Long Distance Love

When my boyfriend and I were "just friends" in college, I saw him at least once a day. But the urge to spend every waking moment with Mikel didn't hit me until 5 years later, when, as luck would have it, we spent every waking moment 200 miles apart. I was working in New York; he was in grad school in Maryland. Suddenly we were one of the 4 million American couples dealing with long distance love. Married people do it too — 3 million people live far from their spouse, according to Greg Guldner, M.D., founder of the Center for the Study of Long Distance Relationships, an organization that tracks data on this phenomenon.

There were benefits: I hung with the girls, trained for a triathlon, and worked long after the building's central AC switched off for the night. Okay, so that sucked, but it scored me a promotion. Still, as nice as the copious me-time was, I wished Mikel and I lived in the same town — no one does the long-distance thing because it's fun. Military couples don't have a choice. Neither do those at the mercy of the job market. "In this tight economy, people take jobs farther away or accept transfers," Dr. Guldner says. And now that men and women are equally focused on their careers, both may be reluctant to quit their good gigs and relocate for a relationship, says Judith Wallerstein, Ph.D., author of The Good Marriage.

Luckily, loving across state lines is easier than ever, thanks to tech candy like Treos, webcams, and videophones. But communication is just one relationship hurdle for the geographically challenged. (Hello! We're talking sex deprivation here.) Help your relationship go the distance with these 11 love-saving strategies that will make staying together easy, even when you're far apart.

Long-Distance Hurdle: You're An Insta-Couple

You've been on only a few dates, but since you live so far apart, you're already sharing a toothbrush and spending whole weekends in bed.

Go-long strategy #1: Pace yourself. It looks and feels like a relationship, but something's missing: intimacy. And not the kind between the sheets. "Bonding happens over time and creates deeper feelings," says Jackie Black, Ph.D., a couples coach in California. Rush in and you'll end up disillusioned. Keep first visits short and consider staying in a hotel. Once on the other's turf, go on dates just as if you lived close by.

Go-long strategy #2: Avoid assumptions. Don't presume anything about the relationship unless you've discussed it in depth — for example, that you're both monogamous and can lose the condom. "Remember, you're both putting your best foot forward," Wallerstein says. You don't really know each other yet.

Long-Distance Hurdle: Warmup Woes

You hug him and think: "Who the hell is this guy?"

Go-long strategy #3: Take the pressure off. "You have to build closeness," Black says. The reentry phase can take an evening or a whole day. Watch Lost, cook dinner, or read the paper. These separate-but- together, everyday activities help reestablish your comfort level. If you've just started dating, the opposite applies. Go out to dinner when you arrive and reconnect at the table.

Go-long strategy #4: Take a solo break. If you have a hard time transitioning to 24-hour togetherness, go for a run or take a shower — by yourself. "Solitude can be a nice break from the intensity of a reunion," Dr. Guldner says.

Long-Distance Hurdle: Longing Isn't Love

He's not there, and you want him like crazy. That means you're in love, right? Wrong.

Go-long strategy #5: Know the difference. It's like fixating on a fabulous pair of boots in a pricey boutique — they look better because they're on a shelf instead of in your closet. "When you don't see your partner every day, he becomes a reward to you," says Ian Kerner, Ph.D., a sex and relationships counselor in New York City. So how do you tell the difference between loving your guy and just missing him? Pinpoint exactly what you miss most. If it's having someone to ride bikes or share dinner with, then it's coupledom you crave. But if you can name what makes him rare and lovable, then he's worth the cell phone bills.

Long-Distance Hurdle: It's All Talk, All The Time

When the bulk of your relationship consists of phone calls or e-mails, you eventually run out of things to say.

Go-long strategy #6: Tell him what you ate for dinner. "Sometimes couples feel the need for intense 'I love you' conversations," says Katheryn Maguire, Ph.D., assistant professor at Cleveland State University. But simple chitchat is the glue in a relationship. You learn more about him by asking what he had for breakfast than by only exchanging sweet nothings.

Go-long strategy #7: Call at odd times. Next time you're in the middle of dinner with friends give him a ring. "That way he's involved in your daily life," says Helen Fisher, Ph.D., author of Why We Love.

Long-Distance Hurdle: Miscommunication

You're dealing with a major technology pitfall: Sometimes what you hear on the phone or read in an e-mail isn't what the other person means.

Go-long strategy #8: Read between the lines. If you keep misunderstanding each other, hang up or log off for awhile. You might need 20 minutes or the whole night to clear your head. When you return to the conversation, ask simple, unbiased questions, says Elayne Savage, Ph.D., a California relationship coach and author of Breathing Room. Her suggestion: "I heard you say [this]. Did you mean [this]?" Give him 5 minutes to make his case. Then take another 5 to express your points using sentences starting with "I," not "you."

Go-long strategy #9: Invest in tech. Leave less to the imagination with a webcam.

WH PICK: Live! Cam Voice with built-in microphone ($100, Creative Worldwide).

Long-Distance Hurdle: You Need Sex!

Your sex life feels like the weather in India: drought, flood, then drought again. Which makes the nerdy IT guy look better and better.

Go-long strategy #10: Think about the future. Most people in long-distance relationships see each other twice a month. But more important is knowing the ultimate goal. Assuming you both want to live in the same city, plan for it. Create a realistic timeline and you'll feel more secure in the relationship — and better able to resist temptation.

Go-long strategy #11: Shorten the gaps. Researchers at LaSalle University found that people in long-distance relationships who had some face-to-face contact within a 6-month period were more satisfied than those who had none. You have to be together — at least some of the time — to stay together.
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