In the taxi on the way back from the airport, my boyfriend and I were catching up on everything we had left out of our six months of texts and video chats. His hair was longer than I remembered, and he’d picked up an annoying habit of punctuating his sentences with “Yeah, man.” Still, I was in love and happy to be home. But then I mentioned that I’d just applied for an internship on the other side of the country. He laughed and rolled his eyes.
At the age of 25, I’ve spent half the duration of my serious relationships in a different city, or even country, than my significant other. This long-distance has been mostly unintentional; I moved interstate for college, spent a couple of semesters abroad, and have a flexible job that lets me travel a lot. My mom always told me to follow the piece of string wherever it leads. Somewhere along the way, cushioned by postcards, vacations, and “Good morning” texts, I realized that I quite liked being alone.
As a woman who dates men, the eldest child of divorced parents, and a former nanny, it is both unusual and liberating to not have to constantly cater to someone else’s needs. When I’m geographically distant from my boyfriend, I go for runs and read books because there’s nothing else to do. I have the time to prioritize going after my career goals. I can stay late at work at the last minute and answer emails at all hours without it affecting anyone else.
Because my boyfriend isn’t always around, I have a solid group of female friends that I couldn’t live without. I’m still close to the same women who saw me through my first breakup, right after we graduated high school. We spend most of our time eating reheated Chinese food, resting on each other’s couches, and talking about the B&B we’ll run in Spain when we’re old.
“Somewhere along the way, cushioned by postcards, vacations, and “Good morning” texts, I realized that I quite liked being alone.”
Of course, the loneliness can get hard. I listen to a lot of podcasts and still feel awkward when eating out by myself. But I’ve been forced to become comfortable with my own company. I’ve learned what I’m really capable of achieving on my own. That is to say, everything—including orgasms.
When my boyfriend and I are in the same city for an extended period of time, it’s all too easy for me to fall into the pattern of cooking, cleaning, and generally doing way too much of the household’s mental and physical labor. This is partly his fault and partly mine, because I repeatedly choose the path of least resistance—and he lets me. We argue over who will make the bed or fold the laundry, he caves and admits that he isn’t pulling his weight, he tries for a couple of days, and then we start the cycle all over again.
Somehow, we’re still playing the roles that our parents and grandparents did when it comes to household chores—despite the fact that I work more than he does. We’re not alone. In 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that on an average day, 19 percent of men performed household tasks like cleaning and laundry, while 49 percent of women did. Throughout my whole life, I’ve been socialized to put my own needs last, and it’s a tough habit to break. (The stupid amount of Netflix we watch together also tends to get in the way of my self-care, but I can’t blame the patriarchy for that.)
It’s a given that a healthy long-distance relationship relies on solid communication. Even if we only see each other every couple of months, my boyfriend is always there for me through texting and social media. He balances out my tendency to be anxious and way too organized. He’s relaxed and spontaneous. Because we’ve spent so much time apart, we value our time together and make an effort to do nice things when we can, like going to the movies and cooking each other dinner.
“I don’t intend to live like this forever, and as I get older, I hope I can learn how to prioritize myself no matter who I’m with.”
Long-distance works for me because I’m direct. When something’s bothering me (or him), we talk about it. I make a conscious effort to ask my boyfriend how he feels about the relationship every couple of weeks, to make sure that we’re on the same page. We spend the holidays together and we talk on the phone four or five times a week. Even if it’s just ten minutes before bed, those conversations makes a huge difference in how connected I feel to him.
I crave safety and stability as much as the next woman who has spent any amount of time on dating apps. But, especially in my twenties, I feel like it’s essential to build a life on my own. That’s also why I choose to take trips alone and push the boundaries of my comfort zone at home. I can’t control when I fall in love or who I am attracted to, but I can set boundaries around my time. Or, I try to. The most effective way to do that seems to be to put an ocean in between myself and my significant other. For me, a long-distance relationship can be both fulfilling and freeing.
I don’t intend to live like this forever, and as I get older, I hope I can learn how to prioritize myself no matter who I’m with. I want to always be the kind of woman who leaves the dishes in the sink and goes to a museum, who spends hours making playlists to accompany the book she’s reading. Right now, I’m making the most of my self-imposed solitude by doing just that.