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#WLAMF no. 35: Staying connected in long-distance relationships

December 16, 2014

It surprises many people to learn that Franklin and I have a long-distance relationship. Many people who haven’t yet read the book More Than Two actually seem to assume we live together, but we each actually live with other partners. We’ve managed to spend a lot more time together over the past year than we did in our first year, but we still spend huge stretches apart—and it’s hard.

Long-distance relationships seem to often come with the territory in polyamory, for a number of reasons. We may have a harder time finding compatible partners who share our relationship preferences, and we may feel more free to structure relationship in ways that don’t follow the relationship escalator model.

But it’s naive to believe that because someone has local partners, it’s not going to hurt to spend time away from a long-distance partner. The local partners don’t “fill the partner space” until the long-distance partner comes around. Needs aren’t transitive, and people aren’t interchangeable.

Different relationships naturally have a level they “want” to seek, too. Sometimes, you get lucky, and your long-distance partner is someone with whom the relationship just naturally seeks less entwinement.

Franklin and I don’t have that kind of relationship. We tend to do really well when spending long stretches of time together, especially working closely. And we tend to really struggle, relationship-wise, when we have to spend long stretches of time apart.

As a result, to make things work we’ve had to develop a number of strategies to help us feel connected during the long stretches of time we spend apart. These are fairly individual to us, so your mileage may vary. But I offer them here as possibilities for ways you might help your own long-distance relationships thrive:

Skype-work. You’re all familiar, I’m sure, with using video-calling tools for conversations with long-distance partners. Franklin and I have discovered, though, that we really like to just open up Skype when we’re working at our computers and keep the window minimized down in the corner. This way, we can work “together” even when we’re apart. (I have to keep reminding Franklin to let me work, though. He’s always wanting to talk to me!)

Just work. Franklin and I are fortunate to have a shared love language: work. Yep, that’s right. We like to co-create, for sure, but it’s not just creative projects—like More Than Two—that we like to do together. We founded a publishing company, after all, and we’ve just founded a sex toy company to research and develop Franklin’s bionic dildo. The work we do on our shared business ventures is part of our investment in our relationship.

Selfies. Okay, it’s kind of silly. But Franklin and I, like many long-distance couples, communicate a lot by text. A lot, throughout the day. And we have this unfortunate tendency to get into fights over text. Really bad fights, like we never—okay, very, very rarely—would have in person. Now the obvious thing to do is to stop trying to communicate by text and pick up the phone, right? Except that the reason for the fights is a sense of disconnection, and by the time it gets to that point, my own instinct is to withdraw and wall off even more–it becomes really difficult to reach out and do the emotional work of reconnecting in those moments.

Enter selfies. This was an idea I had a couple of months ago, just after the book tour, when I realized that part of the sense of disconnection was the experience of relating to Franklin as a disembodied entity within my phone. After awhile, I lost the sense that he was a person. So I suggested that we send each other selfies every now and then, especially when we were feeling bad or arguing, to remind each other that we are real. It helps, too, because our facial expressions can convey so much more about what we’re feeling in the moment than text can–at least, convey it in a way that the other person can also understand emotionally, without having to parse it through a filter of text.

Know thyself. This may sound out of place, but it’s something I’ve found tremendously helpful. Because having a long-distance relationship with Franklin so often involved having to process icky emotions when we’re apart, it’s incredibly useful to be able to identify when those emotions are about the distance and not about him or the relationship.

I had an epiphany on the book tour. Franklin was reading one of the sections in More Than Two where he talks about his ex, Ruby:

All I knew was…I felt scared and angry. I assumed that because I felt this way, she must be doing something wrong, though it was difficult to figure out exactly what. I remember going to sleep replaying all my interactions with her in my head, looking for that thing she was doing to hurt me so much.

Because I was starting from the premise that she was doing something wrong—why else would I be feeling so bad?—I lashed out at her, accusing her of all kinds of wrongdoing, most of which existed only in my head.

As he read, it hit me: I’m doing this. That’s why we fight so much when we’ve been apart for a few weeks. I’m feeling hurt and angry because he’s gone, and because I’m feeling hurt and angry, he must be doing something wrong. So then I go looking for what he’s doing wrong, and BOOM! Off we go.

Well, it’s only been a couple of months—not even that—since the book tour ended. And since then, we’ve managed to not have to spend much more than two weeks apart at a stretch (instead of the three or four we often do). And it’s actually pretty hard work to recognize when this is happening and stop it. So it’s hard to know how far this insight will take us in the long term, but so far just the recognition that just because I’m feeling bad, doesn’t mean he’s doing something wrong, and then remembering to look for the actual source of those feelings, has kept us away from that brink—even in the times I’m feeling lousy.

And the selfies do help. They really do.

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 10.50.08 PM

What do you do to help you feel connected to your long-distance partners?


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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Vron permalink
    December 17, 2014 7:16 pm

    Thank you!

    Yes this! So much this! I could have used this about 6 months ago during a tough time I was having, but I roughly came to the same conclusion.

    As you mention, all relationships have different needs, but especially with LDRs it’s good to figure out the needed level of attention each person wants/needs is and if that can be provided (or even possible). If not, then some of the solutions still may not work as they all require the time, energy, and want to meet the other’s needs.

  2. December 18, 2014 10:58 am

    Thanks, great post.

  3. felix permalink
    April 14, 2018 3:25 am

    thank you for this post. it’s reassuring to hear similar experiences and feelings voiced so articulately regarding long distance relationships. especially at a moment when it’s easy to surrender to wild conjectures about their causes and solutions!

    your solutions do sound quite tailored to your own relationship, but i’m looking forward to giving them a shot.

    i have been reading and enjoying your book. i was slightly put off poly by two other titles i read and it’s largely been a great handbook. i wonder if you have any suggested reading for LDR’s? or have written any more yourself on this issue?

    thank you again

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