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Ask Athena: How Do I Make a Long-Distance Relationship Work?

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Dear Athena,

My girlfriend and I have a long-distance relationship. It just started. I'm not sure it's going to work. She kind of wants to keep it open but will try being monogamous at first. I don't know how to do this and need advice.

What can we do to stay together? She won't be gone forever. Two years is a long time, but I think it could work.

Signed,

Long-Distance Tips

Dear Long Distance,

I don't like to refer to relationships as "work." It really dampens the joy of it all. I'd hate to think any partner of mine felt like he was clocking in each time we were together. That said, it requires effort, collaboration and clear communication for any operation to run smoothly. This reality is true of relationships in the same zip code or of the long-distance variety.

Your girlfriend proposes trying monogamy, pen-pal style, but allowing for a possible part-time lover. Those could be doable terms if you both agree. But when it comes to long-distance arrangements in particular, the rules must be specific — and, IMO, mutual.

If you'd like to "hold out" until you're both on the same turf, here are some suggestions to help you.

Make dates for phone/Facetime/Skype sex. This can actually be pretty exciting — and something you'll both look forward to. Sex toys might help out here, too.

Negotiate your long-distance plan. For example, if all you need is a phone call once a week, but she wants detailed daily emails (or vice-versa), then decide how to meet in the middle. And, when you do talk, stay focused. Conscious connection without distraction will make your limited time more intimate.

You didn't say why your girlfriend had to leave. School? Job? Military service? If possible, make concrete plans to see each other as often as you can during this two-year stretch. Saying goodbye is hard, but if your next rendezvous is on the calendar, it will help to tame the long-distance blues. And, by the way, do not ever try to make her feel guilty for leaving.

As you describe it, your girlfriend sounds doubtful about her ability to manage without in-person love contact while she's away. But you need to feel confident that she's committed to staying heart-true to you, or you'll be stressed and paranoid the whole time. If sharing her is not OK with you, make that clear. Don't agree to something that you can't commit to yourself. Having an "open" relationship is complicated and could make things challenging for you down the road — not to mention for a potential third party.

My advice is to be the best lover you can be while apart. Be at least as romantic as you would if she were in the same town, the same room. Surprise her with thoughtful care packages. Don't smother her, but do let her know she is missed and cherished. I hope she'll read those signals and return the same feelings. Best of luck to you both!

Yours,

Athena