Long-Distance Relationships — The price of taking a Unique Path

Recently, I went to have a coffee with my flatmate on a Saturday afternoon. Our conversation reached a point where we were discussing career, relationships, money and some other things. In essence, we were sharing our perspective on the same.

This made me ponder upon something which I often think about. The price of taking a unique path.

Often, when I talk to my friends or colleagues they say that its super cool that I have been able to live in so many different countries or the fact that I don’t have a fixed role but I keep changing business domains or that I have been in a long distance relationship for a long time. Whilst on the outside, my first reaction is that it’s definitely cool; I wish they knew the price one pays for taking the unique path.

So I decided to write a series of blogs under the title — ‘The price of taking a unique path’.

This blog is the first in that series where I refer to my long distance relationship with my girlfriend.

So here we go!

  1. Admin stuff

Since August 2017, my girlfriend and I have been in a long distance relationship. We are closing in on the 5 year mark. Whilst it’s not something unheard of (as there are numerous couples who do it), I am convinced that most long distance couples would probably agree with my message here.

In the past 5 years, I have lived in Mumbai, Brussels and Atlanta. I am excluding my holidays here. Over the same period, my girlfriend has lived in Mumbai, Boston, Memphis and Tempe. If you do the math with the time zones, it’s a fairly big set of time-zone combinations.

The thing with long-distance relationships is that you can’t meet every day. While you would like to meet physically as often as possible, on most days all you can do is call / text / video call each other to stay connected. And whilst it might sound doable, it comes with its set of challenges.

Both me and my girlfriend are working professionals. That means that we need to manage talking to each other keeping in mind our work schedule and time-difference. As an example, when my girlfriend was in Mumbai and I was in Brussels; I started my day at 7am in the morning but she had already started working because it was 11.30am in Mumbai. She finished her workday at 5.30 pm in Mumbai and I was in the middle of my workday at 1pm in Brussels. When I finished my workday at 6pm in Brussels, she was ready to go to bed at 10.30pm in Mumbai.

In summary, we had this brief moment at 6pm Brussels time and 10.30 pm Mumbai time were we could connect. And if one day I had that meeting that lasted long or she had a tiring day and she went to sleep early, the next possible moment we could have a proper conversation was 24 hours later. Now, doing it for a few weeks or months is manageable. But sustaining it for 5 years + our ever changing time-zones takes a toll on your relationship.

That’s the price you pay — getting frustrated with administrative challenges.

2. Social life

I am sure if you are in a relationship or know of someone who is in a relationship, you want to have some time over the weekend where you can spend some quality time with your partner. This time could be for intimacy or it could be to just sit on the couch to watch a movie, go for a walk, cook together, clean together and so much more. The truth is you cannot do any of these things. At least, not in the same way. Yes, you can have those intimate conversations over a phone call. Yes, you can watch the same movie by pressing the play button at the same time. But let’s be honest, you would rather have your partner next to you. Do you know what I mean? And that’s the price you pay — not having the same physical connection.

Building up on the same example. Most people would also like to spend some time with their friends on the weekends. Maybe go on the road trip or go for a nice dinner or a house-party or to a café or a club. If you and your girlfriend live in the same city, often you would go on this trip with your friends together. But if you are in a long-distance relationship, you cannot do that. You have to choose between either going out with your friends and building that social connection or spending time on the phone with your partner. And if you extrapolate that over a period of time, if you do a bit of both you will neither have a good social connection with your friends nor be able to maintain your relationship with your partner. And if you want to be successful in your long-distance relationship, you have to choose the latter. If you add the fact that you are an expat in the city you live in and you are trying to establish a social circle, that will be very difficult.

So the price you pay is the following — saying no to numerous social plans which affects the quality of your friendships + if you still manage to build a few friendships, your partner will never be able to get to know your friends to the same extent.

3. Your physical time together

You know what’s the best moment I had being in this relationship? The moment you look forward to finally meeting your partner after weeks and months. Let’s be honest, if you in an inter-continental long-distance relationship, flights are expensive and you probably have limited holidays. So you really live for that moment. You plan and plan for weeks upfront for that moment. So for the sake of this example, let’s say you have 25 vacation days in a year. You have 2 options -

Option 1

Use all of those days to meet your partner. Please note here — even if you spend all of those 25 days + the weekends with your partner, you have spent only 10–15% of your entire year with them. The price you pay here is saying no to all holiday plans with your family or friends. This is a true story and I really admire my girlfriend for doing this. She has used all of her holidays in the past few years to spend time with me.

As of the moment I am writing this blog, she has not met her parents physically for 3 years. That’s the price she has paid! Let that sink it for a moment.

Option 2

You compromise. You spend less time with your partner. Yes, less than the 10–15% available to you. The price you pay here is frustration. Because, you would meet once a year instead of twice. And that magical moment I told you about, you don’t have many of those anymore. And that sucks big time.

The difference between meeting your partner twice a year vs once is huge. I can’t put that feeling into words. And that’s the price you pay! 4. Being human and the uncertainty

Are you someone who likes posting pictures about your romantic weekend with your partner or a picture of you two celebrating your birthdays together? Even if you aren’t one of those, I am sure you know a couple who would do that. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. If I had the luxury of doing that, I would. We live in an age where we communicate about our lives through social media. That’s one way we connect with others. But, we are all human right? Lets take a scenario where you have not met your partner for a few months and you see a picture on Instragram from a friend of yours with their partner having a good time. If you don’t feel a bit of envy there, then you are probably at an intellectual level beyond the scope of normal humans because it is bound to affect you. Now, let make those few months a year and then lets make it a year and half. How would you feel?

From February 2020 to May 2021, nearly 16 months went buy where me and my girlfriend could not meet. And the reason is obvious, it was the pandemic. I was willing to pay 5 times the price of the flight ticket but we just could not travel. We lived through those 16 months being constantly challenged by social media posts from other couples (that showed us what we were missing) and we lived through the uncertainty of not knowing when we would meet next. Please don’t get me wrong. I am pretty sure that there were people in much more difficult circumstance than us. Yet, 16 months is a long time.

The uncertainty of not knowing when you can meet your partner next is inexpressible in words. And that’s the price numerous couples in long distance relationships paid during the pandemic! To sum things up

Me and my partner are both very fortunate to have had the financial means to meet every now and then. But sustaining this relationship came at a huge huge price -

  • Not being able to talk to your partner when you want to.
  • Give up on the intimate / physical connection in the relationship.
  • Give up on your social life on the weekends.
  • Fight over administrative challenges such as time and place on top of all other issues that arise in any relationship.
  • Live with the uncertainty of not knowing when you will meet next.

These are just some things that came to my head. I am sure there were other that simply went missing in my head. Over the past 5 years, I have not been alone in this journey. By girlfriend has been in there with me all the way like a rock. We have both paid this price. The pain that has come along the way has been mutual. Similar to the price of taking this path, it has also helped us in ways I could have never imagined (something I will write about in the future). But, the price still had to be paid. Not one day but every day. And that’s the message I want to leave you with.

I hope this gives you something to think about when you hear of someone in a long-distance relationship next time. I hope it allows you to connect with them better. Trust me, they would really appreciate it if you could do that!

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At the end of the day, all we own are our stories. They deserve to be narrated as a best-seller. So here I am sharing thoughts from a millennials perspective!

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At the end of the day, all we own are our stories. They deserve to be narrated as a best-seller. So here I am sharing thoughts from a millennials perspective!

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