What my sort-of boyfriend needs to do to save our long-distance relationship

Love letters, pictures, face time and prioritising are things that can help keep couples together, says a woman left at home while her man is off somewhere in the world and communicating badly

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 April, 2016, 2:01pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 April, 2016, 2:01pm

My “boyfriend” and I have been in a long-distance “relationship” for a year and a half. I use quotations because most of the time I don’t feel like I have a boyfriend, and I question whether what we are doing is a relationship.

Over the past 17 months, we have been in the same country for eight. When we are together, I adore him. I don’t just put up with his absurd spontaneity, I revere it. I think his obsession with sweet breads and Burger King is repulsive, but it makes me smile. After being together for eight months I wanted so much to tell him that I loved him that it came out while I was sleep-talking.

When we are apart, he makes me insane. The time he spends being spontaneous and adventuring with friends in his home on wheels makes me a jealous person that I’ve never known before. I don’t doubt his loyalty, but I constantly convince myself that he is not the person for me. A lifestyle literally on wheels does not satiate my craving for stability; I could never share his terrible diet. I am a “foodie”, after all.

I deal with this “relationship” irrationally. Every two to three weeks, I get so exasperated by the distance between us that I “break up” with my kind-of boyfriend, and ask him not to contact me. But after a few days I miss him so much that I call and ask to hear the latest news about #vanlife or because I’m curious about his unconventional view on the latest political scandal.

I have never been a person who struggles to find love; I generally see the good in people and enjoy getting to know different kinds of people. I also don’t depend on romantic love to be happy. I enjoy a good life on my own. Men and relationships are a complement to what I already have going on. I understand they come and go.

But if my sort-of boyfriend and I are going to make this work, I need more from the relationship. When he left the first, second, third or fourth time, I prayed that he would figure out a way to be better at communicating with me. I knew what I wanted, and wasn’t getting, but at first I had too much pride to tell him. I wanted him to come up with ways, on his own, to let me know he was thinking about me while he was on the road.

The last time, I decided to spell out what my needs were instead of hoping he would learn to be more attentive. While that would be nice, my boyfriend won’t know my personal needs until I tell him myself. So this is my last-ditch effort, asking him to keep me interested.

1. Write me love letters.

OK, you’re in another country. Snail mail would be romantic, but this isn’t your grandmother’s love story. An e-mail would be just fine. But be creative! Write me a little poem; make it rhyme; tell me I’m fine; call me your dime.

Be cheesy, I really don’t care. I’m sure that when I’m in the middle of a lecture on the environmental politics of mining in Guatemala, it will make me smile.

2. Send me pictures.

Not those kinds of pictures. But I like flowers, and flowers are everywhere. You have a smartphone. Use a filter. Make it cute. You could even add some text to the photo. Wow!

3. Show me that while we are apart, you still keep my opinions in mind.

I’m a political person, I have opinions and ideas. When we are together all the time, I am constantly reminding you of this – being sure that you are aware of my opinion on the latest news stories. When we are apart, you read the news also. Shoot me an e-mail with a link if you think I’d love it or you think I’d hate it, or at least it reminded me of you.

4. Once a week, block off time to talk to me when you don’t have an end time on the conversation.

This is hard. But once in a while, just hang out with me on Skype or FaceTime. It drives me nuts when all our conversations are limited by some constraint. Even if we have been on the phone for an hour, sometimes it doesn’t seem like enough. Once in a while, block off time – which you would do if I were there in person – just for me, and listen to me talk about my hair, my dog or the annoying, entitled chick in my class who has an opinion on everything. It works both ways – I want to hear you ramble on about your day, too.

5. Make sure I know that I am a priority.

We haven’t seen each other in four months. You tell me that the next time you get a few weeks off from work, you are planning a surf trip with your buddies. I’m not angry, but my feelings are hurt. I need to know that although there are so many important people in your life (and in my life, too), we are one another’s No. 1. We don’t do this painful long-distance dance to spend our minimal free time with other people. And if surf trips with your buddies seem more important than hanging on a hammock with me, that’s cool; I’m glad to know. This probably wasn’t going to work out.

But at least I know what I need.