Love In Lines, Relationships

[Love In Lines] “What Do You Guys Talk About?” – Denise Li


That’s the question most people ask me when they find out that I Skype with Alain every night. I don’t know how to start answering the question so I just end up saying, with what I’m sure is a bemused expression on my face, “Erm, everything?”

The thing I don’t get is why people seem to think Skype convos are any different from the ones they have with their other halves in real life. Could it be that, thanks to smartphones, the art of real-life conversation has been lost forever? Maybe being physically together, but only mentally there half the time (the other half of the time being dedicated to OTHER conversations on Whatsapp or watching YouTube) is the new normal, which is why a fully-engaged conversation for a sustained period of time seems rather odd in this day and age?

I guess the idea of being on the “phone” for an hour or two at a stretch seems rather archaic. As much as I love my friends, I can no longer imagine calling them out of the blue for a heart-to-heart as I used to do back in secondary school. Similarly, I would be extremely alarmed if I were to get a call (rather than text or Whatsapp message) from a friend out of the blue; I’d most likely think it was an emergency or that they were in urgent need of help (or maybe they just want someone to give them directions to get someplace).

But the truth is, I look forward to talking to Alain each and every night. No matter how shitty my day gets, that Skype call is the thing I can count on to be the highlight of my day.

So what do we talk about? Like I said, everything. We’d update each other on what went on in our lives, we seek counsel with each other if we’re facing a tough decision or dilemmas, we talk about fighting and sport, we engage in a debate about politics or the state of the world.

While our current long-distance situation is far from ideal, our Skype conversations go a long way in strengthening our relationship, not just because of the constant contact, but because, through many of our conversations – both trivial and serious – we reaffirm our worldviews and values. As an example, both of us have recently talked about going partly-vegetarian, as we’ve watched a series of documentaries about the cruel treatment of animals in the meat industry, so we’d talk about what we ate for the day, the difficulties we faced.

I know. It all sounds pretty mundane. But this is the only way to know how to grow – not just as individuals, but also as a couple.

Being Friends Is Just As Important As Being Lovers

I have a pretty short attention span where most other sorts of social interactions are concerned. I shy away from small talk as I find it mind-numbing. When I’m with a group of people and they’re talking about things that don’t interest me, I tune out. (According to this HuffPost article, they are all telling signs that I am an introvert.) But when I talk to Alain, I find myself being more engaged, responsive, excitable and chatty. Talking to him requires no effort at all and, to me, that’s a sign that we’re not just partners in a relationship – we’re also best buds.

And I think you really need that sort of connection to make it in a long-distance relationship. Above and beyond that spark and passion that lovers have, your partner must also be a friend. If not your best friend, at least one of your very good ones. People always talk about “putting in effort” to maintain an LDR, but if you’re friends with your partner, I assure you, the effort will be diminished by half. Because, really, what could be easier than catching up with an old friend?

Anyway, while we’re on the topic of Skype convos, I might as well answer all other questions you might have about maintaining a relationship over Skype.

Do you dress up to Skype with him?

I met this man as we trained in the same muay thai gym. When you meet a guy looking your worst – red-faced, sweaty, hair plastered to your scalp, wearing a pair of satin shorts – you set the bar pretty low. I do finger-comb my hair though.

What if you guys run out of things to say?

It’s rare, but it does happen. But they are comfortable silences so it’s not that weird. But most of the time, we’d just send each other YouTube links to funny videos or movies we want to watch together. I’d make him watch it and wait, just to see his reaction.

Do you guys …

No. Please don’t ask me that again.

About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys boxing, running and the occasional yoga session. It’s suddenly occurred to her that there aren’t many Hollywood movies about LDRs and wonders why this is the case. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets.

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Love In Lines, Relationships

[Love In Lines] How To Maintain Your Sanity In An LDR – Denise Li

If you come across an article about long-distance relationships, it’s most likely to be about how to keep the flames of passion burning and lines of communication open. I too have written a number of pieces on the topic and those are undoubtedly important things. Otherwise, seriously, what’s the point?

But what should you do with yourself during the hours when you aren’t Skype-ing with your beloved, aren’t working, aren’t watching TV or engaging in some similarly distracting activity? Those are the hours in which the despair, frustration, and loneliness are bound to creep in.

During the times you aren’t interacting with your partner, a long-distance relationship can feel like a lot like being single – only with all of its pitfalls (periods of feeling lonely) and none of its perks (going on casual dates).

I found myself in such a sinkhole just last week. I work from home, and it was pretty quiet on the work front. When I was done with everything I needed to do for the day, I was left with all this time left on my hands. I tried filling the hours by sending out more emails, trying to get in the zone to think of ways to get the business to run better. But with everything on my to-do list crossed out, I was at a complete loss, and my mind started to wander to Alain. I started missing him, terribly, and the feeling was one of deep despair because I still don’t know when I’m going to see him again. I don’t know when I’m going to start making enough money to buy a plane ticket to Europe. I don’t know how we are going to be together in the long term.

It was a despair mixed with a kind of hopeless frustration. And it was paralyzing. For a few days, I lost the energy to just … do stuff. When I woke up, all I wanted to do was crawl back into bed and not have to think about facing another day without him. Everything started to feel like a drag and a chore, even the things I used to love doing.

That went on for a few days until some kind of survival instinct kicked in. This was not the first time in my life I felt crippled by my emotions so I knew, somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain, that I was completely capable of pulling myself out this funk.

But I knew I couldn’t do it without a little help from my friends. As a pretty emotionally self-reliant person, it felt quite embarrassing having to tell people (even my closest friends) that I needed their help to get me out of my rut. But once I did, I found myself surprised at how my nearest and dearest rallied together to help me. My best friend told me to call her up anytime – even though we hadn’t had a phone conversation in years. Yet another friend texted me to tell me we should meet for afternoon tea after seeing one of my emo (and drunkenly posted) Facebook statuses.

And that’s when I realised what was step one of maintaining your sanity in a long-distance relationship: Don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

Those social interactions helped me come out of my shell, and it just got easier from there. Early this week, I got over my inertia enough to sign up to train at a new martial arts gym. I love the training sessions there, and it is something I look forward to doing every day. When I train, I feel engaged, alive and have a newfound sense of purpose.

And step two of surviving a long-distance relationship: Invest in yourself.

When you are fully engaged in an activity you love doing, you will naturally feel more enriched and somehow more “complete”. This has loads of benefits. not just for you, but also for your relationship.

See, the thing about being in a long-distance relationship is that you shouldn’t stop growing and improving as a person even though your partner isn’t around. Once you let yourself stagnate, your relationship – whether or not it’s a long-distance one – will follow suit. The healthiest relationships are the ones where two individuals always strive and support each other to become the best versions of themselves. I may have been miserable because I miss Alain so much, but I know (and he has told me so) that he always wants for me to be happy and thriving, regardless of whether he’s around.  And I want exactly the same for him.

Of course, our end goal is to eventually be together. But in the meantime, despite how it may be depicted in Hollywood movies, not everything has to come to a standstill just because we cannot be with each other at the present moment. As individuals, we just have to keep moving forward. It’s the best chance we’ve got at a breakthrough.


About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys boxing, running and the occasional yoga session. She stays away from sappy romance movies for the sake of her sanity. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets.

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Love In Lines, Relationships

[Love In Lines] How To Survive a Long-Distance Relationship – Denise Li


You know those annoying people on Facebook who only use pictures taken with their other halves as profile pics, post puke-inducing mushy status updates and leave lovey-dovey messages on their partner’s Wall for all and sundry to see?

My fiance Alain and I are one of those couples.

But given that we only ever see each other every few months or so, I think we’re entitled to a free pass. We’ve been in a long-distance relationship for more than three years now and despite our best efforts, we haven’t been able to live in the same country for more than six months. When I tell people this, I’m usually met with these responses: “I can’t imagine doing it” or “I’ve done it before but it didn’t work out” or “I’ll never choose to be in a long-distance relationship”.

I can understand the incredulity. Before I met Alain, I also told myself that I never want to be in an LDR. I mean, seriously, aren’t relationships hard enough as they are when you live in the same timezone?

There is one and only one reason that you should ever be in a long-distance relationship, and that’s when every fibre of your being tells you that you need to be with this person. I could come up with a whole string of cliches about needing him like you need oxygen, etc, but you get the drift.

Alain and I did not fall in love at first sight. But we did fall in love at first encounter; our connection was pretty much instant and it became clearer to me over the next few days that we spent together. Having had my fair share of lousy dating encounters, I knew I was onto something special and so did he.

I believe a long-distance relationship can work only when both parties have that unshakeable certainty that it will. It’s that certainty that will encourage the effort of waking up early and staying up extra late to Skype; of taking the time to tell each other and find out about what happened in each other’s day; of making the extra effort to maintain emotional intimacy over a fuzzy screen when you just can’t do it in person.

Of course, it’s not all roses and sunshine, so when we fight on Skype (a rarer occurrence these days, thank goodness), we need to really talk it out and make sure there is no residual resentment. After all, it’s not like we can give a concluding cuddle to the argument.

In spite of the distance, the bond Alain and I share is much stronger than the one I shared with my ex in my previous long-term, same-country relationship. In the final year of my last relationship, I barely saw or talked to my ex more than a couple of times a week. It didn’t even cross my mind to text or call him when I travelled on my own for my three months (the death knell of a relationship that had been dying a slow death for years). Alain and I, on the other hand, do our best to talk every day, even if it’s just for five or 10 minutes when we both have to work.

The success of a long-distance relationship is really dependent on that old nugget for any relationship to work: communication. The distance works as a constant reminder of how truly and fundamentally important it is so we make more of an effort to maintain it instead of taking it for granted.

Of course, you’ll only be inclined to put in so much to make it work if it’s worth your time and effort in the first place, which is why now, whenever friends ask me how to make a long-distance relationship work, I answer the question with a question: “How sure are you that you want to be with this person?” Anything less than 100 percent is simply not worth the emotional investment.


About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys boxing, running and the occasional yoga session. Lastly, she believes that everyone should make it a point to travel solo at least once in their lives. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets

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