Mars vs. Venus: Can Long-Distance Relationships Work?

This is a Mars vs. Venus entry, meaning I’m going to share my male perspective, and then at the end of the entry you can click over to my blogger friend Katy’s blog for the female perspective on long-distance relationships. I’m qualified to give the male perspective because I’ve been in a number of long-distance relationships as well as short-distance relationships. And because I’m a man.

Long-distance relationships are not healthy relationships.

That is not to say that they can’t succeed, if you measure success by the metric of “can you survive the time you’re apart to someday be together again.”

You can see those success rates for the four types of long-distance relationships on the chart below.

Technically, any of these can succeed. Those in which you start dating in the same city have a greater rate of success, as you get to know a person in person for a while before the distance comes between you. And it helps if there’s an distinct end in sight–say, you know you’re going to live in the same city again after she comes back from Italy or he gets out of med school.

But take out any of those factors–or both–and your success rate drops. If you have no foundation in person and there’s no end in sight, you’re going to spend a lot of time, energy, and money on something that most likely won’t work out.

I wanted to get that out of the way because I know people–maybe you’re one of them–who have successfully gotten through long-distance relationships and are happy they endured all the trouble. If you ask these people for advice, they’ll tell you that long-distance is a lot of work, and hopefully they’ll give you some good tips.

Here’s the thing: Relationships are hard enough without factoring in distance. Once you factor in distance, they become outright unhealthy. Here are the  four key reasons:

  1. Credit: Going the Distance movie, Poster design by P+A / Mojo.

    You’re constantly catching up. When you’re not sharing common experiences, every conversation contains some amount of catching up. Now, this happens in any relationship, but not nearly on this level. What if I told you that from now on, you had to spend 30 minutes of your day recapping your day–experiences, thoughts, feelings, etc–with someone else? Doesn’t that make you cringe? I’m not saying that every long-distance relationship is like that, but because you’re not sharing common experiences, a decent amount of catching up is inevitable.

  2. You’re missing out on real life. I’ve been involved in 4 or 5 long-distance relationships, and in each one, I spend all this time on the phone or on e-mail instead of actually living life. The two of you are literally taking a break from real life to catch up and get to know one another. Usually you’re so caught up in each other that you can’t see it until you take a step back and realize everything you’ve missed.
  3. When you’re together, it’s unnaturally intense. Imagine if I told you that after four dates with a girl or guy, you needed to spend every minute of a 3-day weekend with her/him. 72 hours straight. That’s crazy talk, right? That’s not natural. That’s not healthy.
  4. You don’t get to know the person for whom they really are. When I’m dating someone, I want to see how she interacts in all sorts of situations. What is she like when she goes to the grocery store? What is she like in the morning? At night? With friends? With friends she doesn’t even like? When she’s had too much to drink or too little to eat. I want to see the good, the bad, and the ugly. In long-distance relationships, you mostly just get the good. You’re getting little snapshots of the person’s life, not a feature-length movie. It’s really not an accurate portrayal of who the person is.

Note that sex isn’t on that list. I think that fostering chemistry is a really important part of a relationship, but I actually think that can work in a long-distance relationship. Absence makes the heart grow hornier.

So what do you do if you’re about to embark on a long-distance relationship? Or maybe you’re already in one? I’d say call it quits. There are plenty of fish in the sea. (That’s my single male perspective.)

But of course you’re not going to do that. We all have that glimmer of hope that we’ve found that special someone and we’re going to fight through the distance. So if you do it anyway, here are five pieces of advice to follow:

  1. Credit: Like Crazy movie

    Don’t talk every day. Be intentional about this, and be consistent. Not only is it unhealthy to try to talk every day for an hour or so, but it’s unsustainable, and when you realize it’s unsustainable and try to change it, you’ll give her/him the impression that something is wrong. So from the very beginning, establish ground rules about communication. Talk on the phone for 30-45 minutes a day, 4 days a week. Pick the days. Keep those boundaries. If you really care about the other person, give them the freedom to continue living their life.

  2. When you do talk, make that the only thing you’re doing at that moment. Seriously. This is really important. Don’t half-ass your conversations just because the person isn’t there to see you. Don’t be playing solitaire or surfing the web or cleaning the kitchen. You know how annoying it is when you call someone and they’re distracted by five other things. It makes you feel really unimportant, doesn’t it? Don’t do that to someone you care about. Videochats can help. It’s tough not to give someone your undivided attention on videochats.
  3. Talk more about what you think than what you do. If you follow this, you have a shot at avoiding the feeling that you’re always catching up. Thoughts and ideas are things you can share together, no matter the distance. Let the person see what you do when they’re actually there with you in person.
  4. Don’t talk about the relationship. Okay, maybe spend 5% of the time talking about the relationship. Like, the bare minimum, whatever that is. But don’t spend every conversation talking about how much you miss the person and how you can’t wait to see them and what you’ll do when you finally see them and when you’re finally going to live in the same place again. That crap will kill. The. Relationship. I know this for a fact. Once you start spending all your time on the relationship (and really, this applies to any type of relationship), you start to lose sight of all the other ways you connect with the person, all those amazing conversations you had before there was a relationship to talk about.
  5. Make sure you don’t use your girlfriend/boyfriend as your therapist. When you get in the habit of talking to someone on a regular basis, it’s human nature to use them as a sounding board for everything in your life. But you have to be careful about this. Because it’s so easy to share every problem you’re having with your significant other, you might stop spreading those aspects of your life around to your other friends as well. It becomes a burden. There’s a difference between being honest, open, and vulnerable and flat-out using someone else. Don’t use people. Especially not the ones you care about most.

Katy and I said we’d list both pros and cons to long-distance relationships, and I’ve pretty much only written cons. The pro is that it might not suck as much as I’ve predicted it will, and maybe you’ll get past it and end up with someone you truly love.

But I highly doubt it. 🙂

I haven’t read Katy’s take yet, but I’m eager to see her female perspective. Click over to check it out here. And if you’d like to check out our previous Mars vs. Venus entry on flirtation, click here.

What would you add to what I said above? How many long distance relationships have you been in that have failed or succeed? Did they feel healthy to you at the time?