FYI.

This story is over 5 years old.

How to Make a Long-Distance Relationship Work, Dammit

And also, how to get over writer's block. Jenny Owen Youngs takes your questions.

In our new column "Any Questions? with Jenny Owen Youngs," we hand the reigns over our favorite Brooklyn songstress and let her answer your questions. What qualifies a woman whose hobbies include Instagramming stuffed Ninja Turles (see above) to dole out advice? Nothing really, she’s just a sage lady. You can heed her wisdom or not. That's up to you. Here’s her first crack at answering your questions. (And if you’d like to ask her questions anonymously, you can do so here.)

Advertisement

How can a relationship work when one person is on tour/away for some time? Any tricks and tips?

Well hey there, excellent question! It’s often been said that absence makes the heart grow fonder; the bit that’s usually left out is that absence also totally sucks. We all know that relationships are challenging enough without the difficulty of distance being added into the mix. But I know tons of couples who’ve been making it work for years (or even decades) so, my friend, there is most definitely hope for you.

I’ve been touring steadily for the last eight years, and have had the opportunity to road-test strategies for maintaining a sense of closeness from far away. The most important thing for you to remember is that communication is key. (If you’re in a relationship, you may already be very aware that this is the foundation upon which everything else must be built.) The shortest distance between two people who are hundreds or thousands of miles apart may technically be a straight line, but also it might just be FaceTime.

Maybe you’re like me and you tend to get caught up in the tasks directly in front of you: finding coffee, finding pancakes, driving, loading in, soundchecking, setting up merch, and all the other glorious tasks and challenges that a day on tour can bring you. I’ve found it very helpful to impose a certain amount of structure on my communications. There are three things I do every day, no matter what:

Advertisement

1. I always text my wife good morning.
2. I always text her when I’m going to sleep to tell her how my show went and share any fun stories from the evening (plus, I usually send a goodnight selfie).
3. I always try to call her if we have a shared window of available time, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Although I’m usually asleep when she wakes up at 7 AM and she’s asleep when I roll into bed at 3 AM, we can each count on waking up to a message from the other. When your day-to-day can be all over the place, as it often is on the road, it’s nice to have small markers on which you can rely.

Hello, I love you, here’s what I ate for breakfast.

Beyond the basics of checking in, I’ve found that the simplest things can make a big difference. Keeping your partner in the loop about everyday stuff (“Here’s a picture of what I ate for breakfast!” “Here’s a quick text to let you know I’m super busy but thinking of you!”) can help lend a sense of normalcy to a situation that is, for all intents and purposes, not that normal. I also like to send postcards home. For the paltry sum of around a buck, you can mail home a tangible indication of warmth and thoughtfulness—plus bonus points for whatever’s on the printed side (my best finds have included jackalopes, shirtless hunky cowboys, and Xena: Warrior Princess).

Puns = love.

Now for some next-level business—Date night: The Remote Edition. Even rock and roll has to take a night off sometimes, and might I suggest that you spend a couple hours of that night doing something fun with the apple of your eye? Just about every motel has wifi these days, and you can totally use that internet to hop on Netflix, queue up some delightful Ryan Gosling movie (or an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and then call up your boo, who has of course queued up the same viewing material, to have long distance movie night! HOORAY. Finding shared experiences when you are unable to share physical space together can go a long way to keeping y’all close whilst you’re far. Dig?

Advertisement

Every relationship is different, but they’ve all got one thing in common: WORK. You know your relationship and your partner far better than I do. Strategize, assess, and adjust things with them before, during, and after your time apart. You got this! Your love is stronger than the distance between you!

Hello Jenny! I was wondering what your methods are in dealing with writer's block, since I seem to go through it all the time.

Dear friend, ease your mind! Feelings of writer’s block are totally natural, and I think you’d have to look hard to find a creator who hasn’t wrestled with it from time to time. The first thing I do when I’m having a hard time writing is to take some deep breaths. I find that when I start to feel stressed out (my immediate reaction when I stumble on the idea that I’m not writing “fast enough” or “well enough”) my breathing gets shallower, and that’s not ideal for my body or my mind. My next step is to take a walk—outside, through trees when possible. If you live in a city like I do, going to a park (or a particularly lush cemetery, if one is available) is a great option. A change of scenery can help shake up the parts of your brain that feel glued to the sides of your skull. (So far as I’ve been able to determine, this is a positive thing.)

This next bit might seem like the opposite of helpful, but trust me: try to relax. I suspect that the number one cause of writer’s block may in fact be the fear of writer’s block. You can help yourself out in the big picture by developing healthy habits that support your whole being. I highly recommend cardiovascular exercise, yoga, and meditation for a clearer mind and a body that is primed to survive the zombie apocalypse. Eating healthy foods, drinking alcohol in moderation, and getting enough sleep are all factors that have a huge positive impact. If your mind is focused and your body is running right, I promise you’ll feel much more prepared to compose your “Bohemian Rhapsody” than if you’re feeling hungover and sleep-deprived.

Advertisement

Downward dog.

Lastly, and perhaps most important of all, stay mindful about the quantity and quality of music, books, films, and art that you absorb on an ongoing basis. I’ve discovered that the more stories and songs and images I take into my imagination, the more I’m able to create myself. Personally, I like to make a point of visiting museums on a regular basis for inspiration. (In fact, my ongoing museum-based serial song project, EXHIBIT, was conceived in an attempt to thwart a round of writer’s block) If you like a challenge, ask your friends to give you a song concept, and treat it like a commission: set a deadline and deliver something no matter what. Sometimes just getting the gears turning can help jumpstart a whole mess of ideas.

Inspirational and terrifying.

So let’s recap, my soon-to-be-knee-deep-in-ideas pal: Breathe, take care of yourself, remember the natural world, listen, read, watch, and see. And if you can stand to add one more thing to the list, try to remember not to take yourself too seriously. My guess is that when you started writing, it was for the sheer love of the act. Try to give yourself the space to rediscover that love.

MY WRITER’S BLOCK LISTENING LIST:

Joni Mitchell: Blue
Tom Waits: Swordfishtrombones
Kate Bush: Hounds of Love
The Strokes: Is This It
The Innocence Mission: Birds of My Neighborhood

MY WRITER’S BLOCK READING LIST:

Raymond Carver: (any)
Flannery O’Connor: A Good Man Is Hard to Find
Karen Russell: St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
Stephen Chbosky: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Anne Carson: Autobiography of Red

Jenny Owen Youngs is on Twitter and will now take your questions - @jennyowenyoungs

--

Want more JOY in your life?

My First Year as an Openly Gay Musician