Airports have come to mean an awful lot to me. College was the impetus for a stage in which highs and lows were marked by arrivals and departures. Before we were married, my husband and I lived on opposite ends of the country. After graduating, I moved back to the West Coast and left most of my closest friends behind. Either way, I missed someone.

Most of us experience long-distance friendships or relationships when we hit our twenties. We’ve grown up, moved out, and find ourselves past the days when loved ones shared our neighborhood. Our tribe becomes scattered across states and time zones as we collect relationships with each new life experience.

Sometimes people are surprised by how warmly my husband Davis and I describe the long-distance experience. Let me be frank: it sucks. But distance – whether between friends, family, or significant others – creates a specific type of growth you just can’t find elsewhere. Distance hands us gifts like choice, intentionality, and the will to fight for people who matter.

A huge part of me wishes all my closest people lived next door (I’m a prime candidate for communal living). But another part is grateful for how faraway friendships blossom into the space left between us. I’m glad I’ve learned to write lengthy emails, read a book over the phone, and pay for an overpriced but always-worth-it plane ticket. Distance between you and those you love is both painful and a certainty in our mobile generation. Until I find a way to successfully trick everyone I love into moving to the same city, I’m choosing to appreciate the benefits of loving them over many miles.

Here are a few of the gifts distance brings:

1. Perspective
People told Davis and I that distance would break us. What it did was generate the perspective to view our relationship from afar, with all its cracks and triumphs. The time zones in between us showed more clearly than ever the pivotal role he played in my life – and so, we kept fighting for each other. This isn’t everyone’s story; often distance provides the vantage point to see an unhealthy friendship or relationship for what it is. The gift of perspective shows us the wisdom in either choice.

2. Self-knowledge
Being removed from your community feels isolating. It’s also inevitable if you move, change jobs, go to school, or travel. The silver lining in this isolation is a chance to look freshly at your own life. What are you learning? What questions do you want to pursue? What kind of woman do you want to grow into? Living away from close friends means space to get to know yourself in a closer, more thoughtful way. And individual discoveries and growth make for richer shared relationships.

3. Appreciation
With communication as a lifeline, you come to appreciate your loved ones and their intricacies in a new way. I know my closest friends, now dispersed across the country, more deeply than I did when we shared a tiny apartment. Our conversations look different than they used to – namely, they take place over the phone instead of daily activities – but they also include a fresh layer of honesty. I appreciate these friendships more than ever now that our time together is limited. Appreciation is a natural side effect of absence, and appreciation teaches us to communicate honestly and care for each other well.

4. Choice
The most powerful benefit of distance is choice. Without spontaneous interactions to determine who your friends are, relational upkeep requires choice. You actively decide who to pursue, and in some ways, these active choices mean more than a casual friendship ever could. Though social media makes it easy to feel like you’re keeping up with friends, commenting on photos only goes so far. We show love by picking up the phone, turning on Skype, or driving to meet somewhere in the middle. May we choose to hold tight the relationships that mean the most, even if they’re states, countries or continents away.

What surprising benefits have you experienced from investing in relationships over the distance? 

Image via Marlena Pearl Photography


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6 comments

  1. This article meant so much to me, and every point you mentioned rang true. I was also in a long distance relationship with my boyfriend (now we live together). The distance was something most people don’t experience, we were living on two continents and the time distance was 8 hours. As you said, it proved our will to fight for one another. Now, after a year of living together I know it was the distance that made us stronger as a couple. So happy to know so many people have experienced what we have!

  2. Thank you for writing this article, because it is a very real encouragement today!
    I am from Arkansas and my husband is from England, and we are well-versed in long distance. We dated, and then were engaged, across the sea for three years before finally getting married in June! We certainly feel that our long wait from thousands of miles apart taught us so much, and we were ultimately blessed through the experience. Our marriage is so worth the wait and the distance! Now I live in England and I am finding myself battling missing my family and friends. I wouldn’t change my life for a moment, and I know with all my heart I am where I am supposed to be, but to be reverse-missing is an unexpected adjustment. Your point about self-knowledge is helpful and encouraging in a new season and a new country. How do I want to proceed within myself in this new life? Also, it is so true that I do appreciate my friends and family so much. I treasure the Skype conversations we have and I breathe in their wisdom, laughter, and stories of their lives. For me, sometimes the best gift of distance is a sense of urgency and intentionality with important relationships. Although maintaining friendships from afar can be a difficult art, it is a skill worth mastering. Thank you for the uplifting thoughts today!

  3. I love this article.

    I’m in a long distance relationship with my partner. We’ve never been in the same time zone for more than two months, and yet maintaining the relationship is fun and without question. It makes the country feel smaller (in a good way) and I feel so much more aware of where I am in life. When you’re in a long distance relationship, you have to constantly ask yourself, “is this worth it?” I am so happy to say that it is.

    Congrats on your lovely piece, and on your relationship with your partner!

  4. This is such a great article. Friendships shift so much after high school and college where relationships are primarily defined by proximity and shared interests/commitments. Now they are just as you described, defined by the effort and conscious choices made to keep them alive and growing. It’s hard, but definitely has the power to take friendships to another level of intimacy and sweetness. Thank you for putting it into words!

  5. Thank you so much for this article. Within the last three months I have graduated college, got married, and moved to the big city of Los Angeles. It was really no big deal because my best friend lived only an hour away. She also was going through a lot of the same change as me and it was so nice to have her familiar face during it all. However, yesterday she moved to Missouri. Yes, I know it’s the best choice for her and her husband, but it obviously sucks for me. Your article was perfectly encouraging. Even though she is hundreds of miles away, and I no longer get to share my day to day activities with her there may actually be good that comes from the situation.
    Thank you

  6. A short-distance relationship has helped me appreciate my boyfriend more. When you see someone everyday, it’s easy to take them for granted even though you love them. I cherish the time we spend together since we don’t get to see each other everyday.

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