Cupid’s arrows can be well-directed and powerful – but how far do they travel without losing momentum?
That is a question that can cast a shadow over many relationships when distance comes between a couple. A holiday romance can mean that within a matter of days, you can both look at the same moon – but not each other. Other partners find themselves in a long-distance relationship when one of them encounters a change in work or personal circumstances.
On a practical as well as an emotional level, making a long-distance relationship work can be difficult even when it rests on solid foundations. Very few relationships are all smooth sailing, even when a couple lives in the same place. Physical separation adds additional complications, although it may also offer some advantages.
Despite the challenges, taking the right approach can help make the difference between a healthy, loving relationship across the miles and fending off the fraught frustration of fraying fondness.
Priscilla, a Jakarta and Bali-based social media influencer, rues the failure of a past relationship with a boyfriend overseas. “Long-distance relationships only work if both parties respect each other,” she says.
“I think you have to be present in each other’s life, not making one feel unloved. It is important to always talk about future plans together. That helps make you excited about what’s coming.”
Talking about future plans is also emphasised by Martin Williams, a relationship coach based in Southeast Asia. “I think the most important thing about maintaining a long distance relationship,” he tells Indonesia Expat, “is setting and keeping commitments without trying to regularly re-negotiate them. Commitments are things like messaging when you say you’re going to message, or doing voice or video calls when you say you’re going to do them.”
“This means that, secondly, it’s also more important to maintain patterns and regularity in these things. In a long-distance relationship, it’s natural that people feel more insecure, and that regularity plus keeping commitments shows that you place the relationship at a high priority and rarely put other things in front of it out of convenience.”
That is echoed in the experience of Corrado, a Swiss native who was dating his Indonesian partner when they were both studying in the Netherlands. After she moved home to Jakarta, things became long-distance.
“Make sure you carve moments for each other, even if you are both very far away and in distant time zones,” is his advice on keeping the flame alive. “This could be as simple as having a regular time for checking in by text or a quick call.” With a 16-hour time difference between Bali and Bel Air, for example, even scheduling such a time can be a headache for some couples.
The content of such communication also matters, not just the effort of making it happen. Relationship coach Williams runs a YouTube channel entitled Chick Flicks Explained, in which he deciphers the male-female relationship dynamics of popular films. “It is really important to follow the storylines in one another’s lives,” he suggests. “You should be more deliberate in following up on topics that are ongoing in the other person’s life whether that’s a work project, family events, new hobbies and interests, or anything in the other person’s life that is developing.”
“Since you can’t be there to actually see those things yourself, by asking about them you’re showing that you’re engaged with the other person’s life and are a part of the story by being someone she knows is interested in and cares about those things that are happening in the development of her life.”
That mirrors the experience of Ziza, an East Javanese native in her mid-twenties who moved to Bali to work in the hospitality industry. She says of a previous unsuccessful long-distance relationship, “The most important things to make it work are communication, being honest with each other, and making time for each other.”
“But it is not easy at all. It was very challenging because he was in a different time zone. It wasn’t easy to make time because we were both busy and tired, so we could not spend that much time on calls.” Ziza also thinks physical separation can eat into the companionship offered by a relationship. “I was always overthinking if something changed,” she says, “and when we feel lonely, we need company. But if my ex was busy I would be sad.”
For couples who live far apart and hope to develop their relationship in the future, living in the same place can seem like a dream to work towards. Taking distance out of the equation may resolve some of the challenges inherent in a long-distance relationship. But it is just one more step in the relationship and can bring other challenges in its wake.
Corrado says, “I believe the best way to handle a long-distance relationship is to be patient and look forward to the time when you’ll be reunited with your loved one.” But as he points out, “Make sure that once you reunite, you don’t think that ‘that’s the end of it’ – every relationship and city has its own challenges”.
Jakarta certainly matches that description. Corrado suggests, “Make sure you have a thick skin for anything related to bureaucracy, as it can be quite maddening in comparison to international standards.”
He also cautions that “Jakarta can feel quite lonely, and being in a healthy relationship also means being able to make social connections.” That helps explain his active involvement in public MeetUp communities such as “Jakarta Friends” and “Jakarta Creatives”, which cater to locals and expats alike.
Long-distance relationships can evoke strong opinions, with some people swearing they would never have one in the future. That can change when love strikes.
But rather than simply falling back on clichéd prejudices, thinking about how to increase the likelihood of a successful long-distance connection can have value, whether for your own relationship or that of someone you care about. Learning from success stories and thinking purposefully about specific, concrete actions that could help strengthen the partnership can help increase the chance of it flourishing.