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Woe Is Me! “What Do I Do About A Never‑Ending Long Distance Relationship?”

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Jun 14, 2020

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Image credit: Sujata (1959)

Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.


I’ve been in a long-distance relationship for almost three years. When I decided to study abroad, my boyfriend came along too. But, I couldn’t find a job after I graduated, and had to move back home. He wants to stay abroad, but that’s not an option for me anymore. We fight a lot because we can’t decide on how to stay together. How do I fix this?”

— Trial By Geography

RD: All hail the couple who was lucky enough to live in two countries together and is now so utterly blissed out by their luck that they don’t know how to live separately. Sorry, I had to be snarky for a second, because your story is unreal. A lot of couples have to do long-distance in your situation, and many (despite negative pop culture portrayals) actually do it successfully.

I think you should reflect on the time you’ve been able to spend together in the same cities, which has probably helped you understand each other more over the years. Being geographically apart doesn’t mean that you have to break up — maybe both of you need to work to accept this reality and then work out ways to still be there for each other? Expectations will have to change, your communication would have to evolve.

It seems to me like you’re both fighting this separation, but if you accept it, then maybe all your years of being together can help you rough out this time. I think such situations are mostly inevitable for people who are in this stage of their lives — post-graduation, trying to establish careers. You’re bound to go separate ways at some point. It’s up to you to decide if the years of being together have been worth being away from each other in the near future. Don’t try to bring your relationship back to where it was, but figure out ways to move forward, and see if you can create space for each other in your individual lives.

SM: It is super sweet that your boyfriend came along to study abroad when you decided to. And it’s unfortunate that this current situation might result in a never-ending long distance relationship. First, I think if you both have been fighting constantly about this, it might be a good time to step back and reconsider if you’re really in this for the long haul.

Something that might be helpful is thinking about whether you’d rather have physical proximity and companionship with another person, or if you’d choose a long-distance companionship with your current partner over that. An honest answer to that question would help assess what you need to do about this situation. If the answer is the latter, then it’s a matter of realiging expectations, and redefining the place of your relationship in your life long term.

I know a bunch of people for whom this seems to work, so it’s definitely doable. But if you want physical proximity, and if you both want it with each other, then I think you need to reach a compromise that works for you both, with equal sacrifices, or an equal division of the burden of making that compromise. And if you can’t seem to reach that compromise, or if the process of reaching that compromise seems excruciating, I think it’s better to step away while it’s less painful.

AM: Why is moving abroad not an option for you anymore? Do you not like it there, have responsibilities here or is it harder to find a job? If it’s about the last two, then he should be understanding of these reasons and take them into consideration if being in this relationship is important for him. If he can find a job here but is worried about things like a pay cut, which usually is the case with moving back to India, he needs to assess what is important — the pay cut or this relationship.

And the same implies to you — if your decision is driven by reasons like you don’t like it there, will have adjustment issues or something that is not that big of a problem, then it will need a little bit of an effort from your end to be understanding of his situation, only if you’re keen on being with him. It’s important to understand both your reasons here, the pros and cons, of living here or abroad, and then coming to a conclusion if your goal is to continue wanting to be in this relationship. And it is also important to remember whether you both decide to live here or abroad, opportunities won’t stop coming in, you both will constantly have to assess moving places during the course of your life. 

KB: Oh Woe, you have come to the right place! I married someone I was in a two-year long-distance relationship with — before we had decided what continent we were going to live on together. So if there ever was an expert on long distance relationships with no tidy conclusion in sight, it’s me.

Here’s what you need to answer: Is he a lifer? Is he the kind of partner who will respect and show up for you, through all your messy unpleasantness? When life throws you some unexpected total and complete bullshit — as it predictably will, time and time again — is this the guy who’s in it with you? Is he rock solid? Does he demonstrate to you, not through verbal platitudes, but through consistent actions, that he’s ride-or-die? If so, my dear, he’s a keeper.

I’m not going to tell you to follow your heart, or choose love, because hearts are fickle and love waxes and wanes. What you are choosing right now is a life partner, a co-pilot, and what you need is someone who has shown you that he can do that dependably for the long haul. If you have that, he’s worth adapting your plans for, and making compromises and sacrifices for. And if you feel the same way about him, this will, actually, work out in the end. You will both find a way to be together, in whatever form that takes.

But if none of what I’ve described above sounds like your guy, cut the cord now and don’t waste any more of your time.

DR: I’ve ceased to be a proponent of long distance relationships — having experienced one for 5.5 years, and having dealt with the toll it took on me mentally, for starters, and then, socially and professionally. If you can’t decide on how to stay together… maybe, don’t? While I understand that both of you appear to have invested a lot into this relationship, do you really want both of your lives to become an ongoing series of compromises you make on every front just so that you can be together? I don’t think a relationship should be worth the amount of stress this situation is bound to be putting you under. Good luck!

LG: Long distance relationships are HARD. Not impossible, but definitely hard — especially when there’s no end in sight. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if he doesn’t want to move back to be with you, and moving abroad to be with him isn’t an option for you, there’s no real way to fix it. You can stay together, while apart and continue to fight a lot and be — if I’m reading the subtext right — unhappy.

Or you can break up and each fully commit to the divergent paths you’ve pursued. Or, you both decide to fully commit to a permanently long-distance relationship and accept its limitations and work through them. I’m sure there are a lot of couples therapists providing remote therapy right now, thanks to the pandemic, who could help you with the latter. Whatever you decide, best of luck to you both!

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Written By The Swaddle Team

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