First person

The world is in a long-distance relationship right now

Nicholas Ley

I have spent the better part of a year writing about my experiences in long-distance relationships (six years’ worth to be exact). I’ve written about how difficult they can be, how they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, and how, ultimately, they can allow for both partners to grow immensely. Now the whole world is suddenly in one.

Yesterday, I was asked by a friend, “would you say long-distance is harder during corona?” And my response was, “it’s the same.” And it’s true; absolutely nothing about my long-distance relationship has changed due to the state of the world. While virtually everyone in the world is newly and unfamiliarly separated from those they love, I sit here and say, “welcome to my life!”

That gnawing dread of separation anxiety, the unsolvable mystery of when your next visitation will be with those you cherish most, the fear that those you love are moving on without you; these are the cornerstone anxieties of long-distance relationships. And I’m here to tell you, you’re going to get through it. I’d say at least half my time in LDRs was spent not knowing when I would see my partner again. And those, truly, were the hardest parts. A long-distance relationship isn’t so bad when you know, definitively, when you’re going to see your partner again. But it’s in those periods of time without a plane ticket, without a plan or itinerary that it feels like the agony just goes on forever. And, trust me, I know how you feel: this is the hardest time. It’s in these seemingly endless maws of alone time that you start to question your value and worth.

“What am I worth when I can’t be around to prove it?” “Why does this person even bother to stay with me?” You question the way you spend your day-to-day and ask yourself if you’re “doing enough.”

We’ve all seen the flood of quarantine content promoting everyone’s self-improvement journeys. Sometimes, it can feel like if you’re not participating in online yoga classes or workout routines or working on your novel, then you’re just not winning at quarantine. And while I certainly do not want to poo-poo those influencers whose lives and incomes revolve around a relationship with their followings, I have to point out the difference between you doing these things for yourself versus doing them for others. To this day, I find myself wanting to broadcast my accomplishments to my Instagram story with the hope that my boyfriend who lives on the other side of the country will see it and validate it. At the behest of my therapist, I then proceed to do ten pushups as a sort of “punishment” for this thinking. But it’s more than just a self-imposed slap on the wrist for a selfish, insecure mindset. It’s a tactic to take a step back, a step inward, and ask myself, “is this a healthy validation that I’m seeking? Or am I trying to prove something?” And usually, by the end of those pushups, I have my answer.

Just because you’re not physically seeing your friends and loved ones during this time, there is not suddenly some cosmic pressure on you to prove your worth to them. Your friends are your friends because of your inherent awesomeness. Remember: you are half of every successful relationship that’s ever happened in your life.

Another conversation with another friend offered further insight into the similarities between my LDR history and the current social landscape. “It feels like every conversation is about the same thing,” he said. “Every conversation turns into a grim one about the sad state of the world.” The same can oftentimes be said of long-distance relationships. When you’re not there to provide a physical comfort to your partner, the importance of phone conversations seems to suddenly heighten. There’s this pressure to fill every second of a phone conversation with something “meaningful.” And when that doesn’t happen, all you can think about are the ways you’re failing. A mental maze I find myself navigating is how to be the picture of perfect mental health and emotional fortitude during conversations with my cross-country partner. The logic goes: If I’m not there to provide sex or cuddles or cook meals for them, suddenly, the pressure to put all my eggs in the emotional comfort basket mounts. And what ends up happening is I don’t share my problems. I’ve managed to convince myself that by revealing any cracks in my psyche, I remove the one thing I have left to offer. And so we bottle things up. We speak in generalizations. We become afraid to share. And the growth stops.

“How’s your quarantine going?” “Oh, you know, getting by.” “Yeah, it’s crazy. I hope this ends soon.” And the conversation peters out in a wash of morbid generalizations. Neither party wants to admit how they’re really feeling or how the separation may be getting them down that day. I know you don’t need me to tell you this but it’s okay to admit that you’re feeling bad. It’s okay to admit that you are not the dictionary definition of fortitude and stability. Your loved ones aren’t going to suddenly stop talking to you because you’re not being their rock all the time. If anything, they’re going to appreciate your vulnerability because vulnerability is human. Vulnerability is sexy. Vulnerability demonstrates trust. This leads me to my final point.

Trust is the single-most important thing in a long-distance relationship.

So many things are folded into it: trust that your partner isn’t being unfaithful, trust that you two are spending your time apart in meaningful ways, trust that there is something greater on the other side. All of these things are contributing to the greater societal malaise right about now. There is a lack of trust in what has made everything great up until now. In the darkest times of my long-distance relationships, I lose trust in my partner and in myself. In moments of weakness I allow myself to give in to the dark side of ‘what-if.’ “What if we never see each other again?” “What if they’re moving on without me?” “What if I’m not growing right now?” Trust that you and everyone around you is, indeed, growing.

News flash: the world hasn’t stopped turning just because of COVID-19. Sometimes, it can feel that way. It’s really easy to give in to this notion that all life on Earth has ceased motion because we’re not around to witness it. In the long-distance relationships we all find ourselves in right now, we become too focused on the emptiness of the space between us rather than seeing what fills it. We’ve all seen how things around us have changed, some for the better. Air quality around the world is improved. There is a greater focus on health and science. Friends and families are coming together in new and meaningful ways. I can say with sobering honesty that I’ve kept in better touch with my close group of friends than I did before social distancing.

Maintaining a long-distance relationship (romantic or otherwise) takes effort. Maintaining a healthy sense of self takes effort. I know I can’t just tell you that it’s all going to be okay and that will suddenly make everything better. But when it comes to your friends, families, and lovers, take heart in knowing that we are all growing in both immense and subtle ways that are equally wonderful. Trust that, just because you can’t be with the ones you love right now, they’re not forgetting about you. It’s once you’ve become aware of and accepted this fact for yourself that you can become at peace with this long-distance relationship with the world. You can treat yourself with kindness and patience. You can work on the things you’ve been meaning to work on without a sense of vanity or need for validation.  Share your progress or lack thereof over your next Zoom call and ask for help if you need it. And when we all finally see each other on the other side, I promise, we’re going to be even better together than we ever thought possible.

Nicholas Ley is a writer, performer, musician and DJ living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Instagram @alittlenickley and Twitter @AlloftheNick.