Distance can sometimes make it difficult to keep your partner an integral member of your social circles. Encouraging a good relationship between your partner and your friends/family is a big way to keep them from feeling disconnected from your life. (3/6. Link to intro and other parts here.)
Partner and Family
Making sure your family knows about your partner is the best first step. The demographic I’m likely writing for probably includes people in a similar situation to mine: Gay (maybe closeted) teen/young adult accidentally developing feelings for someone really far away. It’s easy to keep this entire relationship isolated and separate from your offline life. Some really important advice: don’t do that. The longer you don’t tell people about this budding online romance, the harder it will be to do so, and that isn’t fair to your partner or your family.
Getting Friends/Family on Board with Your LDR
This is a really hard step that Jas and I both struggled with greatly. And even though our families took it well, it still took us over a year to tell them. My advice here is to try not to wait that long, or if you do, to try to ease your family (and friends) into it.
I know older generations might not really grasp the concept of meeting people online or falling in love through digital spaces, and that can cause a lot of anxiety with telling your parents about your relationship. But they don’t need to know the whole story up front if it’s going to cause too many problems. Especially if you aren’t out yet.
Firstly, consider talking about this person who is important to you as a friend, get your parents familiar with the name, what you talk about, funny things they’ve said, etc. Give them some indication that this person is part of your life, that way when you spring the “I want to go to this part of the world where I don’t live,” they aren’t completely confused and have at least a 15% idea as to why you’d want to do that.
When Jas and I first started talking, I wasn’t out to anyone. In fact, my coming out and announcement of our relationship happened at the same time to all my close friends and family. However, I still talked to my family about Jas beforehand, about the things she’s told me about the UK, and showed them pictures of things she’d sent me. By the time I did come out and tell them we were dating, half of the family already knew. Obviously, not everyone’s case will be the same, and all families don’t have the same relationship. I just strongly encourage you to not keep your relationship isolated from your family and friends unless you absolutely have to.
Note: I also don’t think you owe it to your family/friends to be open and up front about your sexuality or LDR. Especially when it comes to the intersectionality of these two things. They are hard things to share because you don’t know how people will react. If you’re too scared to tell them in person, find a different way to tell them. I wrote my parents a coming-out-with-my-sexuality-and-LDR email while I was staying with Jas for two months.
Keep your family and partner in touch! Since Jas and I both live at home right now, it’s easy for us to let each other’s family members join in on Skype calls. Usually it’s our moms hopping in to say hi and catching up. In fact, that happens so much that my mom will complain if it’s been too long since she’s talked to Jas last. My brother occasionally talks with us too, not usually one to pass up on the opportunity to roast Jas for her picky eating, Britishness, or general existence (which we all usually end up laughing about).
Communicating with Family
Skype is certainly not the only way for your family and partner to communicate. Jas has most of my immediate family’s phone numbers to use when she wants, but it’s not like they talk to each other all the time. Sometimes Jas might send my sister memes, or my mom sends Jas a picture of something with an owl or Union Jack on it. Jas’ mum might DM me some British food on Instagram that’s sure to make me jealous. The main thing here is that we both make an effort to stay in touch with each other’s family, even when we aren’t with them.
It makes me feel really at ease knowing that her and my family get along, and that my parents consider her family too. It grounds our relationship in reality when our families are on board, and we’ve both been really grateful in that respect. Not every case will be like this, and that’s okay too. Your chosen family is just as (or even more) important.
Partner and Friends
As far as relationships go, it’s probably unlikely that your partner is going to suddenly be best friends with all your friends, and that’s okay. But you might want to start keeping track of who in your life is putting in the effort to get to know your LDR partner and who isn’t. It’s very telling when your partner is only in town for a month or two for the next two years and your “friend” cancels their plans to meet them. (Yes, this has happened with both Jas and myself.)
I’ve found keeping my friends and girlfriend in touch harder than it is with my family, likely because I don’t live with my friends, and I still have to make sure I stay in contact with them myself. (Hello isolation queen.) So, when I do see my friends, I don’t spend my time Skyping Jas just to say, “Say hi to my friends!” But I don’t let my habits with Jas stop just because I’m with my friends either. For example, I always call Jas during the 20-minute walk to her 5am shift (midnight my time), and I still do that even if I’m hanging out with friends to make sure she gets there safely. In that case, my friends might say hi and join in on the chat.
Jas also has means of contacting my closet friends on Whatsapp, which she does time to time, but less often than with my family. Again, it’s more likely they’d send memes to each other on social media. Even though the contact between my partner and my friends is pretty minimal, it still helps her seem more connected to my social circles and the people I see in person on a much more regular basis, which helps me feel better about being apart for so long.
Making Friends Together
This is actually a new and exciting thing for us. For the first 3 years of our relationship, Jas and I didn’t really have any of the same friends, for obvious reasons (location). Sure, when she was here my friends treated her like a friend and vice versa, but it’s not quite the same as having the same friends to hangout with. And finally, after nearly 4 years, we’ve made some friends together. Obviously, this is a lot easier said than done, but having the same friends really helps with staying connected and keeps us part of the same social circles when we’re apart.
So, how do you make friends when you live in different places? Social media. Jas and I have been active on social media for the duration of our relationship and found good friends through small fandoms. Personally, I love having friends who aren’t “borrowed” friends from Jas, but friends of us both. We have group chats on different platforms to tease each other with inside jokes on the daily. Just beware that making the same friends through social media can also sadly mean that you’ll be creating plenty of long-distance friends in the process, which can be sad sometimes too.
Note that making friends online can be pretty easy to do, but lots of these friends can be what I like to term “surface friends” in which they know a lot of details about you, but they don’t know what makes you tick. Jas and I have all types of friends through social media but really value the strong connections we build with others.
You can also make friends the old-fashioned way: at work and bonding over mental illnesses. (At least that worked for Jas.) We met our favorite double-date duo by kind of knowing them in person, but reaching out online, and it worked for us. This particular pair of cute idiots help me feel more at home with Jas, even when I’m away, because they still make sure I’m never excluded from their life updates or the latest dumb Brit joke.
There really is not too much in here that you can personally do to make sure your LDR can make it. But unfortunately, a lot of what makes it easier depends on the people around us, from our families who’ve welcomed the other in, and our friends who go out of their way to get to know our partner and keep us included. So, this post mostly just tries to answer the “How do you do it?” question by pointing out that it isn’t always us; sometimes it’s circumstance and surrounding yourself with the right people.
My only real advice when it comes to friends/family, is to not isolate your relationship. Show off your partner and let the people around you know just how important they are to you. If the people in your life love you, they will make the effort to make your partner feel welcome and loved too, but you might just have to give them a little time to do so. Try to be patience with them and with yourself.