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It only takes a word

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how soft skills, especially in terms of communication, are underappreciated and under-emphasized by so many people. Of course, this is coming from someone who majored in communication, but I’ve heard the same sentiment echoed from folks in fields from business to STEM.

Some people espouse that to get ahead — particularly in one’s career — you can’t be kind or agreeable, or at least not too agreeable. And of course there is an element of balance; if you only ever say positive things, it will be hard to make your own ideas known and to point out risks or issues in the ideas of others.

Especially when I’m busy, my default is to be fairly stressed and fairly serious. I’ve had to learn how to make time to build good professional relationships, even if it means a task takes a little longer. But on the flipside, it’s also hugely important to me that everyone be as content with a given situation as possible and that I take regularly opportunities to boost morale. Often that means bringing in treats for coworkers or saying “thank you” more times than perhaps necessary. And these are great, but they’re also a little shallow.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have some absolutely phenomenal bosses and mentors as I’ve gained work experience. I’ve also had the chance to be a boss or mentor to other folks, and to experiment with what comprises a successful leadership style.

Some of the elements are fairly standard: clear training and instruction, open communication channels, well-rounded feedback that includes praise for elements done well and actionable critiques on ways to improve.

The biggest thing that I’ve learned from my mentors, though, is how incredibly important it is to empower those who are learning from you — whether the setting be professional, familial, or otherwise. While “empower” has become a bit of a buzzword and lost some of the meaning it ought to possess, it captures exactly how we should be made to feel by those we’re learning from (and how we should be making those we’re teaching feel).

As an example, a brief anecdote: Yesterday was not a great day for me. I’m behind on a lot of at-home tasks (*ahem* cleaning) and my at work my number of tasks and the stakes are increasing. It was just one of those days I felt ill-equipped for all I was facing. During the course of separate conversations, both my boss and a former boss/mentor offered unsolicited, generous compliments on my competency and the impact of my work. They both absolutely made my day.

The comments meant so much because both of them conveyed that they actually believed in me. Which, for starters, is something we could all stand to hear a little more often. But it also made me want to prove them right, instead of trying to prove negative thoughts or voices wrong.

I’ve long held to the belief that small kindnesses can have radical impacts in people’s lives. For emerging adults in particular, it’s crucial that we not only embrace that idea in our personal lives, but also our professional ones. As we do so, we can foster and eventually create environments that encourage people’s growth through support or cooperation rather than relying on competition.

In the future, I’ll be looking for and taking more opportunities in which I can offer a word or gesture to help other folks feel as valued and full of potential as comments like the ones yesterday made me feel. I just hope we all do.

As always, comments, questions, and miscellaneous input welcome below or on Twitter @ohgrowup. Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

 

P.S. I know it’s yet another sunset ocean pic, but this place was home for a long time and not only taught me a lot of what I covered in this post, but could use any extra love available as the community continues to heal from tragedy.

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Because Internet

This post is a smidge later than I’d hoped because once again the week has gotten away from me, but I’m really excited about it! After months of eager waiting, some pre-order funny business, and several weeks of stealing time to read, I finished Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch.

It is, seriously, my favorite nonfiction book I’ve read in a looooong time.* And I actually read a hearty helping of nonfiction. If you know me in real life and we’ve talked recently, you’ve probably heard me talk about this book. Funny enough, I considered writing a really similar book a couple years back, but am glad that McCulloch did because frankly she’s way more qualified.

Though this book doesn’t directly address adulting or emerging adulthood like when I discussed The Defining Decade, it breaks down a lot of the major topics of internet language. Because the internet has not only proliferated informal writing, but provided avenues to study it that didn’t previously exist, we can better understand — at least linguistically — how we make use of the tools at our digital disposal, and not just how we shape the tools, but how they influence us.

My favorite two themes from the book: 

Internet users, just like normal people, come in generations. However, I loved that McCulloch didn’t try to break it down by how we currently think about generations (Millennials, Gen X, and so on), but rather by when people came to the internet and what it was like when it first became a significant part of their lives.

I’m definitely a Post Internet person (as are most of my peers), but some of the differences that she highlighted in terms of trends between different generations of internet people illuminated behaviors and communication patterns that I’d previously found puzzling.

Written media doesn’t have to lack communication richness. This is my inner communication major coming out, but it used to drive me absolutely nuts when people would insist that text messages or other chat formats lacked media richness. In other words, that when you’re not here to see my gestures and hear my inflection, there’s no way for me to convey tone and other meaning beyond the literal words. I do that in text messages all the time!

There is, of course, room for misinterpretation. And it does require more effort to indicate sarcasm with punctuation or capitalization than it does to simply modulate my voice as I say a phrase, but it’s definitely possible. While I think this opportunity is one of the best offerings of modern technology, the book also points out that some of the communication mishaps (like whether a period at the end of a message indicates the sender is upset) are due to “generational” differences in both actual age and our relationship to the internet.

So if you are interested in linguistics, English, the internet, or even generational studies, I would enthusiastically recommend Because Internet. I am signing off this weekend to spend time with family, but will also be trying to squeeze in some more reading.

Book recommendations? Thoughts on how emerging adults can make use of the opportunities with internet language? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

 

P.S. Please pardon the poor photo quality, my apartment is a bit dim and I didn’t want to wait for daylight haha.

*The usual disclaimer that, as always, I receive no compensation of any kind for discussing this book, and my opinions are entirely my own. Also a shoutout to Gretchen McCulloch for not only writing the book but dealing with all my excited tweets about it.

So you got into a spat

It happens. We’re all humans. I’ve gotten into more than my fair share lately. I’m not going to tell you how to avoid them, because that should be fairly obvious — even if difficult to do all the time. I really, really wish that this was one of the things we all had to learn in school — along with personal finances, ethics, and media literacy — but we’re definitely better off learning it in emerging adulthood than later on in life.

I’ve gotten into my fair share of spats, and as much as they aren’t fun they’re a normal part of imperfect people interacting and trying to relate to each other. Thankfully, over the years I’ve learned how to better recover from them, and how to prioritize the person and the relationship over being right or just trying to get the outcome I want. These are the best tips I’ve learned to do that:

  • Apologize for what you did. Chances are you contributed to the disagreement, and/or hurt the other person’s feelings. Own it. A big part of this can be what you’ll work to do better in the future, because then it’s not just “I’m sorry,” but builds on it to work toward a better situation next time the issue comes up.
  • Don’t apologize for what you didn’t do. I’ve talked before about having a tendency to say sorry too much. Own up to what you did, but don’t over-apologize and make yourself feel unnecessarily guilty.
  • Explain how the disagreement made you feel. This is where you say your piece, which (important note!) is different than asking the other person to apologize. This is where I language comes in key.
  • Ask if they’re good. Or okay, or whatever word floats your boat. The point is to touch base, to check that they’re starting to feel better, and to give them a chance to share how they’re feeling. Make sure that if and when they choose to share, you’re really listening.
  • Make sure you’re good. If something’s still bothering you, now’s the time to bring it up. If something outside of the spat is bothering you, ask yourself whether it might have contributed. If it did, talk it through with the other person.
  • Ask if you (plural) are good. This one, for me, often feels like the most crucial before I can begin to emotionally move on from the disagreement. Beyond knowing that the other person is doing okay, and being honest about whether I am, it’s important to me know that whatever the spat was about hasn’t done some irreparable damage, or even just had a bigger impact than I realized.
  • End on a good note. My boyfriend is really good about this, and I’m exceptionally grateful that he’s taught me to be as well. If we were upset about anything, we try not to end the conversation on that note. Even if that means staying on the phone longer, staying up later, whatever. Talk about silly, insignificant stuff or what you’ll be up to the next day or tell a joke or bring up a fond memory. No matter what it is, finding something positive to transition to will help clean the slate and make it easier to let go of residual negative emotion.

What have you found most helpful when recovering from a disagreement with someone? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

Dial tones and mobile phones

I don’t know about you, but I hate talking on the phone. I wish I was exaggerating. It’s something that at best is a lower-quality conversation than I prefer, and at worst is almost paralyzingly stressful.

Alas, as an adult they are not something that can be avoided. Emerging adulthood means we now get to call to set up various appointments on our own, to make reservations or interact with customer service, to handle professional matters, and often to stay in touch with family.

I’m better about phone calls than I used to be. For a long time, I would avoid calling anytime I could and pretty much only called my grandmama just because — for anyone else, it had better be urgent.

Now, I call (okay, sometimes text) my grandparents on most holidays and sometimes just because we haven’t talked in a little bit, call my mom fairly frequently (I often have random adulting questions), set up all my own appointments and such, have weekly conference calls for work, and call my boyfriend when video chats aren’t an option.

Though they’re still far from my favorite method of communication, I’ve found a few things that have made them less daunting:

  • Put a frame on it. Different mediums of communication have different levels of richness — basically how many layers you’re communicating on at a given time. An email is probably the least rich method, because all you get are words on a screen. In-person is the richest, because you get voice, words, tone, facial expressions and other nonverbals, etc. Phone calls allow for voice, words, and tone but not being face-to-face means tone can be easily misinterpreted.
  • Can you hear me now? The answer is probably sort of. Cell phones are amazing inventions but they aren’t flawless even at full bars. Which means what you’re saying or hearing is often distorted or breaks up, making natural and comfortable conversation more difficult.
  • Know what you’re saying. I am capable of being quite charming, but that skill mostly relies on being in-person. Therefore, I rehearse any phone call that’s more than just a “how’s it going?” conversation ahead of time, usually several times. Props if you’re not the kind of person that needs to do this, but if you’re not this is a super helpful trick. You can always make some notes on talking points or things your need to remember to say/ask as well, and it will help keep you from feeling flustered or sounding awkward.
  • Leave a message. Fun fact, if you don’t leave a voicemail said person will be way less likely to call you back (sometimes exceptions for family and friends). So leave a voicemail — and be sure to mention your name and phone number, and repeat both before you hang up.
  • If someone left you a voicemail, listen to it before you call back. This way, you actually know what they were calling about and they don’t have to repeat themselves. Win-win.
  • Use that weird nice voice your parents use. You don’t have to do the “mmmbye” thing we remember grownups doing from our collective childhood, but do use your extra sweet, polite voice to make up for the fact you don’t get to be so charming in person.
  • Eyes up. I have a horrible tendency to get distracted with other things while I’m on the phone, which results in me not listening or being as involved in the conversation as I ought to be. To help, I often have something I can do mindlessly with my hands or feet (like crocheting or going for a walk) to prevent my mind from wandering so much.

Phone calls don’t have to be awful, even if they can be intimidating. And they are, unfortunately, sometimes necessary, so it’s best to get good at them earlier rather than later.

What helps you with phone calls you don’t want to make? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo because turns out I can’t take a picture of my phone with my phone.)

You don’t need to be sorry all the time

I say sorry all the time. I saw it when I’ve made a mistake on purpose or unknowingly, when I feel bad for someone or a situation, and sometimes when I don’t know what else to say. And I’m really trying to stop.

A lot of us say sorry too much. Of course, if you hurt someone or genuinely screwed up, please apologize. It’s kind and helps heal things. But if you say sorry every time you pass someone in close quarters, make an insignificant error, or even do your job, it’s probably best to cut back.

I’ve realized that my tendency to apologize needlessly is massive. While it is indicative of caring and not wanting to inconvenience others, it builds up poor psychological habits and patterns. To explain a bit further, I’ve broken down times I needlessly say sorry with what I often say, what I mean, and why saying sorry isn’t helpful.

  • When passing along an assignment at work
    • What I say: “Sorry to be giving you more to do on this.”
    • What I mean: “I feel badly that me doing my job creates more work for you.”
    • Why that isn’t helpful: It suggests that me doing my job (and doing it to the best of my ability) is something to feel guilty about. Not cool, or true.
  • When I feel bad about someone else’s situation
    • What I say: “I’m really sorry.”
    • What I mean: “That sucks, and I wish I could do more to help.”
    • Why that isn’t helpful: I (usually) had nothing to do with it, and it gets off the more important topics of their feelings and/or any help I could give.
  • When I make insignificant errors, like a mishit in tennis
    • What I say: “Sorry!”
    • What I mean: “Oops, I did not mean to do that.”
    • Why that isn’t helpful: Mistakes happen, and when the stakes are low, constant apologizing just reinforces guilt that it does zero good for me to be feeling.
  • When someone goes out of their way to help me
    • What I say: “Sorry, I could have gotten that.”
    • What I mean: “I appreciate the help, but don’t want you to feel obligated to help me.”
    • Why that isn’t helpful: I’m literally making myself feel bad that other people are being nice to me. That’s harmful to me, and doesn’t properly appreciate their helpfulness anyway.
  • When I take up space
    • What I say: “Sorry.” (usually very quietly)
    • What I mean: “I don’t want to take up too much space and inconvenience you.”
    • Why that isn’t helpful: This one gets a longer explanation. I don’t care who you are, listen closely. There is absolutely no need whatsoever to feel bad about the physical space you take up existing in the universe. Ever. If you’re spreading out to take up extra space in a crowded spot, or purposely not making room for someone who has less room than you, that’s a jerk move. But if you find yourself scrunching up or making yourself smaller to accommodate people pulling that kind of jerk move, stop. You don’t have to shrink yourself just because they’re rude.
  • When I’m contributing to a conversation or solution
    • What I say: “Sorry, but what if…” or something similar
    • What I mean: “I’d like to add/suggest…”
    • Why that isn’t helpful: This is something called hedging, which means basically softening what one is saying with less direct language or phrases that self-impose inferiority. It can cloud the value of what you’re saying, and give people who don’t want to listen to you (which is on them) an extra excuse to think what you’re saying isn’t a big deal. If what you’re saying has caveats, by all means voice them — but there’s no need to undercut your own message.

It’s worth noting that these behaviors tend to be significantly more common from women than men. But they’re also something a lot of us as emerging adults — aka young and less experienced than a lot of other adults we’re around — tend to fall into. If you find yourself apologizing unnecessarily, spend some time analyzing that and utilizing helpful alternatives (getting to that in a moment). If you don’t tend to over-apologize, be conscientious of when people around you might be doing so. You can gently remind them that there’s no need to say sorry during whatever situation, as well as monitor your behavior and expectations to curb anything that might be making other people feel like they need to say sorry.

So here’s the helpful part. Here is a list of a bunch of things that you can say instead of sorry:

  • “Thank you for taking care of this” or “I appreciate you doing ___” — one of my favorites to use at work
  • “Thank you” — sometimes that’s enough!
  • “Oops” — I try really hard to substitute this one when I make insignificant errors
  • “Excuse me” — when I inconvenience someone slightly, especially things like passing in close quarters (note to say this one nicely! Sarcasm undercuts the helpfulness)
  • Whatever else I was going to say — when speaking up in a conversation or contributing to a solution; sometimes “excuse me” is also appropriate, but often it’s okay to just pipe up
  • Nothing — particularly in terms of how much space I take up. I purposely have just kept quiet when walking down one edge of the sidewalk and someone else with more room refuses to scoot over, or when I take up one seat and one armrest on crowded transportation. It can feel kind of rude initially, but if I’m not taking up more space than is reasonable, there’s no reason to feel badly

As a last note, take some time to thank the people in your life who help you in this area, regardless of what that looks like. There have been people in my life who made me feel like I needed to apologize all the time, but I’m fortunate enough that a lot of the people close to me have reminded me that I don’t always need to be saying sorry. I hope that was helpful, and I’d love to hear any feedback you have in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or on Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

Media literacy

Finally, the big bad post I’ve been wanting to tackle for a while — media literacy. I am going to be very blunt here: Media literacy is crucial regardless of your life stage, age bracket, or what job you hold.

To start, let’s define media literacy. Media literacy is essentially having the ability to access, understand, and critically evaluate media. The term can be applied in a number of ways, but it is most critical where the audience is most vulnerable — generally the realms of marketing/advertising/PR, publications, and politics*. In an information age, we have to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff, or the crap from the truth.

A lack of media literacy leads to:

  • the proliferation and internalization of false information
  • further polarization in an already incredibly polarized era
  • the prolonging of ignorance and, in many cases, increased difficulty in recognizing it

Okay, so it’s important. But what to do? Part of the problem is outside of an individual’s control — I can’t force governments to be honest, media outlets to be objective, or advertisements to stop playing on viewers’ insecurities. (Even if I could, I alone probably could not be trusted.) But we can each do something.

When it comes to ads… Think it through. Not all advertising is bad, and of course companies need to push their products to stay in business. But if you note yourself having an emotional response to and advertising or PR campaign, ask yourself what you’re feeling, and what about the campaign is making you feel that way. The typical example is various retailers only hiring the thinnest, tallest, fittest models and then airbrushing and editing their images even further. It drives a lot of people nuts, but more quietly it also makes a lot of people feel that they aren’t living up to a standard that isn’t even real.

What to do? Don’t underestimate the power of your pocket — if you don’t like the way a company advertises, try to choose from another company. For me, this doesn’t mean loud boycotts or starting a fight on the internet. It simply means I choose to purchase from companies I can support, and there are fast food chains, retailers, etc. that I avoid. If you feel strongly enough to say something, find someone to write at the company and (calmly and politely, please — have someone proof it first) explain why you disagree with their choice and ask them to make a change. It might not work, but you will have done your part without making a larger mess.

When it comes to publications and media outlets… Again, think it through. Does what they’re saying make logical sense? Have you come across conflicting information elsewhere? Is the organization usually reputable? Do they offer sources for their information? Is the author/publisher making subjective claims, or inserting their own opinion?

What to do? FACT CHECK. Google is your friend. If you can find the same report from multiple sources, it’s got a way higher chance of being legit. You can also check out places like Snopes and Politifact, where a lot of popular mistruths and false stories are debunked. Tune in to/read from reputable organizations. Local broadcast news stations are usually super reliable, and have fewer embroiled issues than larger cable news networks. I favor The Washington Post and The Hill for news, and The New York Times has an excellent world news section. Check out whether a story is legit before you share it, particularly using the questions and tools above. If you figure out that it isn’t, call in or write a letter to the editor (again, calmly and politely please) explaining the error. There are a lot of dedicated and ethical journalists; supporting them and respectfully distancing yourself from those who aren’t can make a really big difference.

When it comes to politics… I am not claiming that all politicians are incorrigible liars or horrible people. But I do believe that power is a corrupting influence, and that everyone has an agenda. It might be a good agenda and sketchy means, or simply repeating false/misleading information, or a goal and means you wholly disagree with. It also might be legit, so it isn’t safe to assume either way.

What to do? Your research. First things first, you can look to reputable news organizations for information on a candidate. This can be great if you don’t have loads of time but do make sure the organization is reputable. Next, I hate to be such a pessimist, but follow the money. When I’m deciding how to vote on a measure or proposition, I always look at who’s funding it. I do the same when considering a candidate. Funding information can usually be found on voter’s guides, sometimes on ballots, and always with enough research, and will give you some insight into what persons or organizations are behind a political push. I also really highly recommend Politifact. The whole organization is devoted to objective fact-checking, and is one of the best places to research the whole story behind an issue or claim (you can also suggest a fact check if you can’t find it on their site).

The big message here is don’t believe everything you’re told. There is a lot of good in the world, but there is also a lot of untruth. Think about it and look into it before deciding what to believe or how to act. I also fully acknowledge that doing the things I suggested is a not insignificant thing in terms of time and effort, but I hope that at least some of these resources prove as helpful to you as they have to me.

If emerging adults in particular develop this skill for ourselves and begin to hold larger organizations more accountable, a lot of the problems we face today will begin to wane. No big question today, but I would love to hear feedback in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Also a huge thank you to one of my old bosses and mentors, Elizabeth Smith, for weighing in on this post with her considerable expertise and consistent patience. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

*As a disclaimer, I’m not here to push my political views, and I critique the opportunity for information abuse in those three areas as a journalist who is working at a marketing agency. This post aims to be as objective as possible, so that anyone reading can improve how they assess and interpret information, no matter your background or beliefs.

Long-distance life

As I mentioned in a previous post, my boyfriend and I did long distance for almost 4.5 years. Starting a couple of weeks ago, we semi-permanently live near each other for the first time since we started dating.

The very brief explanation is we were friends in high school, and got together a couple of weeks before leaving for college. The problem is those colleges happened to be 400 miles apart. We had no idea if it would work, but felt it was worth seeing if it was something we could handle. Lucky for us, we’ve managed to grow a relationship in spite of it. But that doesn’t change the fact that maintaining or growing any sort of relationship long-distance sucks.

I realize not everyone has been in or is in a long-distance romantic relationship, but nearly everyone has friends or family that are much further away than we’d like. So I’m going to do my best to take that into account throughout this post. I also have a special treat! My boyfriend, Parker, was kind enough to co-write this post with me so it isn’t limited to my perspective. Below are some questions, with each of our answers, regarding how we’ve learned to manage long-distance.

Did you think we had a good chance of making a long-distance relationship work when we first started out?

Parker: Yes.

Rachal: Care to elaborate?

Parker: From an objective perspective, we already had a long-standing friendship with good communication habits, we already texted regularly and made an effort to consistently reach out to one another. From a subjective perspective, we cared about each other quite a bit and are both the type of people that typically put in the effort to make difficult things work. And as people we were very similar and compatible, so if one of us was going to try and be committed, there was a good chance both of us would be, and that often lends itself to a successful relationship. So I thought we had a good chance of making it despite the distance.

Rachal: I hoped that we would, but as people who know me are well aware of, I don’t like to make bets on things that are not guarantees — as my boyfriend rolls his eyes and laughs. So I thought it was worth it enough that I wanted to try, and I had a lot of faith in us, particularly given that we had been such good friends for a fair amount of time, but admittedly I was a bit nervous that it might not work.

What have you found beneficial about long-distance?

Parker: [laughs] It forces you to become really good at the habits that often slip for people who aren’t long-distance, like communication and working out a schedule, because all you have is phone calls and Skype and the very occasional visit. If you have bad communication habits in long-distance, your relationship is going to fall apart, so long-distance really teaches you to form a good communication system with your partner, which then helps once long-distance is no longer a factor.

Rachal: I would definitely second that, and emphasize it more if possible. Because distance is difficult to deal with it can be weird to think about upsides, but in addition to that I would also say that it makes the time you do have in person feel way more valuable and special.

Parker: Took the words out of my mouth (again).

Rachal: It definitely makes it easier to not take each other for granted.

What sucked about long-distance that you didn’t expect (or was worse than you expected)?

Parker: Two things mainly. One, that it didn’t really get better over time. You would think that after doing long-distance for a while, you would start to get used to it and it wouldn’t feel as difficult. And there was some element of that, but there were certain things that got more difficult, like as you’re reaching the end of long-distance your patience with it grows shorter and shorter because you know it’s almost done. Second, even though our issues were relatively infrequent, when struggles did come up, it’s hard because you don’t have the ability to give little physical reassurances like holding someone’s hand or giving a hug. So it’s just words and voice, and there aren’t accompanying physical motions or actions that can give that reassurance that everything’s going to be okay even if it’s a rough patch.

Rachal: I think the first one that you mentioned is what stands out to me the most. Not that I ever specifically thought, “Oh, this is going to get easier,” but I definitely didn’t think it would get harder. So it was weird to be caught off guard after we had been together for a few years and, by all objective standards, had a grip on how to handle things, but from an emotional perspective, the distance took more of a toll than it had previously. I also agree with the second point, and would add that it was just really disappointing to not be able to share the little things as often — like pointing something you passed by or just the small things that are easy to share with someone who’s right next to you, but not necessarily significant enough to save for a nightly phone call.

How have you handled long-distance family relationships?

Parker: I called my parents once a week or more, occasionally spoke to grandparents, and tried to go to family gatherings and stuff like that.

Rachal: Since I have a few younger siblings, I try to keep in better touch with them through facetime or sending them cards on occasion, but for most other family it’s occasional phone calls and visiting when possible.

What about friendships?

Parker: I’ve kind of had mixed success handling long-distance friendships. Some people I’ve had a really good experience keeping up with online, and have a few friends that I’ve never met but have developed friendships with online. Some other personal friendships I haven’t had as much success with but try to text to check in and see how things are going and then try to make the effort to see when I’m in town and near them.

Rachal: I’m either really good at this, or really bad. There are some friends who I text or otherwise communicate with very frequently, and other friends who I am just really bad about keeping in touch with. Part of that is a time thing — there’s only time to stay really close with so many people — but part of it is just having not developed as strong of communication habits with some friends as with others.

What tools were the most helpful for dealing with long-distance?

Parker: Phone calls, text messaging, Skype/Google+. That’s pretty much it.

Rachal: I’m going get kind of communication meta here, because it’s me. Technology is obviously a huge thing — I genuinely don’t know how people did this before cell phones and texting.

Parker: Mail, dude.

Rachal: I know people who did it, but that would suck. Worse. But beyond just technology, the sort of shorthands that we developed for things were really helpful.

Parker: What do you mean by the shorthands?

Rachal: So like early on, we had a very specific conversation about what certain things meant if we texted them. If one of us texted “Okay :)” then everything was fine, but “Okay.” meant that we were upset about something. And we could always ask if we were confused about tone or if we needed to talk later, and things like that. Though it was maybe less of a tool, we also made sure to vary how we communicated. So we texted and did phone or video calls a ton, but once in a while I would send a letter, or you would have a particularly funny Snapchat video, or things like that.

How do you think it changed our relationship?

Parker: It’s almost impossible to answer, because we don’t have a frame of reference. In high school we were friends but we weren’t dating, so how it changed our relationship exactly is hard to say, because we don’t know what it would have been like if we hadn’t had to do long-distance. Long-distance made us learn each other very well, because we had to figure out how to sustain a relationship for 4.5 years, where all we would have were brief periods of time together. So we learned a lot about each other because we would talk a ton, and come up with little games to keep our talks fresh or interesting, so it wasn’t the same thing over and over of “How was your day? How was your day?” I do think it made our relationship a lot stronger in the sense of if we can make it through rough patches where we weren’t even near each other, then it made us more confident that we could sustain a relationship when we were actually together.

Rachal: I agree. I think it really forged and strengthened not only our communication, but our commitment. Because if we weren’t sure about this whole thing, then it would not be worth putting in the amount of effort that we did. And like I mentioned before, it made it easier to value our time and each other, because it was not only rare, but something that had to be worked harder for. I have no idea what it would have been like if we had started dating not long-distance, but despite the challenges, I’m very grateful for the way things have turned out.

What did the distance cost us?

Rachal: I’ll go first on this one. The first thing it cost us is time, which is a funny thing to say because we didn’t get to spend as much time together as would have been nice, but it was a lot of time planning or working to set aside specific windows for us to talk, so the combination of time and effort were significant. I think it also cost us a little bit of the spontaneity that’s fun, especially at the beginning of a relationship, because we had to plan, and you couldn’t just swing by my dorm room and say let’s go get pizza.

Parker: I agree. The only other thing that I’d add is that it cost us flexibility. We did have to be a bit flexible with how and when we talked, how long, and things like that — especially given college and the fluctuation in our workloads. But it did cost some inflexibility in our overall lives. We made an effort to have a phone call at minimum every single day, and at least once a week longer talks. So if friends wanted to go out and do something and we had scheduled time to talk, we’d sometimes have to say no because that was important to our relationship. But then also on breaks and holidays, it led to some inflexibility with schedules because we chose to prioritize our time together. We had to balance spending time with each other, and family, and friends we hadn’t seen in a long time, which led to some conflicts and difficulties. Time windows being so limited as far as what we could spend together made it difficult.

How did you go about balancing the priorities of our relationship vs. being independent, and how did distance play into that?

Parker: Not to sound like a broken record, but it does come back to the constant communication. We would talk about what was going on that night, if there was something we knew we wanted to do, and not only making sure the other person was aware, but we had a good system of making sure the other person was okay with it. If needed, we would make up for that time somewhere else. Then there were some set things, like on Friday nights when I would go hang out with friends and play video games and eat pizza, and we would be okay with a short phone call that day — especially if you also made your plans for that day. We were very deliberate in terms of not wanting to limit each other; we want each other to have our own lives and our own friends, but also devote the proper time to our relationships. And we were in near constant communication to try and achieve that balance to the best of our ability — we weren’t always perfect.

Rachal: Yeah, this is the part of our relationship where I feel like we have been really flexible. We both want the other person to have a social life apart from our relationship, so we made sure that we each got take time to spend with friends or even on our own while still maintaining our relationship as a priority.

How did our relationship change when we had stretches where we weren’t far away?

Parker: Scheduling became a lot more stressful because we really wanted to maximize our time together, but also had to balance friends, family, other stuff with spending time with each other. Sometimes life throws a curve ball and it would really eat away at our time, or one of us would have a certain expectation of how much time we would have, and significantly less than what we were anticipating would cause some tension and some stress between us. That’s the negative side of things. But for the positive, obviously we would get to be together. We could try new restaurants and make recipes we really like, and really focus on each other and enjoy each other’s company, laughs, smiles. Again, because the time was so valuable and so limited, we both loved spending every minute we could with each other.

Rachal: Yeah, it really depended on the stretch in my opinion. When we didn’t have a lot of other commitments, it was awesome because we actually got to be near each other and do all the things you mentioned. But when there were a bunch of other things we were also trying to do, or circumstances became challenging, then it could definitely be pretty stressful at times. But like you mentioned earlier, it was also easier to work through those tensions when we were in person.

What are your top three pieces of advice for people managing a long-distance relationship (romantic or otherwise)?

Parker: The biggest one, which feeds into everything else, would be to just work extremely hard on your communication. Don’t be afraid to ask almost oddly direct questions to your partner, because it’s more important to figure out what works and what doesn’t and why than it is to avoid asking a slightly awkward question. It makes everything easier if you’re both very clear and aware on what your position is and what your expectations are. Another, as much as it does have its drawbacks, is scheduling things out in advance. When we knew we were going to have time at home together, we’d plan what days we were going to hang out and what movies we’d watch, because even the planning process was fun for us. Of course, leaving some room for spontaneity can be fun as well. Lastly, just both people making the effort. Obviously, we all have bad days where we’re exhausted or overworked, or generally feeling off or cranky. But making the effort not to let those things seep into your relationship, and trying to do something special over the distance occasionally — whether it’s an extra long goodnight text or sending a letter or when they come to visit making a little surprise care package. Small things that are thoughtful can be really helpful. Even not letting yourself get bitter or going to bed angry with the other person; you and I used to have some pretty late talks to make sure we were okay with where things were at after a rough conversation or a rough night.

Rachal: Number one: COMMUNICATE. Please. Clearly. Ask obvious or weirdly direct questions, because the distance makes picking up on nuance more difficult, and there’s a smaller grace area for not communicating clearly. Second, just talk a lot. Be thoughtful and make the other person feel like a priority, even if that means more effort or time than would necessarily be convenient. It’s always worth it to make someone you care about feel valued. Last, I would say really make sure that effort and contributions feel equitable. Particularly with distance, it can be easy for that to start to feel out of whack, and few things damage a relationship quite the same.

I know that was quite a long post, but I hope that was informative or helpful in some way! Distance is a big hurdle in any type of relationship, and one that emerging adults often deal with to a greater degree than other age groups. A huge thanks to my boyfriend for contributing — and for dealing with me for all these years, even with all the miles often between us. What advice have you found most helpful for surviving long-distance relationships? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up!

(Photo credit goes to the ever-wonderful Megan T.)