Happy Valentine’s Day, to all you graduate students! Whether you’re in a relationship or single, this is a nice opportunity to do some crafts or bake some cookies for all your loved ones, especially your family, friends and lab mates. In this day and age where courting and long poetic serenades are no longer the norm, it is still worth it to break up with your phone/laptop/tablet for the day (just for a few hours!) and meet up with your loved ones to do some winter activities or simply watch the Winter Olympics together.
However, this might be the perfect time to lavish your phone/laptop/tablet with extra attention if your significant other is miles away from you. The unfortunate reality of being a graduate student is that we often have to travel to get good opportunities, which depend on a variety of reasons such as the field we want to pursue, the funding, the living conditions; maybe some of us decide to go back home to pursue their higher studies leaving behind their loved ones.
Long distance relationships are a special kind of romantic relationships. They often hardly ever show up in the spotlight and women’s magazines don’t usually bring them up. The downside of this is that it makes LDR’s seem less “real” or substantial. In other words, many people have come to refer to them as “promises of a relationship rather than an actual relationship”.
It is true that couples in a long distance don’t get to share the same physical experiences. This encompasses trying out new restaurants, going to concerts, visiting family or very simple things like holding hands while walking down the street. They do, however, get exposed to a much more challenging experience: communication.
People simply don’t say much these days, relying heavily on gadgets and abbreviated words to convey what they wish to say. It seems that this dependence hinders our communication and does not provide us with the good practice we need to be able to communicate our thoughts clearly and eloquently. Misunderstandings and hurt feelings tend to occur ever so often these days because a lot of the meaning behind our ‘texts’ gets lost in the digital realm.
Communication is indeed an art and it takes years and years to be able to reach a level in a relationship where you and your partner can achieve harmony and stability. Make no mistake in assuming that “harmony” means no arguing or fighting. Harmony is simply when you are able to work out all those obstacles that come your way and talk about them efficiently. The great thing about long distance relationships is that they set you up to do just that without any distractions . In relationships, all the things we don’t like about ourselves, such as our insecurities, fears and flaws, tend to come up gradually to haunt us. Hiding or fleeing are often two appealing options in the face of opening up and facing ourselves. Moreover, facing these issues with someone else can seem very daunting and makes us vulnerable. Vulnerability in long distance is a must, otherwise communication cannot occur. Since body language is not an option, you need to train yourself to be tuned into the relationship only throughout words and expression. You would also need to communicate your thoughts and emotions fully to your partner because, they won’t be able to guess things.
Keeping the lines always open, being truthful and improving your choice of words to convey your meaning clearly are all key to successful communication. This brings me to another advantage of long distance relationships: there is enough space between you and your partner for you to cool off and take some time for yourself in case there was a heated argument, before you end up saying things you might regret. Before I started writing for the blog, my editor cautioned “Don’t write when you’re angry!”. Indeed, take advantage of all the space you have to think things through, collect yourself, know what you want to say and how to say it and then do it calmly.
LDR’s are also a great way for you to enjoy yourself and get to know it without being too consumed in the relationship to a point where you go everywhere with the same person and forget that you’re interested in electronic music while they’re interested in rock. And remember, it is not about finding the right person but rather, finding a person you can work with.
Things you can do together to ease the frustration include watching movies together, texting steamy messages to each other during the day, reading a book together, listening to music, and don’t forget to share details about your day. Keep taking pictures for your partner, whether of you or your surroundings. The latter strategy also makes you more aware of your present and you’re able to enjoy the moment more rather than dwell on “I wish you were here…”. Last advice: don’t sweat the small stuff!
Keep your ultimate goals in mind and look forward to organized trips and small short-term goals to accomplish together to ease the journey. In the end, relationships will help us grow as individuals and teach us so much about ourselves. In this case especially, learning the art of communication has great positive impact on both personal and professional aspects of your life so consider it a learning journey as much as it is a romantic one.
Note: This piece of writing is dedicated to my ever so patient and wonderful partner-in-crime and fellow adventurer, Bruno. Here’s to never arguing about buying a bottle of water and who ate all the cookies without leaving some for the other.