Disclaimer: In Real Life is a platform for everyday people to share their experiences and voices. All articles are personal stories and do not necessarily echo In Real Life’s sentiments.
This article is sponsored by Maxis.
1. “We’re 15,358 km apart and it has been 588 days since we last saw each other.”
Nikie, 25 & Kelvin, 28
Image: Nikie & Kelvin
We first met when I was studying in Liverpool, UK back in 2013. 2 years later, he visited Malaysia to meet my family. We had plans for me to visit him in the US last year, but Covid-19 happened, so that plan failed.
We first met through a chat site called Omegle. It’s a website that connects people of the same interests. Ironically, we seemed to connect by accident — mine was “football” but I was somehow connected to someone living in the States, which over there meant American football.
“Clearly, we don’t have any common interests,” I thought. But he started chatting to me about other subjects, and I liked talking to him so much that we shared Skype IDs.
It’s funny actually, because he never asked me outright to be his girlfriend. The more years we spent together, with the life decisions we made, the more we felt we were basically working towards marriage.
Right now, we’re 15,358 km apart and it has been 588 days since we last saw each other in person.
The thing is, we were meant to get married in April 2021. He had already applied for my fiancé visa to fly into the US. But with every news of MCO, RMCO and CMCO, our 7 years of being apart is starting to look like 8 years, and we’re left with a heavy feeling of uncertainty on our future.
At the moment, it’s hard to stay focused on the future of getting married because of the pandemic. Some days hit him hard and other days me, but we always try to keep each other positive.
The Movement Control Order does put a strain on our relationship because you go from seeing each other every day to not. You start to appreciate and miss the little things. In a long distance relationship, every milestone is momentous and every day feels special.
It’s not always sunshine and rainbows of course. With the stress from everyday life, the pandemic, and not being able to see each other, we’d always argue over small things.
Like most LDRs, you’d come to a point that you think, “Why are we still arguing about this? Is the relationship not working?”
But honestly, one KEY ADVICE we learnt is to always talk about our problems instead of keeping them inside. If we have any trust issues, we lay it all out in the open and talk about it. When either of us feels uncomfortable about something that the other person does, we talk about ways to resolve it so we’re both happy.
Through the MCO, we grew a lot as individuals, but even more so as a couple. Maybe it’s working out because we just really have a lot of time to talk about things. It’s all we do, haha!
2. “I did not choose to be in an LDR, I chose to be with someone I love. It just so happens that we live on opposite sides of the world.”
Carmen, 22 & Sam, 25
Image: Carmen & Sam, who have preferred to remain anonymous
My boyfriend and I were together for 8 months when we had to do long distance for the first time. We were both students in the UK; he is British and I’m Malaysian. He was supposed to meet my parents during my graduation ceremony, but that did not happen due to Covid-19.
The first time we parted, we promised that we would always put in the effort to speak to each other. We thought we would only have 2 months apart, so it wasn’t terribly hard.
And then Covid-19 happened, all flights were grounded, and we had to cancel our first holiday trip together. We went from having spontaneous visits to each other’s houses to not seeing each other for 152 days. Instead of being two apartment blocks away, we were 13,426 km apart.
Not having to see my partner for months is a struggle. We have had 3 anniversaries but have only spent 1 together. To this day, I have never spent any of my birthdays with him.
I miss being able to spend every special event together. I miss being able to wake up to each other in the morning or cooking for him and making sure he is eating good meals.
Our major love language is “physical touch”. It means that out of the 5 love languages (words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, quality time, and physical touch), it’s the most difficult going long distance with this love language.
When I am having a bad day or when I don’t feel like being alone, sometimes all I need is a hug from my partner, but he is miles away.
Yet in a way, this distance helped strengthen our relationship somehow. It made us get more creative in making the other person feel heard and cared for.
We started using the 4 other love languages to show our love by. Sometimes he takes the time to write cute, affirming messages to wake up to. And I get him random gifts like a snack box, or postcards. And when we do we watch movies and cook together on video call.
People always say most long distance couples don’t last but if you ask me, I disagree.
It’s difficult, yes, but if you really love someone, distance is something you can overcome. In the end, it’s very rewarding, because it shows that we both can be independent and still feel the need to have each other’s company.
After 3 years, I still get the excited feeling before meeting him. I am so calm and giddy at the same time. When I finally get to hug and kiss him, everything just feels right.
We both know that one day, we will be living in the same house, spending milestones together, and that end goal keeps us going.
It’s hard but it’s worth it.
3. “No matter how trivial the issues, you need to layan your partner lah.”
Chelvam, 32 & Nanthini, 29
Image: Chelvam & Nanthini
A lot of people told me the same thing. “You proposed after only 3 months?” Thing is, once you hit your 30s, you know what you want, and you don’t want to waste time. I’m 32, she’s 29. Back in our early 20s, we could make lots of mistakes, but not anymore.
We started dating on December 31st 2019, and in February 2020, I proposed. So we got engaged on 7th March — and one week later, Malaysia had its first lockdown in history.
Since we were unable to leave our houses, we were completely cut off from each other. Immediately, there was a sense of emptiness. I missed the warmth of her hug, and I felt the lack of her company when we went for meals.
Keeping a relationship going through a pandemic is hard, but just like any other relationship, it’s the little things that matter. Luckily, I could hear the sound of her voice and the smile on her face through video calls.
I started sending her bouquets every month— they don’t cost much, like RM50 or so — but she really appreciates them. To her, it means I’m thinking about her and I want to see her again.
There were misunderstandings too.
For example, I’d be working, and she would call and say, “I have something to tell you.” I’d reply, “I’m working, can we talk later?” She’d say, “No, I got to tell you right now.”
If I ignored her, both of us would be irritated and annoyed. She’s irritated because I’m not supporting her through a difficult time, I’m irritated because my workflow is disrupted.
What I learned is that no matter how trivial, you need to layan your partner lah. Don’t leave it hanging. If you keep ignoring her concerns, it will all build up and blow up eventually. Emotional management was really important for our relationship during the MCO.
Because of the MCO, our relationship had to mature very quickly like this. We used to be very career driven, but seeing how everything is so uncertain these days, we’ve mellowed out.
These days, my sense of reconciliation is stronger than the feeling of “I must be right”. My KEY ADVICE is to understand that when you’re in a relationship, you must dilute your individualism and change your thinking from “me and you” to “us”.
4. “His parents kept making us feel the relationship was not valid simply because we ‘never lived together in the same city.’ ”
Sara & Michael
4 years 2 months
Image for illustration purposes via Unsplash. Sara & Michael have chosen to remain anonymous.
My fiancee Michael is American. He lives in the US while I live in Malaysia. We are currently appealing with Immigration for him to be let in to Malaysia via MyTravelPass so we can get married locally.
We met in the States and dated for a couple of months before I had to return to Malaysia for work. That was the start of our LDR, 5 years ago.
The first few bumps we encountered were very challenging, but slowly as the years went by we learned to set boundaries for ourselves as a couple.
The major ones we share and agree upon are:
- Mutual respect
- Open (and near-constant) communication
- Supporting each other’s goals and dreams/putting each other first before our relationship
These really helped strengthen our relationship across the years and distance. The biggest challenge for us was actually managing family members who did not acknowledge our LDR and life plans together.
My parents have always accepted him as a person, but were wary of our intention to lead an interfaith marriage. Meanwhile, his parents have very specific expectations on his choice for a life partner and they have not yet accepted our decision to get married.
The most frustrating thing was that we were made to feel that our relationship was not valid and that our 5 years together do not count for anything simply because we “never lived together in the same city”.
Covid-19 was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and it was in 2020 that we decided that no one was going to stop our plans and that we will no longer delay our intention to start our lives together.
We both greatly value experiences. We will try anything and everything at least once, before deciding we cannot do it or if it’s not for us. So when it came to this plan, we were ready for anything.
Through all these difficulties, our communication, mutual respect for and understanding of each other has only grown by leaps and bounds.
At the end of the day, it’s not about the distance or nationality: He grew up in a predominantly Asian-style household, so he understands the cultural concepts of filial piety, respect for elders, hard work, and so on.
As long as the values we share are the same, long distance relationships can work just as well as regular ones.
5. “We started leaving our phones on without saying anything so that we could listen to each other sleep.”
Gabriel & Alice
Image: Gabriel & Alice, who have preferred to remain anonymous
We met in our first year of uni in 2011 in Sheffield, UK during a Dungeons & Dragons meet up. Many of our Malaysian peers were still mentally stuck in Malaysia, going on about missing Nasi Lemak, while we were both relishing the freedom from parents, social expectations, and traditional mindsets.
In 2015, I had to leave the UK for Malaysia when I couldn’t find a job after I graduated. It was never an option for her to come with me, and I never wanted to leave, but due to immigration laws I had no choice. She was devastated.
The final night of us being physically together was in this dingy hotel room next to the airport. She couldn’t stop crying. She wept in my arms as we considered the very real possibility of never seeing each other again.
Living 10,576 km apart, we were separated by 8 time zones. The time difference was hard to get used to. She’d usually be tired after every shift, and sometimes we’d go 1-2 days without communicating.
People often talk about the downsides of an LDR being the lack of physical intimacy. But it was more than that.
One time, after a 16-hour shift at work, she had a panic attack due to exhaustion. I could only watch helplessly on the sidelines as the paramedics came to check on her in her flat. They put an ECG on her chest and gave her morphine. I remember vividly that she was screaming on the phone the whole time.
Imagine being on the other end of that, and your stomach twisting into knots as you frantically call 911 to get her the help she needs. I couldn’t drive her to the hospital, or sit beside her in the ward while she got better. All I could do was pray and hope that the doctors knew what they were doing.
The only thing that I was grateful for was that I was on a video call with her when it actually happened. Imagine with her living alone, who knows when she would have gotten the help she needed? Ever since then, my chest gets an anxiety spike when she doesn’t pick up after 3-5 rings.
We both missed the feeling of security from sensing someone else in the room with us. So we’ve gotten into the habit of leaving our phones on without saying anything. She’d record voice messages about her day for me in our Whatsapp convo. It worked. We could both get a good night’s rest. Luckily for us, it seemed to have little to no effect on our internet bill.
We also had a lot of ups and downs. We fought over travel plans. I wanted to see my friends too, but she wanted me to stay with her throughout the planned visit. There were other times that I questioned myself, asking, “Am I going to look back on my 20s with bitterness because I put in all that effort, only for us to break up in future because the LDR was too difficult?”
But honestly, I have zero regrets. Without her, I would not have had the courage to strike out from my dead-end call centre job and move out of my parents’ place to live and work in KL as a copywriter. She told me she believed in me, when my parents and friends all said, “You’re making a mistake, it’s not a well-paying job, why do this when you studied chemical engineering?”
When 2020 rolled around, we thought we were unlucky, because she was forced by her expired Visa to come back to Malaysia. She couldn’t bear to leave the UK which had become her home. But not 3 months later, the pandemic hit, and flights worldwide were cancelled. In hindsight, we were lucky that the timing was what it was, so that we could spend time together as a couple.
For the right person, long distance relationships are worth it.
Being in an LDR is not easy. There’s always ups and downs, but thankfully nowadays we have technology to help keep us connected to our loved ones.
Watch this video by Dan Khoo Productions in collaboration with Maxis about another side of Long Distance Relationships that no one really talks about, but would be able to relate in one way or another:
[Watch the full video here]
For more stories like this, read: Long Distance Relationships: Bitter Reality or Sweet Fantasy? and
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