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For the long haul

One set of parents reached a milestone anniversary this week, and after sheltering in place with my husband for more than 2 months, it seemed like time for a relationship post. I am of course not an expert in anyone’s relationship but my own, so take all advice with the appropriate grain of salt, but we have been together almost 7 years and I’ve been fortunate to observe successful relationships that have lasted even longer.

Invest in the other person’s interests. I am not a video games person, but can keep up in conversation about way more games than I would ever be willing to play because I talk to my significant other about their interests, and actually listen and ask questions. If it’s a hobby you’re not interested in doing, it still means a lot that you listen and engage when they want to talk about it or show you something. And this can extend beyond conversation as well. For example, I’ve found a couple of video games that I like, so sometimes we’ll just sit next to each other and talk while we each play our own game. Jump into a TV show the other person enjoys, find a sport you can play together, get super into puzzles. Whatever floats your boat together!

Keep your own interests, and set aside time to not be together. I don’t love guitar the way my spouse does, and he isn’t super into crocheting like I am. We make time most days to do things that we individually want to do and make an effort to make room for each person to have individual plans. This is especially important with friends! It’s awesome if you have a lot of mutual friends, but it’s important that you each have friends you can hang out with without your significant other. Be consistent with other people in your life too.

Find ways to surprise each other. We’ve been together for almost 7 years, and friends for almost a decade, so often it feels like we know almost everything there is to know about the other. But to his credit, this guy still manages to surprise me. The best part is that surprises don’t have to be big to be special; getting off work a little early or picking up a treat they love at the grocery store can be super meaningful simply because it reflects that you’re thinking about each other and wanting to put in effort to show that you care.

Learn how to be mad, and how to make up. Quarantine is challenging even for folks who get along great, and some tension is both inevitable and — depending on how you respond to it — healthy. Like most people, we’ve had a few spats when cooped up in the house for long stretches, and then we talk it through and figure out how to do better next time. I cannot stress how important it has been for us to articulate why we’re upset and how we feel without picking a fight or going after the other person. It doesn’t make conflict magically go away, it just means we can take down our defenses for long enough to work out a solution together. And then when we figure out what we can do better in the future, actually detailing how we intend to do that helps us stick to the plan instead of falling back into the same cycle.

Be affectionate! It’s great when folks in long-term relationships are super comfortable and don’t need to be touchy-feely all the time (especially if you’re around other people), but super simple stuff like holding hands or a smile from across the room can make things feel so much sweeter. It helps the other person feel seen and loved, and especially in a time when a bunch of us are isolated, positive* physical touch is really beneficial for our emotional and mental health.

If you think something nice about the other person, say it. This seems silly, but can make a big difference. If you catch yourself thinking something complimentary, tell them that instead of tucking it away. As well as you might know each other, no one is a mind reader. Out-of-the-blue compliments can make someone’s day, which is obviously even better when it’s someone you care about.

For more relationships info, check out this post on relationships or this post on being long distance. Obviously nothing I covered here is fully comprehensive, but I hope there was something you found helpful. And if you’re not in a romantic relationship, honestly most of this applies to friendships too!

Anything I missed? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup. Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

 

* Positive physical touch meaning touch that is wanted in that moment, welcome, and pleasant rather than painful. Consent is obviously important, but also good to remember that giving your partner a tight hug if they’ve got an injury might not be the way to go.

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How to survive building IKEA furniture

A rite of passage in emerging adulthood is the relationship (and independence) test of building IKEA furniture. Or navigating an unfamiliar city, or otherwise following directions and figuring stuff out. Over the weekend, my fiancé and I went to IKEA. As much fun as it is to wander the aisles, the critical part comes a ways after when you actually have to assemble the dang things.

The upside is that I both like, and am good at, building things. Like I have two fully stocked toolboxes and really miss high school woodshop. But one person being good at something does not make it a successful team effort. I’m really grateful that my fiancé and I don’t have a difficult time trusting each other and working together on a project like that, but we found it funny how many people joked (or half-joked) about the struggle of not only assembling IKEA furniture but doing it with their partner.

Here’s the thing. Being able to interpret and follow directions is a really crucial skill, and one that should be developed long before adulthood. But some people seem to let those skills slide as soon as the stakes get raised a little — even if that’s only building a bookcase or finding their way around a new place.

When I went to Europe last fall, I hadn’t been to any of the cities we visited before. My fiancé had, but it had been years. Neither of us is bad with directions, but we still get turned around now and then. But rather than freaking out over any possible wrong step or something taking longer than anticipated, we reasoned through it, listened to each other’s input, and didn’t put too much pressure on it. Sure, we accidentally took a couple of scenic routes in those cities, and I had to go back and fix how I installed a hinge on a piece of furniture this weekend when I thought I was nearly done.

The lesson here is simple, and applies to independence as well as teamwork. Be informed, think it through, and don’t take it too seriously — most mistakes can be fixed, and even if they can’t they can be laughed at and learned from. If you’re working with them, be sure to communicate a little extra, and extend a little grace to yourself and them.

I wish I was better at applying the lesson in other areas of my life, but for now at least I know I can build furniture. Comments? Questions? Sage life advice? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

 

P.S. Pro tip for building IKEA furniture: Have a few sizes of Philips and flathead screwdrivers, plus a hammer or small mallet before you start building. Read the instructions as carefully as possible before completing a step, and keep checking for that things look the way they’re supposed to along the way.

P.P.S. Pro tip for navigating new cities: PopOut Maps are seriously my best friend. They’re super useful with a couple of different views for each city, but small enough that you can 1) take them with you, and 2) use them without looking like a ridiculous tourist.

(Photo is a free stock photo because the aesthetic is nicer than random pieces of IKEA particle board.)

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Rejection happens

We’ve all experienced it, likely in a few forms. Whether it was school applications, job applications or interviews, a dating prospect, a leadership position, or something else entirely. You can’t win ‘em all. The trick is learning how to take the L.

I’ll be the first to confess that I’m not awesome with rejection. I got in to the (very few, not moonshot) colleges I applied to, but rejected for most of the scholarships. I got snubbed a few times by guys I was into. I applied for 61 jobs before getting hired at my current position. Knowing that it’s normal doesn’t make it suck any less.

Of course, the more invested someone is in something, the more rejection stings, and I tend to be the kind of person who invests pretty heavily in things that are important to me. Still, I’ve gotten better with it in my emerging adult years, and have found a few tricks that help:

Manage expectations. This is not me saying to be a pessimist, or insist that it won’t happen to try and protect yourself from possible rejection. But it can be helpful to remind yourself that it may not work out. If possible, especially with things like college/grad school and job applications, you can do a little research regarding response and acceptance rates to inform what your odds of success might be. (That being said, if doing that only freaks you out, don’t do it.)

Diversify. Or don’t put all your eggs in one basket, or whatever other pithy sound byte you want to use there. The point is that it is very, very rarely a good idea to put all you’ve got in terms of resources into one chance. By all means, put in all your effort, but don’t call in all your favors or put all your hope in the one thing if you know there’s a significant chance of it not working out.

It usually isn’t personal. Sometimes people are mean, and really do make rejection personal and unnecessarily hurtful. But usually, they’re just saying they don’t think what you’re looking for is the right fit, whether that’s a job possibility, date, or submission for publication. And even if it felt personal, there is zero excuse for you to be a jerk or take the loss out on someone, whether they were involved or not.

If you see a pattern, there might be a problem. The problem could be on your end or the other party’s, but if rejection persists and repeatedly doesn’t make sense, it might be time to re-examine. Maybe you need to change your approach or figure out what thing they’re looking for that you might not have. Maybe the timing is wrong. Though I would caution to never jump to this as a first conclusion, it’s also worth being aware that some level of discrimination may be a factor. Unfortunately, there are always hurdles, but figuring out what they are is the first part of getting past them.

It’s not the end. It might be the end of that opportunity, but you might get another shot at it later on. Even if you don’t, there are other opportunities out there. There are a thousand and one success stories that were preceded by piles of rejection. It might take a lot of tries, but it only has to work once.

What are your tips for handling rejection? 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 it’s a weird thing to visualize.)

Better together

I don’t usually talk a lot about romantic relationships on here because every person and every couple is different, and a lot of advice isn’t one-size-fits-all. But as my fiancé and I are planning our wedding, and as a lot of friends and acquaintances are in relationships, engaged, or married, it seemed time to talk about the topic a bit more.

Let’s start with the most important thing: You are under absolutely no obligation to be in a relationship at all, or to remain in an unhealthy one. Your personal health and well-being are way more important than societal pressures. No matter what anyone tells you, if you don’t want to be in a romantic relationship you don’t have to be. Period. If you’re in a relationship and it isn’t healthy, get out.* Period.

But healthy romantic relationships are a common thing to want, and something a lot of us spend most of our lives working toward. Oh look, there’s the first piece of advice! It’s a process, and not something that will ever be fully accomplished. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Before you get into a relationship

  • Ask yourself why you want to be in one. Do you want it because everyone else is in a relationship, because you think it would be good for you, or because you really care about and have feelings for each other? (Hint: Only the last one is a thumbs up.)
  • Ask if this is healthy/logical for the stage you’re at in life. If you’re traveling for months at a time for work or often away from modern methods of communication, it just might not be the right time. If you know you don’t have the time and energy to invest in building a strong relationship, it might be better to save yourself and the other person the hurt.
  • Ask yourself if there’s anything holding you back. Are you still dealing with stuff in other parts of your personal life? Is there a circumstance that’s affecting things? Are you just nervous? Depending on what’s holding you back, determine whether it’s something to push through or to pause for.
  • Make sure you’re friends with the person. Attraction is cool, but it will not sustain a relationship. This is someone you’re looking at spending a lot of time with, and should want to get to know even better. (Side note that if you don’t know this person at all maybe take things slow and just be friends for a bit first.)

Before committing to a long-term relationship

  • Ask if you make each other better people. It doesn’t have to be in every single aspect (when my fiancé and I were in college, our long conversations wrecked my sleep schedule and it never fully recovered). But it does have to be in the areas that matter. Do you help each other be more patient, kind, understanding, thoughtful, forthright, compassionate, persevering?
  • Give it time. This is so important. Ultimately, you gotta do what’s right for both of you and your relationship. But if you haven’t known the person and/or been in the relationship very long, I’d usually advise against making any sort of long-term or lifelong commitments. (The younger you are, the longer it’s usually better to wait.)
  • Go through changes. This is the biggest reason giving it time is important. You’re both going to change over time because human beings aren’t static, nor are our circumstances. See how you both (and your relationship) respond to change, and whether the relationship has strengthened or you’ve grown apart. Life is only going to bring more changes, and it’s so, so important to make sure you’re ready to face them together.
  • Take a trip together. Especially if you’re someone who wants to travel, I can’t understate the importance of this. Take a road trip, a flight, whatever. But see how you both handle stress, small spaces, and being around each other almost constantly for at least a few days.
  • See how you handle being apart. I’m not suggesting everyone do long-distance (because honestly it sucks), but you should make sure that you can both handle being apart/talking less for several days or even a couple weeks, because co-dependency often carries a plethora of issues.
  • Find out what things they do that bother you, and how you react, and vice versa. Everybody has little habits that aren’t your preference, from the way they load the dishwasher to dog-earing book pages instead of using a bookmark. If they’re minor, they’re likely things to figure out how to accommodate. If they really bother you (or your significant other), then have a conversation and see if you can come up with a solution you’re both happy with. If they’re big things, ask yourself whether they affect your commitment to the relationship and handle accordingly. But if you or your significant other jumps to overreacting or lashing out over small things, it’s time to at least reassess that reaction in light of everyone’s well-being, and possibly reassess the relationship.
  • Love languages. It’s not a complete measure of a person, nor a full understanding of personality. But knowing how each of you gives and receives love best can minimize misunderstandings and make it easier to meet your significant other where they’re at in a way that’s meaningful to them.
  • Make sure you’re best friends with the person. I don’t believe that your significant other should be your only best friend; that seems unhealthy more often than not. But before you commit to spending your life with them, make sure they’re someone you really love hanging out with.

General

  • The work’s never done. Healthy relationships can be amazing. I am grateful beyond words for my fiancé, but that doesn’t mean we don’t encounter challenges. A healthy relationship shouldn’t feel like constant work, but it will require effort. And as you each change and grow (and your relationship does), adjusting to those changes will require efforts to shift as well.
  • Outside help is always okay. Reading a book or seeing a counselor to improve your relationship is absolutely never anything to be embarrassed about — but it should be something you’re on the same page about trying before you sign up.
  • That being said, don’t air all the dirty laundry. You don’t need to share every single detail of your relationship with friends or family. It’s still your guys’ business, and there are other aspects of your life you can talk about with loved ones.
  • Give yourselves time alone. Not all of my plans or interests involve my significant other. Nor should they. He is absolutely my favorite person to spend time with, but we’re very intentional to set aside time that isn’t with the other person, whether we’re with other friends or alone.
  • Communicate. I was an Interpersonal Communication major in college, and even with everything I learned, this is an area that constantly requires attention. Talk about how you talk to each other, through what methods, and how often. Talk about your days and your dreams for the future. Talk about silly things and important things. Talk about nothing. Get comfortable with silence. Talk in a way that gives each other space and respects their personhood. Talk about what’s bothering you, and what could be done better next time. Talk about your feelings. Talk about all of it.

What are some of the best things you’ve learned about romantic relationships? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

 

*Some unhealthy relationships may feel too dangerous or risky to get out of. Please, please don’t let yourself remain stuck. Reach out to resources like The National Domestic Violence Hotline (phone number is 1-800-799-7233) or Womenshealth.gov.

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!

In each other we trust (maybe)

Trust is a weird thing. A lot of us aren’t good at it. I’ll be honest enough to say that though I try to be open-minded and think the best of people, the list of folks I trust implicitly is pretty small. In a simultaneously polarized and crowded age, we’re wary of our trust being betrayed. It’s happened at some point or another to most of us, and it’s a horrible feeling. But if we don’t trust we miss out on opportunities, relationships, and even feelings of fulfillment or happy moments.

I’ll go out on a bit of a limb here and say that trust is one of the most important things we still have to learn as an adult. We have to learn to find the balance of trusting while still being reasonably cautious, and it’s not something we just learn once. We have to learn it over again with every person we interact with. When we get it wrong, it can be incredibly painful. But when we get it right, it’s beautiful.

The people I trust most are not only there when I need them, but know that I’m here when they need someone. We may fight now and then, but making up is easier because we know how much we care about one another. We can be our genuine selves with each other, and don’t have to put up fronts. We can rely on each other to keep our word, and we value each other’s opinions even more because of that trust.

Only by trusting each other will we be able to collectively learn and grow. Mind you, I’m not saying you should just go out and put your wholehearted trust in any rando you come across. That’s definitely not safe. It’s also worth saying that having levels of trust is a very, very good thing. How much you trust a stranger on the sidewalk should be different from how much you trust an acquaintance, which should be different from how much you trust a close friend or family member. Having boundaries doesn’t make the trust itself any less valuable. Small extensions of trust — small risks — can help us not only forge new relationships but improve existing ones.

Maybe being more trusting means being open with someone close to you, even when you’d rather not. Maybe it means letting your friend pick the restaurant this time. Maybe it means trusting that putting up a boundary is the healthiest thing, because sometimes trust has to be earned. Maybe it means delegating tasks at work, or asking for input. Maybe it means trusting yourself.

So on this fine Wednesday morning, let’s appreciate trust among the people we’re close to, and even start extending it a little at a time. In what ways has trust helped you? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

We should hang out soon

We’ve all said that one a lot and then never actually made plans. It’s normal. We’re busy. As an adult you no longer have the confines of school to encourage and facilitate social interaction. But it can be a bummer when we really do want to make plans with friends and it just doesn’t seem to happen.

This has been a particularly striking topic for me lately, mostly because I don’t have many friends in the area I’m living. I have roommates (who thankfully are also friends) and like one other friend. Three other old friends live back near my family, a couple of hours away, a few friends live in other parts of the state, and a lot of friends live in different states or even countries. It makes casual hangouts kind of hard.

That being said, carving out time to spend with friends is super important, and something I’ve been trying not to let slide. I got to see some friends from college a couple of weeks ago, which reminded me how much I missed being able to take trips and do things with a group of friends. And a couple days ago, an annual trip with a different group of friends got booked for later this summer, which I’m super excited about.

So what’s the trick to making plans with friends actually come together amidst busy and often very separate adult lives? The bad news is there isn’t one answer. But these are some of the things I’ve found most helpful:

  • Group texts – Yeah, yeah, I know how annoying they can get. But they also keep us together, even if it’s just through sending memes
  • Social media – I know we can’t always hang out, but I do like seeing what you’re up to (at reasonable levels of posting)
  • FaceTime/Skype – Y’all, Google Hangouts are how my boyfriend and I made long distance work through 4 years of college. Now, I try to FaceTime friends on occasion so we have a chance to catch up even if it isn’t in person
  • Meeting in the middle – Maybe a friend lives just a little too far to be a convenient quick trip, but you can always meet partway and spend some time together
  • Offering food – If I’m inviting friends over to my place, I always sweeten the deal with food. We usually cook together, which gives us something to do, and then it’s a meal they don’t have to otherwise worry about
  • Reunion trips – That’s the one I’ve got coming up this summer. It will be our sixth year doing the same trip, and every time is different but it’s always a perfect chance to hang out and relax, especially since we don’t get to see each other super often anymore
  • Find an excuse – Maybe it’s someone’s birthday or something bigger like a wedding, but creating an additional reason to get together can help keep plans from falling through quite so easily
  • When you say, “let’s hang out,” ACTUALLY MAKING PLANS – This is the one that I’m worst at. If we do not make plans right then and there, I will probably forget and we will probably not hang out anytime soon. So let’s set something up

What are your favorite ways to make sure you spend time with friends? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

International Women’s Day

I had a post all prepped for today, but upon remembering that tomorrow is International Women’s Day, knew that was what I had to talk about. Though it’s been observed by some since the early 1900s, technology and social movements have boosted its prominence in recent years.

Women are an amazing, impressive, phenomenal part of humanity. I actually wish we didn’t need a special day to recognize those qualities, or to acknowledge the challenges that so many women face every day. But sometimes the reminder is helpful.

I am grateful beyond words for all of the amazing women in my life, and everyone who supports them. I have a sister, two moms, best friends who might as well be sisters, cousins, aunts, grandmothers, and peers who have shown me how resilient we can be, how tenacious, how compassionate. Who have shown me that a person can be both gentle and strong. Who have reminded me that opportunities are meant to be sought after — or created if need be. Who have picked me up and held my hand and stood by my side. Who have pushed me to be better. Who have taught me not to take crap from anybody. Who have chosen kindness and perseverance when it would have been so much easier to be less. Who go the extra mile because it’s the right thing to do.

Unfortunately, injustices still creep into a broken world. I refused to wear dresses for years when I was small because some boys had laughed at me and convinced me that being girly was a bad thing. I was 7 and outraged when I realized the Constitution and Declaration of Independence only said “all men” (and then horrified when I learned it didn’t even mean all men). As an adult, I try not to walk alone at night, don’t walk with headphones in, try not to have my hair in a ponytail when I go for a run. I have friends who are expected to cook, clean, and work for no other fact than that of being female. I have been in homes where women are not allowed to be equal shareholders. I have been in churches where women speaking was scandalous. I am saddened when the stories of women who changed the world were overlooked, and embarrassed that I didn’t go looking for them.

I don’t lament my experiences — but I don’t want my little sister, my young friends, or anyone in the generations to come to have to be told that they are lesser, to be threatened, to be put down, to be pushed aside, to be hurt senselessly. We still have work to do. It doesn’t matter who you are, you’re nothing less than wonderful. No one is perfect, of course. But you’ve got potential and worth and, I hope, ever-increasing opportunities.

None of us got here without remarkable women. If you are a woman, I hope you start to understand how remarkable you are. It took me until well into emerging adulthood to start valuing myself the way I should, and I cannot say thank you enough to the women and men who helped me do that. I hope we use this moment to appreciate the women in our lives for not just all they do, but all they are, and keep working toward a future that prioritizes equity and common humanity.

What is something the women in your life have taught you? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy International Women’s Day!

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.)

‘It bothers me when…’

This is one of the most Communication major, academic-sounding posts I will probably ever put up, but I cannot overstress its importance: “I statements.”

If you’re wondering what the heck that means, here’s the gist: I statements are a tool to address conflict and disagreements. Rather than saying “you drive me crazy” or “you aren’t listening to me,” which can be accusatory and further devolve the conversation, statements are reframed to express the speaker’s feelings. The quotes above become “I feel frustrated” and “I don’t feel listened to.” Doing this takes a step back from blame and shifts the focus.

Obviously there are two participants in this scenario: one to speak and one to respond. (Note: The roles aren’t static and a healthy conversation means taking turns in each role.) So person A, the speaker, needs to formulate statements that convey what’s troubling them without immediately throwing blame. This doesn’t mean avoiding mention of someone else’s action if that’s what’s bothering you. “I felt taken for granted when you didn’t ask my thoughts first.” Totally okay. “You should have asked me first — it’s like you take me for granted.” Not so much. The difference is that the first statement is a specific explanation of what struck a nerve; perhaps not easy to hear, but hardly accusatory. It’s also worth mentioning that sarcasm can ruin even the most well-formed I statements.

Of course, to communicate at all requires someone on the receiving end to hear and respond (at least per many interpretations of communication theory). So how does one respond to I statements? I’m going to be really blunt here: LISTEN. Acknowledge their feelings/that you hear them and either offer or ask for ways you can help. This might mean apologizing or simply noting for later.

For example, when bringing up an issue with my boyfriend I try to use phrases like “I would prefer if…” or “I feel like….” Of course, sometimes I screw up and just don’t use them. Even when I do, it doesn’t magically solve all our problems; but it does help us keep the right mindset when approaching them.

This tool can also be extrapolated beyond direct conflict situations as a way to express ourselves more constructively and be more mindful of others. I have a friend who told me a while back that they really don’t like the question “how are you?” because it carries a lot of baggage and expectation (“I’m good! You?”) while also being used so often that most of us don’t even really listen to the answer. Since then, I almost never ask that friend how they are. Instead, I’ll ask what made them smile today, or what’s going on in their life — when I have time to really listen — or any other interesting question I come up with. It’s more effort for me, but it helps my friend feel listened to and valued.

I realize all of this may sound overly PC or hypersensitive, but to be incredibly frank a big part of being an adult is learning to treat the people around you like people. People who are valued, and who are worth care and effort on our parts. Like taxes, this is not taught in school, or at least not well enough (even for Communication majors). But it is important, and it is helpful. A lot of the worst conflicts in my life would have been significantly less hurtful if we had properly implemented tools like I statements.

Of course, it cannot solve all problems, and if you are experiencing any form of abuse please safely remove yourself from the situation and/or reach out for help instead of trying to fix it. Your well-being is of the utmost importance, and I statements only work if both parties really do want to lessen the problem. Also remember that not all problems can be solved — even between loved ones — but they can always be handled with grace and compassion toward yourself and the other person.

I know that was a long post, but hopefully it proves helpful in your adulting journey alongside fellow humans. Let me know your thoughts in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. As always, thanks for reading and good luck adulting!