at home or not.” didn’t. I have been abroad and completely faithful for 10 months. Faithful, however, is a definition that changes depending on the needs, wants, morals and opinions of the couple in question. Faithful is a definition you set for yourself in your relationship before you or the other person leaves. So, my advice is not to let other people influence your decision on whether you should do the long distance thing or not with their negative stereotypes about LDRs (because these stereotypes usually are negative ones).
Before partner X leaves, you need to be honest with each other as to why you want to try to make distance work. Is it because you have never felt that level of connection with anyone and you’re only going to be gone a finite amount of time and you want to come home to them after the certain amount of time is over and move in together and really have a life together? Or do you just not want the sting of something ending? You have to ask the hard questions right then and there. Is it a finite amount of time or is it indefinite? If it’s indefinite it’s probably not a good idea to go for it. If it’s the sting you worry about, pull that band-aid off quick, because waiting and cheating or waiting and breaking up via distance communication methods like text or Skype will honestly hurt more.
Other questions I’d ask myself and my partner. How well do your life plans match up in the future? How important is sex to both of you and how will not having it affect your health, happiness and relationship with each other? Can you open the relationship while one person is away or is there a way to make some kind of compromise if going without sex is not an option? Can the people involved trust themselves not to be tempted by people outside the relationship if it stays closed?  How easy is communication going to be during the separation period? How often are you committed to putting the effort into scheduling talking time? This is just an abridged version of the list of questions you should ask yourself, and it should give you an idea. Long distance is hard fucking work, and you have to be honest about that and how it’s going to affect your relationship — and whether you’re both willing to put in that work. Because if you’re not both willing, it’s going to hard, hurtful and probably not pretty.
Also, during this time, you’ve got to have Skype. It’s free as long as you have internet and is the easiest way to call or video chat with your partner while you’re in separate countries. And make sure to have Skype sex. Don’t be embarrassed about it. If you are embarrassed, you’ll get over that after you’ve been gone for awhile. Maybe you’ll even discover you have an exhibitionist streak that will extend to after you get back.
The person who stays in the U.S. will have to be flexible and understanding that it is not easy in other countries have constant, reliable access to things like computers, internet, phones, texting, etc. Sometimes the best laid plans for “seeing” each other go horribly wrong because of unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances. So don’t get weird and jealous if you can’t see your partner for a day or two (or a week or so) at a time. Sometimes that’s just how it is.
If the person is going to be gone more than three or four months, go visit them wherever they are. Having been on the traveling end of distance relationships, I know this is not always possible. I know first-hand how expensive plane tickets are. However, if this person is worth waiting 10 months, 1.5 years, 3 years, or however long for, they’re also worth visiting. And you can think about it this way—you get to travel! You get to go to where they’re spending so much of their lives and actually see what they’re doing, how they’re living, the problems they experience on the ground. This will give you a better understanding and appreciation of what they’re doing and a way to contextualize their time apart from you. When they talk about a place or a person, you’ll know what that looks like, who they are and have a more meaningful conversation because of it.
Did I mention you have to trust each other and be honest with each other? You do. This is really good advice for all relationships, not just long distance ones, but the distance exacerbates certain things that seeing your partner on a daily basis doesn’t. For instance, if you have a problem, you have to actually talk about it — because there’s no body language to signal to the other person that something’s wrong. You also have to be willing, on both sides, to give your partner some leeway. Sometimes not saying and not asking is just better — because there are situations you can’t get out of gracefully, no matter where you are in the world.
You should not deliberately go breaking their trust, but you both need to cut each other some slack in the situation. Sometimes it’s unavoidable that your Spanish salsa friends grab your ass and you kinda like it (because even though you’re not having any sex you still like being touched) but you firmly tell them no anyway (because that’s not part of what you agreed your relationship parameters would be). It still happens no matter how many times you smack them. It’s just part of being abroad.
However, maybe the most important part of a long-distance relationship is what happens when you or they come home. If at all possible, be there at the airport when they get back. There’s nothing like having someone to come home to who’s excited to just hold you again, right there, in the middle of a crowded airport, uncaring of anything except how right you feel in their arms.
 Note: It’s usually more responsibility on the traveling end because, let’s be honest here, foreign countries full of foreign people who are, well, foreign — which means they’ll be interesting, new and exciting.
Katie Vota is a textile & paper artist, Fulbright Scholar, and short queer person. She has a BFA in Fiber from the Maryland Institute College of Art, and since graduation, has exhibited her work both nationally and internationally. Vota is a PR Assistant and designer by day, and in her free time she dances salsa (so much salsa), travels, makes art, and writes articles for various small publications. She is also preoccupied with her upcoming installation at the Krasl Art Center’s ArtLab space in St. Joseph, MI, which opens July 27th.