I met my boyfriend, Noah, a year and a half ago during a work trip to London, where he lives. I live in Los Angeles. To be honest, I never imagined things with Noah going beyond one night of fun. I definitely never imagined a long distance relationship would come from it.
But we spent that week I was in London together. The day I was to fly back to L.A., I bought return tickets to see him six weeks later. And for the last year and a half, that’s how we’ve done it. For the first nine months I flew every five or six weeks to London, and when Noah moved to Berlin, I began flying there just as regularly.
There are all sorts of reasons why a relationship shouldn’t work — and reasons why you shouldn’t even consider starting one — and 6,000 miles seems like one of them.
But I’ve learned there’s always something. Every relationship (including a long distance relationship) has its challenges, and sometimes I think that’s just the price you pay for love. There are obstacles. But if you can find your way around the obstacles, maybe you’ll win the greatest prize in the world: a loving, adventurous, sexy relationship with the person of your dreams.
One of the things my mother told me when I first started dating Noah was, “Stop thinking of the distance as a negative. Think of how amazing it is. You get to live an international life, traveling between the United States and Europe. You get to spend weeks with the man you love but then you get to return home and have space to yourself, to work on your dreams and goals. It sounds ideal to me.”
I’ve come to realize that relationships never fit into that perfect Hollywood rom-com mold. They are messy and complicated, but why wouldn’t they be? It’s not easy to take two complete individuals and bring them together, expecting them to merge into one seamless entity.
The real challenge is finding a way to maintain our individuality and independence while at the same time respecting our partner’s individuality. If you can find someone who can do that, the obstacles don’t matter. Anything is possible.
Here are the three questions I get asked most often about being in a long distance relationship:
1. “Travel is expensive. How do you not spend thousands of dollars?”
It’s true, airplane travel to Europe used to be outrageously expensive, often costing over $1,000. But now with cheap long-haul airlines like Norwegian, Wow and Aer Lingus, to name a few, you can often find tickets anywhere from $350–$600 round-trip. And because we have these newer, cheaper airlines, the traditionally more expensive airlines like Delta and American are starting to offer better deals as well.
My favorite booking site is SkyScanner.com, but there are literally hundreds of sites out there to help you find the cheapest tickets. And I’ve found that if I can be flexible about my travel dates, I can always find a decent deal. My favorite airline right now is Norwegian, though I’m not locked in to miles or any single airline. I’ll fly whatever is cheapest.
A trick I recently learned was that instead of looking for round-trip tickets I also search for one-way flights. On my upcoming flight to Berlin I was able to purchase a one-way seat from LAX to Berlin on Norwegian for $239 (with seat selection and a meal, as it would have been only $179 without). I then purchased a $219 ticket (with a seat and a checked bag) on Wow Airlines. That’s a total of $458, and it would have been $100 cheaper if I hadn’t gone for the upgrades.
That’s another thing: I often don’t buy the upgraded tickets. I bring a bunch of sandwiches and pack light, and I can fly for close to $400 there and back.
Much of these things work domestically, too. Noah and I recently met in New York City, and I bought one-way tickets on separate airlines for a total of $298. Airlines like Spirit, while you’ll sift through complaints and negative reviews, get you there and back for cheap. I find that with my computer, a bunch of downloaded movies and some sandwiches, I can manage any flight for six hours.
Another great tool for travel, whether international or national, is an app called Citymapper. Just put in the address or the name of the restaurant, museum, whatever, and it will give you up-to-the-minute info on trains, buses and on-foot routes. Citymapper has allowed me to save a fortune on taxis to airports and getting around foreign cities by allowing me to take the metro nearly everywhere. Not only does that save money, but it gives you an amazing feeling of independence, and you get to know the city you’re in.
2. “How do you go weeks without seeing each other in a long distance relationship?”
It isn’t easy. I miss Noah all the time. But I also think my mother is right; there’s something really beautiful about having time to myself to build my life, to form friendships on my own and to have my own adventures. Then I can take these adventures back to Noah and share them with him.
But that doesn’t change how much we miss each other. Three basic things help us navigate this:
(1) Our six-week rule. We do everything we can to make sure we don’t go longer than six weeks without seeing each other. Five weeks is more ideal and, honestly, more realistic.
I’m lucky. My job allows me the flexibility to travel every five to six weeks. Noah is an architect and has traditional hours and vacation time. This means he comes to me twice a year while I go to him more regularly.
This isn’t possible for everyone. I have a friend who is dating someone in Chicago. He uses much of his vacation time taking three-day weekends and flying to Chicago, saving up for a few longer trips they take together. They are able to see each other nearly once a month.
If you’ve found someone you love and you’re willing to make a long distance relationship work, then you find ways. Sometimes you just have to get creative.
(2) The endless chat. We text each other every morning when we wake up, every night when we go to bed and we check in throughout the day. Noah likes to tell me when he’s going to the gym or the store; I text him when I’m making coffee or going for one of my many walks. This allows us to feel connected, not just to the romance and sex and love but to the little things that happen throughout the day.
We are a part of each other’s live even if we can’t be together.
(3) A daily FaceTime rule. I think this is what has allowed us to be the most successful with our long distance relationship. We talk every day on FaceTime. Usually we talk for about 20-30 minutes. Sometimes it’s while Noah is eating dinner or I’m eating breakfast. We just tell each other how our days were, we talk about things we read in the news. Just the normal things couples talk about.
We’re lucky to live in 2018. Technology has brought the whole world together and allows us to reach out over great distances. It’s also just really good to see him. He has an amazing smile.
3. “I don’t think I could go five weeks without getting laid. How do you manage that?”
OK, this one is really hard. I like having sex with Noah, and I miss it when we don’t have it. But here’s the hard truth about all relationships: sex is always an issue. Whether you are 6,000 miles apart or 35 feet, it’s something everyone has to navigate.
The great thing about being queer is that we get to decide for ourselves how we will navigate it. The only rules we have to play by are our own. That could be sex-dates on FaceTime, or having rules around open relationships.
Sex is supposed to be fun and intimate. Sexuality is something we get to share with our partners. Being apart just means we have to get more creative in how we share it.
Relationships are hard, regardless of the circumstances. A long distance relationship can add a layer of complexity that is too much for some people. But I like having my two to three weeks with Noah, then coming home and having my own time to grow and become the man I want to be.
Maybe this won’t work forever. It’s hard not to think about the future. Will Noah and I want to live together? Will the distance finally become too much? If we do want to live together, will I end up in Berlin or will he come to L.A.? Maybe we will find a better compromise.
There are ways to make a long distance relationship work. In fact, these days it’s easier than ever.
Have you ever been in a long distance relationship?
Jeff Leavell is a writer living between Los Angeles and Berlin. He specializes in queer social commentary, relationships, sexuality, art and Nightlife. His novel Accidental Warlocks will be released by Lethe Press this year. You can find him at his website or on Instagram.
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