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It’s How You Say Hello

Skype bloops. AIM chimes. The little window in my campus mailbox shows the skinny side of a letter. As you’ve heard, communication is key. In a long-distance relationship (LDR) that cliché deserves to be revamped to five times its normal strength, because communication is power. I can’t hold John’s hand when I’m frustrated with him or receive a shoulder rub when I’m stressed. I can’t see the slight shift in his eyes when he’s teasing me or sit with him at dinner and share food (or steal it). Nonetheless, communication in LDRs has improved greatly thanks to the 21st century. My mom reminds me of the wait for a letter and the time it took to write one from her own experience when an ocean separated her and my dad in college. Writing a letter can be a beautiful expression of love (and patience), but with technology John and I come very close to sharing our immediate lives with each other. I snap a picture of me in my new dress for his opinion. He sends me a shot of his microwave pizza. Pics of a pizza? Describing the morning weather on your walk to class? It sounds a little excessive. And for some people it may be, but the hard truth of LDRs is that they rest on communication, and communication takes figuring out.

In our freshman year of college, John and I jumped in ambitiously, adjusting to new lives six hours away from each other with new people, classes, and routines that demanded our time. I felt pulled in a hundred directions, not to mention traveling the gamut of emotions that come with the first year of college. Talking to John felt like home, an hour every night over the phone to complain about strict professors, to gush about new things learned, and I got to share in his new life, too.

While an hour a night, or what usually turned into two or three, is a good sign that we didn’t run out of things to discuss, it was a big chunk of time out of schedules that steadily became more hectic. In freshman year John and I spoke for the first time about what kind of communication we each needed from the other and how much time we could give. This conversation is tough, but it’s necessary for a LDR to last; your partner may think of time or communication differently than you do. I craved responses to the random text messages I sent John throughout the day, not to mention for him to have something of substance to say when I called, “just to say hi.” I came to understand that for him, phone calls are better with a purpose, and he came to understand that, for me, a whole day without communication leaves me feeling disconnected. Spare yourselves the sad scene of one of you waiting by the phone, disappointed, while the other considers texts sufficient. The conversation about communication is the first step in learning what works for you.

Read below for some more tips and tricks on communication:

Be flexible – Not every night can handle a two-hour conversation complete with witty humor and mind-bending topics. Be prepared to hang up the phone after a 15-minute review of the day’s events or 10 minutes hearing your partner lament his previous decision to procrastinate. Be understanding of the fact that sometimes your communication may seem one-sided: you each have your individual life, which comes first to some extent, though that’s hard to understand. Each day may bring something different, as far as the “quality” of your conversation, the length, and even the medium. Technology provides us pioneers of the 21st century LDR fantastic tools to keep in touch. Some nights John and I cue up the video on Skype just to do homework together, each individually concentrated but satiating the craving for each other’s company. Recently we started a new way of communicating called “text me a picture of what you’re looking at right now.” Experiment together.

Beware over-communication (and under) Like I mentioned above, each of you has your own life without the other now, which makes it crucial to remain in touch, but combined with the desire to be together, can create dangerous brew of over-communication. Now, over-communication is hard to recognize, and it’s different for different couples. It requires self-control to stop. I tend to be the over-communicator in my LDR, and I think females fall into its trap more often than guys, generally. Signs of over-communication include: spending all of Saturday with the phone glued to your face, texting your partner when you see a squirrel (on a campus filled with squirrels), not hearing the frustration in your partner’s voice when he or she says (for the fifth time that day) that they don’t have time to talk. In these cases just simply cut back. It’s tough, but it works. And hey, absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?

By under-communication I mean not actually talking. Just as in a near-distance relationship it’s necessary to do more than cuddle on the couch; in a LDR it’s necessary to do more than say how much you miss each other. Actual conversations will leave you feeling connected and fulfilled.

Be silly! – Or cute, sexy, romantic. Any relationship needs this stuff, and LDRs are no different. One day I sent John a letter filled with quotes I’d been collecting. I texted him haikus while at work. But he wins the prize for one of my favorite gestures. Easter arrived while I studied abroad in Argentina, far from my family and traditions. I mentioned to John that I would miss waking up to an Easter basket. On Easter morning I awoke to find my Facebook messages bombarded with Easter images:  a digital Easter basket from him to me. It felt like an embrace. And that’s what communication in a LDR should accomplish at its best: the feeling of a hug from far away.

Melinda Clemmer
Melinda traveled short distances with her family but took her first big trip to Europe, as a student ambassador, when she was 13. The sights, sounds, and smells enchanted her, and soon she traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina for a university Spanish immersion program. Since then she has lived in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, California, and Texas and sees every new challenge as a great future story. When not traveling, Melinda’s craving for good stories and amazing travel is satisfied by reading writers’ contributions as Wanderful’s Managing Editor.

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