Advice for surviving a long-distance relationship

I had been dreading this decision since April.

And I wasn’t even the one making it!

My boyfriend, Derek, got accepted into the Ph.D. program in history at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. (He’s working on his Ph.D. here, but this program has a stronger focus on U.S. history, which is his concentration.) But for the past few months, he’s been trying to figure out what he’s going to do. Stay and finish his degree here — or go to Madison and get a better education and perhaps increase his chances of getting a job later.

One option has better prospects. The other, well, has better surf.

So last week he officially announced — at least to me and the dogs — that he’s going to Wisconsin.

This leaves me in a weird situation: being 36, engaged and suddenly living alone with two dogs and rent I can barely afford.

I’ve done long-distance relationships before, but those were years ago and, I’ll be honest, those relationships weren’t that serious. But this is different. Now I’m older, serious about this guy and very comfortable living with him. We carpool to work and school, cook dinner together, walk the dogs every morning and evening, surf together, shop together, travel together. Suddenly, he’s going to be gone and I’m not sure what I’m going to do.

I know I’ll revert back to my single ways, where I holed up on Friday nights with Netflix and my dogs. But that was by choice; this time around, it isn’t.

We figure we’ll Skype daily and text even more frequently. I’ll fly up to visit him sometime this semester — imagine the food photos! — and he’ll be back in Hawaii during the winter break.

I’m sure the next two or three years will fly by. Still, any advice for me on surviving the 4,700-mile distance?

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54 Responses to “Advice for surviving a long-distance relationship”

  1. oldshoes August 23, 2011 at 2:01 am #

    absence makes the heart grow fonder, or something. But then does that hold true in this facebook/skype age? hmmm..if you love someone set them free….blah blah blah. Lots of sayings out there but life’s a crapshoot.Guess ya just gotta do what feels right. And remember that old song…”cheese will keep us together”, i mean love.

    • Catherine Toth August 23, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

      Cheese will keep us together? Then Wisconsin is the place to be! LOL

  2. islandgirl August 23, 2011 at 2:22 am #

    I met my husband online, and once we met face-to-face, we were long distance for about 8 months before I moved across country to be with him. What helped was talking every day like you would as normal, visiting every few months and looking forward to being together again. The biggest problem for us and will probably be for you will be the time difference. At the time of my long distance relationship, I lived in Las Vegas and my husband on the East Coast. By the time I got home from work, he would be getting ready to turn in for the night. We emailed a lot throughout the day too. We didn’t have Skype but that would have been helpful. I would say that if you can get together every few months and spend quality time together, the time will fly by quickly! Good luck!

    • Catherine Toth August 23, 2011 at 2:42 pm #

      Yeah, the time difference will be tricky. Good thing I wake up at 5 a.m. (Then again, he’ll probably be in class by then.) We’ll figure it out. Plus, this gives me an excuse to travel to the Midwest! :)

  3. David Jackson August 23, 2011 at 2:46 am #

    Well Cat ain’t that something… my heart goes out to you. My grandmother used to tell me this all the time and as I’ve gotten older it has really been true. if it is meant to be it will be, you won’t need to do one special thing to make it work out. Skype surely isn’t the same but at least you can see each other everyday to fill the gaps between visits. You will likely become closer to your friends. And you know us Cat Chat faithful, we are always here to make you laugh… or cry depending on how bad our sense of humor is running. Keep da chin up seestah… all you need is a coupla boards and a few choice waves.

    • Catherine Toth August 23, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

      Funny, my mom said the same thing (about it being meant to be). I’ve been single for long enough, so I know I’ll fall right back into that routine. I’m not too worried. But I also didn’t have to nurture a relationship 4,700 miles away, either! So we’ll see!

      Thanks — to you and everything — for supporting me. I’ll need the laughs, so I’ll be expecting it!

  4. jaydee August 23, 2011 at 4:43 am #

    The time will pass quickly, Cat. Next thing you know, you’ll be living happily ever after. ♥♥

    • Catherine Toth August 23, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

      Time is always slow when you’re waiting… But when it’s over, it’ll probably seem like a blink!

  5. 808 August 23, 2011 at 5:55 am #

    I’m hesitant to mention this, but you’ve probably already considered it: could you go on a 4,700 mile, 3-year adventure with Derek? You’ve lived in the midwest before and wouldn’t be a fish out of water — except for the lack of surf in Madison. Yeah, we’d have to live without you but you could still blog long-distance and be with him. Stand By Your Man, Cat Wynette. lol! On the other hand, with the communication options available today, I’d guess that the three years will fly by. And you’ve always struck me as a strong, semi-independent woman anyway, who doesn’t need to be with her guy 24 hours a day.

    • Catherine Toth August 23, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

      I love the Midwest, actually, and yeah, there is some semblance of surf there. But my issue is this job. I love it, I love my students, I love being home. It’s a tough call! But Derek wants to come home after he finishes his coursework, so being here might be the best thing for both of us. We’ll see. I never say never. :)

  6. M August 23, 2011 at 6:40 am #

    Hello Cat, that’s a tough situation but your commitment, relationship and love with each other is strong, it will workout.

  7. eddyo August 23, 2011 at 7:03 am #


    I’ve been to Madison. It has a really nice college feel to it even though it’s also the state capitol. Tough call these days to balance out what you’re about to face. When I was over there, just the time difference made it at times a challenge to talk to my wife who at that time was working & care giving an elderly relative. You need to have a plan with enough flexibility to survive the down days. Not much of a consolation, but consider those world war II veterans. They left their families for up to four years, many in harm’s way, without the benefit of skype, email or cell phone. To be perfectly frank, it strengthened some families & tore apart others. Having somewhat kept up with your blog over the years, I think you have the fortitude to handle the distance. The bigger question is what sacrifices are you both willing to make to further your respective careers.
    Best of luck in your decision making & to Derek–Ganbatte!

    • Catherine Toth August 23, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

      I heard Madison is a cool city. In fact, it gets consistently high ratings as one of the best cities in which to live. So that’s cool. I mean, at least he’s not going to, say, Mesquite or Reno. (Both fine cities, but you know, not that exciting.)

  8. K August 23, 2011 at 7:39 am #

    It’s not ideal but I have seen it work irl, more than once in this technological era, but the couples are at least early to mid-30 something. Before I got married, or even engaged, my husband left for about 2 1/2 years of school on the mainland (this was just before skype). We knew though that he was coming back after that and it seemed silly for me to leave my job and my life/family here. Although the road was a little rocky, we made it out the other end older and wiser. Of course there’s no guarantees, but visit as often as possible and save up for BIG romanitic vacations once a year. The next time he had to leave a few years later I went with him because he was pretty sure he wasn’t coming back immediately. Skype in my opinion makes it a million times easier now when he has to travel for weeks/months at a time, it feels like he’s in the same room with me, not listening as usual ;)

    • Catherine Toth August 23, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

      Skype is going to be our savior! Can you imagine waiting for letters these days???

      • J August 23, 2011 at 7:46 pm #

        Actually letters are awesome. Real snail mail is an unexpected treasure in the pile of bills, invitations (still a bill if you think about it) and junk in the mailbox.

  9. The Chicago Cuz August 23, 2011 at 7:54 am #


    Sorry to hear about this massive change happening so quickly in the relationship, but I agree with the others, all will be good between you and Derek. How does the saying go? “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” I also agree with what another person had said, you could always decide to come with, and you guys could experience this together! The Chicago Cuz would love to have you and Derek back here in the Midwest, and just think you could replace your surfing with shoveling snow!

    In any event, I will keep you and your fiance in my prayers, and always remember all will be good. Isnt like you guys are breaking up, and even though it is quite a distance with Skype , email, text, you name it these days , noone is ever really that far away.

    If Derek ever needs anything , you tell him to look the Chicago Cuz up, I am only a hop , skip and a jump away from Madison and always up for helping a Bruddah out.

    • Catherine Toth August 23, 2011 at 2:47 pm #

      Hey, I could visit! You’ve been warned!

    • Catherine Toth August 23, 2011 at 2:47 pm #

      And thanks for offering to help Derek. He’s going to be wide-eyed and disoriented up there! Never been that north or east before!

  10. rayboyjr August 23, 2011 at 8:59 am #

    Hey Cat: When we were younger *sigh* … two or three years was a hellishly long time to get through … but in today’s world, that time will fly by … well, maybe … at least with all the modern techno-crap we have now, you’ll have so much stuff to keep you busy or preoccupied …

    … and anyway, you’ll constantly see him … and hear him … so just imagine it like he’s here, just in another room …

    … but sacrifices in life must happen … we don’t always get everything we want … and in five years, you’ll look back at this and say … pssh, piece of cake!!! …

    • Catherine Toth August 23, 2011 at 2:48 pm #

      Hopefully a piece of really easy-to-swallow cake!

  11. Toekinam August 23, 2011 at 9:48 am #

    You can make it thru the next 2-3 years. You have friends and family that will keep you occupied. If you are serious about Derek, you will wait for him and who knows, when he moves back, you’ll be getting married =) Think of all the obstacles you guys have encountered together. Both of you are ambitious and will work together to make it happen, good luck =)

    • Catherine Toth August 23, 2011 at 2:48 pm #

      Thanks for your advice and well wishes! I’m sure the time will fly by… especially since my girlfriends are already planning the next two years of my life!

  12. NeilYamamoto August 23, 2011 at 9:52 am #

    It will work, because you both want it to… period.

  13. hawaii2000 August 23, 2011 at 10:14 am #

    Hey, Cat. So, uh, you free this Friday night?

    I’m kidding!

    I don’t have a lot of advice on the long distance thing. Honestly, I’ve seen more of them fail than succeed. As you say, this decision has been a few months coming now. To what degree have you two discussed this? Was the decision purely his to make? And how do you really feel about this decision?

    I’ll be honest. If I were engaged, I wouldn’t even think about leaving. At that point in a relationship, my partner and the relationship take precedence over everything else. Seeing as Derek was already getting his Ph.D. here, I’m not seeing the need to go elsewhere. And that’s what I’m saying. To me, this is a matter of need vs. want and it sounds like want won.

    I hope this works out for you, Cat. As with most things in life, first you gotta want it. So if BOTH of you want this relationship to flourish, it will–but ONLY if. And how big that “if” is is something only you two know.

    • Catherine Toth August 23, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

      That’s a good point. I know we want to make this work, so it will just take a lot of work. But I guess that’s true in any relationship, right? They just don’t “happen.” It takes elbow grease.

      • hawaii2000 August 23, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

        I think many would be surprised at how LITTLE you actually have to work if you both really want it to. That desire goes a long way and makes it easier to compromise and work things out. Always keep the big picture in mind. Us before me. Ok, I’m out of platitudes. :)

  14. Jermel August 23, 2011 at 10:23 am #

    Relationships are work but if you both work/collaborate, the rewards of the relationship will be a lot more fufilling. You may feel like the distance will make you feel just that..distant from each other but if you both love each other then it will all work out in the end. It may be a blessing in disguise…this may help the both of you become stronger individuals, making you both even stronger of a pair when together. love love. I wish you nothing but success Derek! :)

    • Catherine Toth August 23, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

      That’s true, so true… I’ve seen it happen with friends whose boyfriends were deployed. Made their bond stronger. And hey, there’s always Skype and my HawaiianAirlines miles!

  15. guest August 23, 2011 at 10:32 am #

    I agree with ^

  16. Guest August 23, 2011 at 10:48 am #

    I’m not so sure going away to college will increase his job prospects (unless he wants to stay on the mainland). You only need a Master’s to teach at a CC here in Hawai’i and I’ve seen many PhD’s passed over for people with Master’s who are already teaching as lecturers. Experience seems to win out over advanced PhD education in these cases.

    • Catherine Toth August 23, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

      You have a point. We see it here at KCC all the time. But he really wants to get his Ph.D. — personal goal — and he wants to teach at a four-year university eventually. So it’s something he’s gotta do — and he’s gotta do now.

  17. uncleb August 23, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    You could find a job there and endure the coooollllldddddd winters. Do what you think is best and I’m sure it’ll be fine in the end.

    • Catherine Toth August 23, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

      Oh, I’ve endured cold winters when I was living in Chicago. That’s brutal. I don’t know if I want to do that again!

      But the dogs might like it…!

  18. Natasha August 23, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    Hi Cat…I feel for you. As I read your post, I could almost feel a pit growing in my stomach. I was in a similar situation years ago – the only difference being that I was about 25 years old at the time. I was happily engaged, living with my fiancee and looking forward to our life together. He decided to to get an advanced degree to further his education – great, except that it was from a school located in another state. I was filled with all kinds of conflicted feelings – happy for him/sad for me, excited for his opportunity/bummed that I was being abandoned – basically, I had to make peace with the fact that his decision had nothing to do with our relationship. And that, to be honest, was HARD. It’s like you’re on a journey through life together and then the other person decides to take a detour. Alone. And they’re willing to risk the relationship in order to do so. But you can’t take it personally and, if you both are committed to making it work, your relationship will survive. Mine did, I can happily report. We have now been married for over 10 years and have two beautiful children. And when I think back about his decision? Well, I’m glad he did it and I’m proud of him for thinking about the future, not just his but ours collectively. But everyone’s situation is different so, please, be sure about your feelings and if you’re ready to make the commitment. And then stick with it as best you can. You’re still young, but you have your own future to think about as well. All the best to you.

    • Catherine Toth August 23, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

      THANK YOU for such a great story — with a happy outcome! I was worried at first that you were going to say it didn’t work out… Talk about a growing pit in MY stomach! But thanks for this. I know it will take a lot of hard work and communication between us. I actually think it will be good for us to take this time to work on our personal and professional goals. And my girlfriends are completely happy to have me back on Friday nights! LOL!

  19. adrienne August 23, 2011 at 2:06 pm #

    Maybe you could teach a semester at Medill. They always look for adjuncts and you know they’d love you. I would have taken a class with you! I got a place you can rent there, too :)

    Tupac and I did long distance for a few years while I was in law school. Wasn’t so bad for me bc I was just hellishly reading the entire time and didn’t always notice he was gone, which I think is the key. You just keep yourself busy doing things and look forward to the time you get to spend together. We survived and I didn’t even know what the hell Skype was back then.

    Also, I suggest visiting on a football weekend and for Halloween. Nothing makes me feel old/young again like a college town in full party mode.

    • Catherine Toth August 23, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

      I don’t think Medill would want me back there teaching! Could you imagine! I’d corrupt the students! LOL!

    • K August 24, 2011 at 2:46 am #

      I agree with ^ It’s not ideal living with a student when you’re not one yourself, and of course vice versa. My husband has gone back to school twice now since we’ve been together. He chooese to do the majority of his studying out of the house because it’s just too distracting. If he has to work at home he relegates himself to the basement which we refer to as “the hole”. It’s like he’s not home.

  20. eddyo August 23, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    Live without regret, live without fear!

  21. jron August 23, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    Pack up the dogs, get your winter cloths out, and go with him. Madison is a great town, as long as your with the one you love, it will be home.

  22. Jimbo August 23, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    I was in a similar predicament once. My fiancee at the time was offered a great opportunity (for her) in LA. After much back and forth, she convinced me to move up to join her. I left a great company that I loved that was hard to get into to do it. I ended up resenting her because of it causing our relationship to eventually end. Ended up with no great job and no woman. Always try and think ahead.

  23. Jolene August 23, 2011 at 4:09 pm #

    I know you guys can work it out. It also helps to play online games together so you will always have something to do or fall back on when there is nothing to talk about. I always like when I am away from Ron because it gives me space to do my own projects and appreciate when he’s around that much more.

    I’m also looking forward to your Wisconsin cheeses reviews and finding out what else there is to do there besides eat cheese?!

    Question: What are you going to do if he gets a job in the mainland? There is no surf in the midwest!

  24. bumper August 23, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

    Good luck to you both. I admire his decision. And if he wants an academic career (at a research university), it’s good practice for later, when job offers are scarce and you sometimes have to move to the middle of nowhere to teach and shoot for tenure. The academic route can be a rough road, but if it’s your passion, it’s worth it in the end!

  25. Theresa August 23, 2011 at 6:52 pm #

    Hi Cat! Did you say you were “engaged” above? If so congratulations! That indicates a committment to the relationship from you and Derek. This sounds corny, but I believe in fate and if it was meant to be, you will be together. But fate sometimes needs a little help! My dad told me me story of the man that prayed to win the lottery, but never won and asked god why. God replied “i cant help you if you dont buy a lottery ticket!”

  26. che August 24, 2011 at 8:17 am #

    Cat, I hang in there and hopefully everything will work out.

    Madison is a nice place though I mssed all the winters. I don’t know about the surf up there but there is sailing and golf.

    Have a good one.

  27. Wes August 24, 2011 at 9:05 am #

    Here’s an idea…you can combine your last two blog entries and be the star of a reality show.

  28. Guy August 24, 2011 at 9:18 am #

    from following your exploits for years now, it seems to me that this guy is a keeper. i like his decision to pursue something which will benefit him and you in the long run. show that he’s got some character. its not going to be easy, but, as they say, the good things in life always come at a price. luckily we live in a high tech world, communication should not be a problem. have faith, love and trust. old fashion stuff in these days, but they always work. good luck

  29. WildeOscar August 24, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    “76 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality”

    I like Madison. Been there many times. If you think that The People’s Republic of Evanston is something, just wait till you strike up some conversations “Behind the Cheese Curtain.”

    You and Derek will do fine. One recommendation -Skype, email, text, and talk are great. Send a letter or package at least once a week. Somehow having that three-dimensional object pierce the electronic veil will keep you more real to each other. There will have to be some unplanned visits also. Just being in each other’s arms on 24-48 hours notice is fabulous. I did long-distance relationships twice. The first ended up in a nightmare marriage (don’t be dissuaded, you are much more mature than I was at 22). The second, closer to your age, has led to a blissful marriage of 18 years and running.

  30. matt August 24, 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    hitting this thread late because i was on the road. sorry to hear of this development. others have made it work, but i never got it right, so you probably don’t want my advice except for what not to do.

    instead of trekking all the way to madison, would it be more feasible to meet halfway on the west coast? it would get him away from being “at school” and all the tacit pressures that implies and make your time together more about you two as a couple rather than you visiting him while he’s taking care of his business. with Hawaiian’s frequent flight deals and southwest flying from midway to the bay area/LA, you might even be able to make your visits more frequent.

  31. hawaiiobsessed August 25, 2011 at 9:58 am #

    I don’t have any advice, just want to wish you luck! Also, yes, what if he gets a job on the mainland?

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