In our fourth instalment, we asked Hongkongers about long-distance relationships — and all the trials, tribulations and successes that have come with them!
Ah, long-distance relationships! A circumstance where romantic partners are geographically separated from each other for a length of time and for any reason. In our latest instalment, we asked Hongkongers for their thoughts on LDRs — here’s what they had to say.
As a smaller city-region territory, it’s not surprising that many Hongkongers have found a significant other outside of our seven million at-home population. Just within our team alone, some of our editors were the ones new to the city or have partners who are considerably new-er to Hong Kong, whether they landed here because of higher education, work opportunities or family.
Now, Google the words “long distance” and the first page of results will likely pull up various headlines that start with the words “how to survive” or “making it work”. It’s true that in today’s age, we have phones and the internet ready at hand, making things like instant messaging and video calling a total breeze. But relationships where you’re physically apart certainly come with their challenges!
We asked five individuals about long-distance relationships. Here’s what they said…
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Fenela, 20, is a Filipina Hongkonger. She’s been in one long-distance relationship which started when she was 18. She lives in Hong Kong and her partner had an exchange programme that took him to Rimini, Italy, where he now studies. They’ve been apart for a year — and it’s uncertain when they’ll see each other again. The end goal is to live somewhere in Europe together.
PC, 26, is a Chinese Hongkonger. She met her significant other in Scotland, where he was raised, and they’ve been dating for exactly “4 years, 2 months, 20 days”. The relationship has been long-distance since December of last year when she took up a job in Hong Kong. The end goal is to reunite in Hong Kong next year.
Abee, 26 is a Filipina Hongkonger. She’s been with her boyfriend, Z, for about four years. He lives in Macau and she resides here in Hong Kong. Pre-pandemic, they would alternate on who would cross the border during the weekends. The setup was “actually perfect” for them until COVID forced borders to close for about three years, and they couldn’t see each other at all! The end goal is, of course, to be together in the same city.
A, 26, is an Indian Hongkonger. She met her husband in high school and they’ve been together for 11 years. She lives in Hong Kong and her husband lives in Singapore, previously she used to live in London while he was in Singapore. They’re currently long-distance and have been for seven years; they try and see each other once every three months, aiming to spend at least a week together each time. The couple is working towards reuniting within a year.
Kim, 30, is a Filipina. She’s been married for over a year and she and her husband are both based in Hong Kong now. They first met in 2013 when she was doing an exchange student programme at his university in the United States. They dated for nine years before getting married and were mostly long-distance as she had to finish her studies in the Philippines. He moved to Hong Kong in 2016 and Kim always planned to move here too once they got married. The couple got engaged in late 2019 and had planned to get married in 2021 but due to Hong Kong’s strict COVID enforcements, they were forced to delay until February 2022, when they got married in Guam.
What were your general feelings about long-distance relationships before you entered one?
Fenela: I thought it could never work and never understood why couples would put themselves through so much when you could just find someone else near you.
PC: Fear and uncertainty were probably the big ones. The dynamic of your relationship will most likely have a 180° change. No one knows, not you, not them so it all boils down to trust, communication and planning ahead.
Abee: I’ve always loved hearing LDR success stories because (unfortunately!) they seemed quite rare… Before Z, I swore I wouldn’t get into any long-distance relationship. I always thought I wasn’t one of those people “built” to be in one. Never say never I guess!
Kim: I actually wasn’t a firm believer of LDRs so I was apprehensive to start one. I just knew that breaking up wasn’t an option and I would rather endure being physically apart versus not being together at all.
What were or are your thoughts during the long-distance relationship?
Fenela: It’s obviously really hard but that doesn’t mean that you just give up on someone you absolutely love — you’ve just got to keep going.
PC: It needs communication, trust and planning… You need to have a sit-down conversation with your partner about each other’s expectations and whether you can handle it; what would happen if the stresses of life (like work, family, friends etc.) arise, how they can be handled, what sort of support you’d need and could your partner provide this. LDRs, like all relationships, be it platonic or romantic, take work. Everything that’s good in your life comes from the effort you invest.
Abee: It’s not like I was miserable the entire time that we weren’t together. I still lived my life and he did too. We’d spend time with family and friends, and we’d have the occasional Messenger, FaceTime and Netflix Party dates. The worst part for me though was the waves of sadness (no thanks to PMS and hormones!) because there were times I heard a song, saw a meme or witnessed a couple having coffee, which may or may not have sent me into a spiral.
A: It’s really, really hard, especially during COVID when travel was curtailed. But I have to say, since my partner and I started dating at a very young age, I think long distance helped build our emotional connection. Long distance also allowed us to grow independently during our formative years but, luckily, we grew together and our shared values never wavered.
Kim: Long distance was without a doubt very tough. We were in perpetual countdowns until the next reunion and we couldn’t be together on many milestones. But a LDR had its own perks — while physically apart, we learned to grow as individuals first before fully committing ourselves to each other. We learned to be fully independent and more mature. Overall, throughout the ups and downs of our LDR, I just kept telling myself that it would be worth it in the end — and it definitely is.
Fenela: I think that it really is for the strongest and most loyal people because not everyone can do it.
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Do you have any ground rules for your relationship?
F: We talk every day and hang out through Netflix Party (now Teleparty) at least once a week.
Abee: If I’m gonna be honest, we don’t really have any! We just play it by ear all the time. It’s a very low-maintenance relationship and I’ve realised that the more we tried to plan and schedule something, the more it doesn’t happen which leaves room for disappointment that nobody has time for. We message throughout the day just to update each other that we’re alive (kidding!) and the occasional Facetime calls if we’re both up for it.
Kim: We have a rule to constantly exercise kindness. One good thing about a LDR is that whenever we have disagreements, we have the physical distance to cool off and think rationally first.
Being physically apart can be emotionally taxing…
Fenela: My love language is physical touch so it can be really depressing not having my partner with me but he tries his best to reassure me.
PC: My partner knows me best, and that statement still stands; I don’t know anyone here who can compare to the emotional closeness I have with my partner. Alongside loneliness, I find myself finding it more difficult to share my life considering my partner wouldn’t “understand” since he doesn’t know the culture and the people and friends I’ve made. An eight-hour time difference also puts strain on our relationship; when he’s asleep, I’m awake, when I’m awake, he’s asleep. It’s hard to feel supported when you’re crying in your room, knowing very well your partner’s sound asleep 5,000 miles away.
Abee: In our case, it was frustrating that we couldn’t see each other when we were literally just a bridge away! Couples that had to fly to their significant others saw each other before we ever did (I’m still lowkey bitter about it!). But the worst part was the uncertainty of the whole situation. We had no idea how long the pandemic would go on. I definitely reached a point where I didn’t expect anything anymore so I wouldn’t feel disappointed.
A: The most difficult feeling for me is that of loneliness, especially on the weekends. When you see other couples on the weekends enjoying meals together at new restaurants or cafes. It’s upsetting that I can’t share that moment with my partner.
How do you spend quality time together virtually?
Fenela: We usually play games, watch something through Teleparty or use Discord.
PC: I don’t know if this is one but we made WhatsApp stickers of funny photos we took of each other on trips we went on together. We talk about anything on video call. We did try a lot of different apps but I think none of them really stuck. Just Zoom, watching anime together, WhatsApp and using Instagram to send reels.
Abee: Even though we don’t talk regularly, we take the time to discuss important matters or just to listen to each other’s frustrations. We made sure that we were as open and honest about our feelings as much as possible — the good, the bad and the ugly! We would have FaceTime or Messenger calls from time to time. If there was a series that we were both into, we’d watch it at the same time via Netflix Party (now Teleparty) while on a video call. We also send each other horrible selfies (haha!) and photos of food just to make each other jealous.
Kim: We would constantly communicate with each other — from greeting each other good morning to good night, and updating each other wherever we’d go out. We also had regular video calls on Zoom and Skype. We’d have virtual date nights too, like watching a Netflix movie at the same time.
What can you do when you’re physically apart to show support and consideration for your long-distance significant other?
Fenela: We use Snapchat to update each other through constant videos and pictures so it feels like we’re still part of each other’s lives, even from very far away.
PC: We mail each other things sometimes randomly. It doesn’t have to be large gifts or huge bouquets, just something small: little gifts; letters, plushies, message bottles full of affirmations.
A: I try to encourage my partner to go out with friends on the weekends and Friday evenings. I know a lot of couples argue over “Boy’s Nights Out” etc. but I personally find happiness in my partner’s happiness. So, I always encourage him to spend time with close friends so that he’s not alone. My partner sends me surprise gifts every now and then, which is lovely. He also gets food delivered to my office on nights I work late to make sure I take a break and eat.
To what extent do you agree that distance makes the heart grow fonder?
PC: It makes you really appreciate the time that you do have when you meet up with each other. And to fall in love with them all over again when you do. To see the little things that your partner does and remember how wonderful your person is. You forget how warm their hug is and how nice they smell.
A: I personally am not a believer in the saying “distance makes the heart grow fonder”. I choose my partner every day, whether physically together or in a long-distance relationship.
How do you handle disputes and disagreements when not seeing each other face-to-face?
Fenela: Whenever we have a disagreement or misunderstanding, we both have the mindset to never leave the conversation mad or frustrated. We always try to fix our misunderstandings as soon as possible to try not to make things worse.
Abee: Virtually and physically, we always give each other space whenever things get heated just to avoid escalating it even further. We let each other cool off and then discuss things rationally the following day.
What’s the most creative date you’ve had virtually?
Fenela: Spotify music sessions are really nice because sometimes you don’t have the words to express your feelings and playing each other’s music is a really cool way to communicate.
A: A cooking date! We had a chef off.
Do you visit each other often?
Fenela: Right now isn’t really the best time for us to meet because of school but we plan to visit each other during the holidays.
Abee: We do now actually! We see each other almost every week. We alternate on who crosses the border but there’s no fixed schedule.
A: Yes, three times a year for a week at a time, at least. We’ve been travelling around Asia at the moment; meeting in Vietnam and Indonesia.
Kim: Back when we were dating, we would see each other about three to four times a year, whether it’s where we resided (Hong Kong or the Philippines) or vacationing in other countries like Australia, Japan or Taiwan.
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Do you have advice you’d give anyone considering a long-distance relationship?
Fenela: Long distance works but pick the right person to do it with. If you do, it won’t feel tiring or draining.
PC: Make sure you sit down and talk about expectations.
Abee: After everything I’ve been through and knowing what I know now, I think that you really need to do a deep dive of self-reflection to know if you’re the type of person that can handle a long-distance relationship. Possibly controversial but I think that not everyone is built for it. I don’t think there’s any harm in trying but it’s really gonna test you as individuals and as a couple. You really have to ask yourself if this is something not just you’re ready for but willing to work on.
A: Always plan the next thing to look forward to together.
Kim: To those doing LDRs, the goodbyes are the hardest part but I can tell you that it makes every physical moment worthwhile. My husband and I haven’t been in a LDR for over a year now but every time one of us travels out of the country, each reunion feels just as good as the first one. Two core things helped us: strength and maturity. Constantly saying goodbye to your partner is no joke so you’ll need that strength and stamina to endure those painful moments. Maturity also plays an important role because you’ll need to understand and respect your own lives in your respective countries. A LDR can work! It was tough but oh so worth it.
Any final thoughts?
Fenela: Don’t buy long-distance couple gadgets. They’re trash.
Abee: At the end of the day, maintaining a LDR is a choice. It’s very easy to look the other way but if you truly want to make it work, you have to choose that person as soon as you wake up and before you go to bed.
Editor’s Note: Like what you read? We’re always looking for more people to share their thoughts and stories (whether you’re in a relationship or not!). Reach out to us at email@example.com
All images courtesy of Aida Hamid for Sassy Media Group.