This week, freelance writer Alex Quayle shares her story with She Is Fierce! on love and tackling the ups and downs of long distance dating.
When I was finally hired as an English teacher in South Korea, it was bittersweet. Finally, after planning for this moment for years (six to be exact) I had achieved one of my biggest dreams — a trip of a lifetime. I had longed to live in South Korea since I was 16 years old and my new place of work was in a great location just outside of Seoul, known for its beautiful azaleas.
Admittedly, after accepting my job offer, I was suddenly filled with an overwhelming sense of grief. Along the journey towards one of my most sought-after goals, I met the one person who I really, really didn’t want to leave behind. Every relationship has its challenges; however, long-distance relationships present a whole different set of obstacles to overcome together.
I consider myself extremely lucky as my partner was able to join me for a few months throughout my stay in South Korea. Nevertheless, there was still plenty of time apart — not just apart, but in completely different time zones (I was almost always a day ahead of him). This narrowed down the amount of time we could actually speak to each other. This limited time was shortened even further because I was working throughout the day, and working very, very hard. This meant I had little time to check my phone during the few hours we were both awake.
Considering that communication is an essential part of any healthy relationship, I found myself angry, upset, and lonely. Of course I was enjoying my time in South Korea (see pictures below), but the part of me that missed my partner weighed heavily on my mind, and soon I found myself carrying around a toxic, gloomy monster with me each day. Now, a year later, I wished I’d had someone around to tell me it gets better during those painful moments apart. While everyone’s relationship is different, I think having more conversations about what happens when you’re hemispheres apart could really benefit the way we handle this kind of challenge.
Let’s get this on the table right now: You’re going to fight. That statement isn’t meant to scare you but hopefully give you assurance that fighting is pretty normal when working through a long-distance relationship. For me, the fighting often happened after I’d had a rather draining day at work, and I would attempt to call my partner, only to find that he was too busy enjoying drinks with our friends or something of the sort. Of course he would try to answer, but I would get flustered every time someone interrupted us (which was a lot) or the music got too loud.
In hindsight, I was jealous of my partner and clearly overwhelmed by all the changes. He was hanging out with our friends, at our favorite bars and restaurants, except I was on the other side of the world and couldn’t even get him to focus long enough to have a worthwhile conversation. At the time though, I felt completely left out, like my partner didn’t care about me. Social media didn’t help either, making me feel forgotten by my friends as well. Did they ask about me? Did they miss me? My partner and friends were enjoying everything I missed about home without me — I felt invisible.
I hope you haven’t rolled your eyes too hard at me yet. In my defense my emotions were definitely off-kilter during those first several weeks in Korea. While I was beyond thrilled to be teaching my precious kindergarten classes and enjoying so many new experiences — amazing food, new music, breathtaking sites — part of me felt as though my partner didn’t care. When you’re miles apart, often the little things can quickly become big things. Things I wouldn’t normally get upset about when we were in the same city suddenly became fighting points, especially if I had had a bad day. I also think I was feeling particularly solemn because I couldn’t share any of these amazing experiences with my partner.
Moreover, communication is significantly different when using technology like Skype and instant messaging, and when you’re forced to use it exclusively to “see” each other, things get complicated. The biggest issue for me was that my partner could no longer quickly notice when I was agitated, which lead to me thinking he wasn’t paying attention, and then I’d clam up. After I would shut down, it was nearly impossible to have a deep conversation, and because of that we were growing apart — emotionally and physically.
Starve The Monster
When you find it difficult to describe to your partner how you’re feeling or it seems impossible to resolve any sort of conflict, it’s as if an insatiable monster arrives, and you end up handing it its next meal every time you get on the phone. However, as experts at My Florida Law aptly explain, “Resolving conflict requires that both partners are honest, willing to communicate, and willing to consider their partner’s perspective, even when they don’t understand it.”
Reflecting back, my unwillingness to tell my partner exactly what I was feeling during those first weeks was the root of our problems. It wasn’t until we were pulled so thin and a breakup seemed almost inevitable, I finally told him: “When I call and you’re out with friends or at the store, it makes me feel like you don’t care to make time for us.” I remember feeling the monster shrink a few sizes that day as my partner finally understood what was hurting me so badly.
Communication is vital for any healthy, successful relationship, but it becomes even more essential to have in your pocket when you’re in a long-distance situation. I also realized that I was being unfair to my partner by not explaining to him what I needed. I didn’t give him or myself a chance to succeed with this whole Skype and messaging system. I had the right tools in front of me, but I was failing to utilize them. The monster between us continued shrinking as I began working harder to appreciate this shift in our dynamic relationship. I also had to learn how to forgive him when he couldn’t answer the phone or was busy during our scheduled meeting time. When my partner was finally able to join me for a bit in South Korea, instead of spending time trying to mend our relationship, we effortlessly found our stride again. I was able to show him the place I had called home for the past few months.
A Love That Can Last
There was also a surprise at the end of our time together in South Korea, which might have never happened if we hadn’t pushed through the hardest trial our relationship had ever experienced:
When my partner had to return back to the States once again and I stayed to finish out my year in South Korea, there was a remarkable difference with how we endured the distance. I had a better understanding of myself, him, and our relationship. Ultimately, for us, although the distance was at times unbearable, we were able to bloom into something better.
While not everyone needs to experience a long-distance relationship to strengthen their connection, it’s important for me to express how the love I have for my partner is more vibrant than ever before because he could have easily thrown in the towel before I even got on the plane. Instead, through all the bickering, and perhaps too many tears, he remained steadfast and grew with me, which eventually defeated that ugly monster between us, and in its place, he gave me all the proof I needed to see that we could survive anything together.
Alex Quayle currently lives in Boise, Idaho with her partner, cat, and dwarf hamster. She can never say no to coffee, doughnuts, and good conversation. Follow her on Twitter @alexquayle33 for more articles and pictures of her cute, little family.