Recently, I moved to Barre, Massachusetts for a dream fellowship at the Insight Meditation Society (IMS). I’m blessed to have the support of everyone in my life to be here, including my girlfriend Kate. Friends regularly ask me with some concern: “How does that work with Kate?” It’s a fair question. A long-distance relationship is hard work.
Kate and I have been dating for over four years. We had been living together in Washington D.C. for over two years when, last November, I moved four hundred miles away to the woods of central Massachusetts. Our relationship has never been stronger. People often seem skeptical when I say this, and I can understand why. But when I tell people some of the practices that help keep our relationship strong, their reservations are put to rest. Our friends have begun taking the practices into their own lives and relationships (romantic and otherwise), to great effect.
I have a tendency to oversell things, so before sharing these practices I’ll offer Kate’s take on them (she’s much more grounded): “The word I’d apply to all of our practices is thoughtfulness. We work hard to be thoughtful toward each other, toward ourselves, and toward the relationship as a whole.”
This is the first in a series of blog posts that introduces those practices. May they be of benefit.
Love Letter Diary
In previous long-distance relationships, I’d struggled to find the balance between engagement with my partner and fully living life where I was. Too much time on the phone felt like an obligation, but if we weren’t in touch, we’d start to drift apart. The love letter diary is a happy medium, allowing us to remain connected while fully being present for our lives where we are.
A couple years ago, I turned thirty a few days before leaving for a six-week silent retreat at IMS. As a birthday present, Kate gave me a blue journal with the words “love letter diary” hand-sewn on the cover. Every day while I was on retreat, she said, she would write one hundred words (or fewer) about her day.
When I returned home six weeks later, we read the diary together. It took many nights to read through forty-two days of entries, and discuss each one. I was deeply moved as I bore witness to the joys and sorrows coursing through her life while I was away (and the silly drawings were amazing). The practice of reading the journal together was a powerful way to make space for the reality that the lives of our loved ones go on even when we’re not around.
Since that retreat, when either of us would go away for a while, the other would keep the diary. Since I’ve moved to Massachusetts, we’ve emailed an entry to each other every night (save the few nights a week that we talk on the phone).
We’ve found that this practice supports:
- Accountability: knowing that I’ll be reporting on my day makes me more discerning about the decisions I make.
- Recognition: Each of us offering and receiving what feels most important is a way to meaningfully stay in touch.
- Playfulness: Writing every day inspires us to keep our communication fresh and fun.
- Editing Skills: One hundred words are not a lot. (This blog post is well over 500.)