By: Jenny Foughner

Doing the long-distance thing used to be mad difficult. Even as recently as the mid-20th century, women used to have to get pregnant just to have something to remind them of husbands who had gone off to fight the good fight overseas, while the menfolk were left with naught but faded photos and moonshine-soaked memories to remind them of the female companionship they so desperately craved. These days, trans-zip code lovin’ isn’t necessarily easy, but information superhighways (and real superhighways, for that matter) have made things – in theory – considerably less frustrating. There are, however, some rules of the road that you should review before embarking on this overwhelming and confusing journey.

Don’t: Assume phone calls are the only way to communicate.

All too often, a well-meaning gent misses vital communication opportunities because he assumes that his lady only wants to hear from him when he has time for a two-hour phone call. This is a falsehood. No one has time for two-hour phone calls these days; with BBMing and pinging and txting and carrier pigeons, talking on the phone is for chumps, son. And doesn’t it seem to defeat the purpose of ‘staying in touch’ to ignore someone for weeks simply because you don’t have time for a marathon chatfest (Hint: It does)? In fact, it reminds me of an old chestnut I tend to call upon in these types of situations: “it’s like cutting off your nose to spite your face.” You might think it doesn’t make sense, but trust me. It does.

The rate of success in long-distance relationships is directly proportional to the level of communication achieved, so if you’re going to rely solely on your land line to sustain your relationship, then you might as well just send a breakup letter by pony express and start looking for a new girlfriend in the personal ads of your local newspaper. Don’t forsake the 1,000 ways to get in touch afforded by modern technology in favor of such an outdated method of communication as bi-weekly phone call. Your paramour doesn’t want to steal your free time, she just wants to hear that (1) you’re alive and (2) she’s on your mind, so in between your lengthier communiqués, shoot her a one-line email whenever you’re thinking about her, text her funny things that happen to you, or, if you must, call her when you know she won’t pick up and leave silly messages. As with most things, it’s a lot easier than you think.

Do: Figure out what her communication preferences are.

Some people don’t even know what Gchat is. (I know, right? It’s ludicrous.) To this end, do not assume that the object of your affection is capable of or interested in engaging in the same types of insta-communication as you are until you’ve actually discussed it. Even if her screen name shows up on your chat list (some people don’t realize they’ve been signed in to AIM since 1997), even if she sometimes responds to your text messages (some people don’t realize they’re being charged $2.75 for every outgoing text they send), and even if she writes on your wall four times in a row (some people only remember the existence of social networking when eavesdropping on their coworkers’ conversations), there is no guarantee that her messaging habits are anywhere in line with your preferences.

Case in point: if you wrongfully assume that she’s a BBM-aholic, then you run the risk of being disappointed when she reads your message and doesn’t respond right away. If, however, you start by casually asking her what she thinks of BBMing, then you might discover that she doesn’t know how to respond without deleting the original message. You then win, because you’ve sussed out some useful information about her, AND you get to teach her something, thereby demonstrating how smart, capable and awesome (read: fuckable) you are.

Don’t: Overdo it with the emoticons.

I pity the fool who punctuates every single sentiment he ever has with a “ 🙂 ” or a “ 😛 ” (especially the latter, as all I can think about when I see it is how doofy the guy on the other end must look, which is not what I’d imagine he wants me thinking while he’s trying to put the moves on me from 3,000 miles away). Or “ :$ ”. Really, who came up with that? What is its purpose on this earth? Emoticons are the internet equivalent of laughing nervously and fiddling with whatever’s in your pockets to avoid looking directly at your date. It makes you look uncomfortable, which in turn makes you undesirable. Lame city, boys.

Now, I will admit that I enjoy a well-placed emoticon, especially when employed in an ironic-yet-sincere fashion, and we all respect the fact that sometimes you just need that happy little smiley to get your point across. Just cut yourself off after, let’s say, three, lest you become that emoti-crazy guy we make fun of to our friends over cosmos.

Do: Enjoy copious phone sex.

Like a toddler convinced of the opposite sex’s cooties, I was once a youthful lass who thought phone sex was pretty much the grossest thing ever. That is, however, until I discovered that it actually plays a big role in keeping things spicy when you’re not in the same place as your luvah. Most women enjoy occasional (or frequent) phone sex, so if you’ve got the itch but don’t have a flight booked, then a stiff drink and a few of your monthly minutes should liven up your Saturday night fairly satisfactorily.

But a word to the wise: phone sex isn’t something you just spring on your girlfriend like morning wood or a water balloon, without even so much as a “so, what’re you wearing?” In fact, the first time I engaged in said elicit telecommunications, it all came as quite a surprise to me, who up until that point had thought I was having a lovely (if tipsy) conversation with a fella I hadn’t seen in a while. I’m not the only one who’s experienced this, either; it seems like a whole bunch of dudes all across this green earth think that they’ll be shot down if they ask for phone sex, so they just ambush unsuspecting females and hope nobody notices. This is no good. Just be forthcoming about your intentions, because a girl will be much happier to receive a proper invitation to the party in your pants than if she’s suddenly the surprised and somewhat mortified guest of honor.

Don’t: Commit to a check-in call… or expect one in return.

If I had a habit of betting on anything other than horses and roosters, I’d put money on the fact that missing a previously scheduled phone conversation accounts for approximately 93% of all fights between partners in long-distance relationships. Check-in calls are for jealous, possessive boyfriends, not easygoing, cool dudes like yourselves, and setting up a required chat schedule is like sentencing yourself to prison. Once checking in becomes a chore, without fail, one (or both) of you will come to resent the seemingly impossible demands of the relationship. At this point, failure is imminent.

If your woman is demanding a check-in call, then take a look at what’s motivating her to do so. Do you shadily avoid her phone calls at the same time every night because you’re getting a lap dance from your favorite stripper? Or are you forgetting to answer a text she sent because you’re working 95 hours a week? Either way, she’s feeling neglected and worrying that something’s up with you. If you’re stepping out on her, then, for the love of pete, just end the thing; what’s the point of cheating on someone who doesn’t even live in your state? If you’re busy and just haven’t had a chance to check your cell, then explain it to her and clear the air before things really blow up. Whatever you do, just don’t resort to the check-in call. It will eventually strain your relationship to the point of breaking.

Do: Have an end in sight.

A difficult situation – which all distance relationships are, whether yours is successful or not – becomes an impossible one in the absence of an exit strategy. You might not have an idea of how things will play out at the outset of your long-distance relationship, but by month two or three you should be getting close to figuring out what you (and she) want out of the whole thing. This is the time to talk about how the two of you are going to get yourselves into the same congressional district, if not the same township, because sooner or later you have to confront the “is this going anywhere?” question that most men (hell, most people) hate to address.

The upshot of the struggle is that being in a relationship with a person you rarely see forces you to decide if you’re willing to commit to something that’s inconvenient. If you are, then you’re probably with someone who means more to you than just a warm body, which means you’ve jumped a huge hurdle that conventional, in-person relationships often ignore for way too long. So, as with so many other relationship-y things, if you’re wondering where things are headed, just ask. I would bet with the money left over from my other gambling endeavors that she’s eager to have that very conversation with you.