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There I was, scrolling through Facebook, when a new friend suggestion popped up on my phone’s screen.
A young Filipina woman, with the cutest dimples I had ever seen and eyes that mesmerized me.
Her name was Jesa.
She was beautiful and mysterious. So, I poked around Jesa’s profile and checked out her recent posts, photos, and where she lived. To my dismay, she was on the other side of the world—over 7,000 miles away.
But I didn’t let the apparent distance stop me. I quickly sent her a friend request and waited to see if she would accept. Little did I know back then, my life was about to change.
I’m glad I didn’t let the distance stop me, because a day later I finally received the notification I had been waiting for—she accepted my invite to connect.
The rest is history now.
We’ve been dating for over half a year, the entire time in a long-distance relationship. Which hasn’t always been easy. You know, with the 15-hour difference in time zones, not speaking the same native language, and coming from distinct cultures. Luckily for me, Jesa is fluent in English, speaking it as well or even better than most native English speakers.
From dating Jesa, I’ve learned a lot about what works and doesn’t work in a long-distance relationship. Most of what I’ve experienced can apply to non-long-distance relationships too.
I’d like to share what has worked for me.
From a poet who writes poems about love and romance, I’d like to share what has worked for me. Pick from these ideas as you like, incorporating them all or just a few, and watch them cast a magical, almost hypnotizing spell over your lover.
Ten essentials to making a relationship work:
1. Learn the ancient art of writing love letters
The date is December 16, 2019. It’s winter in the United States, and I mail my first love letter to Jesa. It arrives in the Philippines almost a month later, in January 2020. To give you a taste of what I wrote, here is the opening paragraph:
“I long for your touch like it’s the sweet and succulent flowers you pluck from the bushes, gently held between your fingertips. Will you let me hold you my love, just like a sunflower, so I can feel the radiance of your warmth?”
I haven’t sent nearly as many missives as I would have liked, mostly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made it difficult to get letters to my beloved. But I’m keenly aware of the secrets to stirring a lover’s intrigue and excitement through the written word.
Writing love letters is a timeless practice, even one that continues into the digital age. I encourage all genuine lovers, those that want passion and pleasure in their relationships, to learn the ancient art of writing romantic letters. And there is no greater act than to have one’s love for another scribbled and captured furiously on sheets of paper.
Ask any woman who has ever received a love letter from their sweetheart and you’ll see their eyes light up with joy. The act of receiving a love letter, when this single act of love has materialized in their hands, awakens a deep longing in the recipient. It softens even the most bitter heart when they read words of love meant for them alone.
2. Surprise your lover with gifts—custom gifts show more effort
Gifts are another timeless practice to express one’s love. People should give gifts to their lover for a few reasons, including: to mark a special occasion, like a birthday, anniversary, or achievement; to right a wrong; and to surprise one’s lover for no reason at all. These reasons are not all-inclusive, so get creative and find unique ways to express your love. A small gift goes a long way when it’s given with sincerity.
I enjoy giving gifts to my beloved, and I always try to think of something she hasn’t received or doesn’t have yet. One of the first major gifts I gave to Jesa was an infinity heart with our two names and the year we began dating, welded in metal and painted black. I wanted to give her something that was one of a kind.
Another gift I gave Jesa was a silver necklace with a heart pendant. The front side had our two initials engraved into the surface. On the back side, I had a line from one of my poems engraved, which reads: “When I look into your eyes, I see infinity.”
I encourage all genuine lovers to give their beloved custom-made gifts, when possible. A custom gift shows effort and creativity, and you can’t get it easily at your local marketplace. In the beholder’s eye, it naturally holds more value, because it does truly come from the heart.
Some additional gift ideas to get you thinking may include flowers, chocolates, a framed photograph, or even their favorite fragrance. But don’t let this brief list of ideas thwart your creativity!
3. Don’t be afraid to argue with your lover and lose
To love is to love hard. To love hard, as I define it, is to love openly, honestly, and without reservation. Through all the highs and lows, pain and pleasure, happiness and sadness. Even in sickness and in health. When your love is meant to be, you will see it through to the end.
When you are genuine with your feelings, exposing them to your lover, it may stir emotions within them. Fights in relationships happen for many reasons. But most of them come down to an emotional reaction to something the other partner said or did. But don’t fret: getting in fights is a natural part of any romantic relationship.
How you deal with these fights shows the true strength of your relationship. So always use caution when proceeding in a verbal quarrel. Be mindful of your lover’s emotions and give space to the argument. Listen to what they say and take a few seconds before responding. Let what they said sink in.
Try to determine if there is an underlying issue on why they’re upset. Perhaps they had an awful day at work or somewhere else. Either way, even when you argue, be respectful to them and their feelings.
Now, I must admit, Jesa and I have gotten in our fair share of fights, like all couples do. But it’s how we’ve dealt with them that matters most. The most important turning point in any of our fights has been a reconciliation, where one of us has realized and admits that person wronged the other. A simple sorry, if it’s a minor offense, or a deeply heartfelt apology, if it’s a major offense.
My biggest offense is when I say something hurtful to Jesa, unkind words that cut deep. Almost right away, I regret saying what I said. I wish I could take it back or find another way to articulate my feelings more gracefully. As a poet, I should know better, because I intimately know the power of words. How they sting and pierce the soul. But no matter what, I always right my wrongs, making it up to Jesa.
The lesson here for couples is don’t be afraid to argue, but do it mindfully, respectfully, and civilly. You both win if there’s a compromise.
4. Stay connected when there is geographical distance
Jesa and I are no strangers to distance. We both live in faraway countries, thousands of miles apart. At the time of publication, we have not met in person. The constant distance between us makes it even more important for the two of us to stay connected.
Luckily, we live in a digital age, where we are both blessed with technology, like smartphones. Since we found each other on Facebook, we prefer to use the video calling features in the Messenger app. Every day, for the last six months, we’ve made the time, across time zones, to video chat for several hours. Jesa even jokes about it now that she’s on “American time.”
Since we are both committed to each other and to making the relationship last a lifetime, we find no harm or difficulty in video calling every day. I have heard advice from many so-called experts on long distance relationships that you shouldn’t call your partner every day, limiting it to four to five times per week. I disagree with this advice.
The greater the distance, the more effort you should put into staying connected. Even if all you do is speak with your lover for 30 minutes a day, it’s one day less you didn’t connect. It’s this consistency that helps build strength in the relationship and shows your lover they matter.
Obviously, for moral reasons, give your partner space if they require it. But if both of you are comfortable talking every day on the phone or video chatting, then do just that.
5. Celebrate special occasions
There is a common practice among young lovers in the Philippines. It’s celebrating the exact day, every month, they started dating. The “monthsary,” as it’s called, is a special occasion to acknowledge a couple’s commitment to date exclusively. Often, the two lovers exchange tokens of love, or gifts, to celebrate their relationship.
As I had researched Filipino culture in the first month of dating Jesa, I was keenly familiar with this practice. So, when our second monthsary came about, I made sure I did something special to celebrate our love.
I surprised Jesa with a beautiful bouquet and a gift, had Jollibee catered at her family’s house, and ordered a videoke (i.e. video karaoke) system for the entertainment. It was a grand celebration that lasted all afternoon and night. And even though I was far away, I watched the festivities via Facebook Messenger. The highlight of the party was Jesa belting out the lyrics to The Cranberries’ “Zombie.”
So, my advice is to mark special occasions in your relationship by giving gifts or doing fun activities together. Obviously, your anniversary is a keystone moment to celebrate. But other opportunities may include when your partner receives a reward, graduates from school, or gets a work promotion. The most important thing to remember is to show you care and that your lover plays a central part in your life.
And oh yeah, never forget your lover’s birthday. You will be in their bitter scorn for days, weeks, maybe even months.
6. If family is important to your lover, embrace their family
In Filipino culture, family is life. This truth became apparent in my early interactions talking with Jesa, and as we continued dating, I saw firsthand that she was tight-knit with her family. She always had family around, whether it was her parents, her siblings, or her nephews.
When our relationship started getting serious, the subject of marriage came up.
When a man wants to marry a Filipina, it is common to not only ask the father for his daughter’s hand in marriage, but the entire family too. This would include the girlfriend’s mother, siblings, aunts and uncles, and even her cousins.
Because Jesa wanted to test the level of my commitment, she started having me ask her family, sometimes one by one, if they approve of us getting married. It was no easy feat, because Jesa would often put me on the spot, out of nowhere, telling me I should ask whoever was around. And I’m happy to say, every family member I asked said yes—including her father.
What we did was a little unorthodox, as traditionally, the man will take his family members over to his soon-to-be fiancé’s house and meet her family. The girlfriend’s family may ask what the boyfriend’s intentions are, how he will support his future wife, and how soon the couple plans to get married. Instead, because of the interminable distance, we did it on video chat.
The lesson here is: if your lover’s family plays a pivotal role in their life, then put forth every effort to embrace them, get to know them, and be a part of their family. After all, you are marrying a member of their family.
And the hidden lesson here is: if your lover isn’t close to their family, don’t push getting to know them. Take your lover’s lead. Don’t badger them to meet their parents. Use caution when discussing their family, especially if there is bad blood.
7. Find a creative way to express your love
I have been a poet for countless years, even writing poetry in my youth. I started sharing my poems on social media—first on Tumblr, then on Instagram, back in 2014. In 2019, I focused a lot of my social media efforts on expanding my Facebook page’s reach. I’m now ranked the number five top poet on Facebook behind Rupi Kaur, Neil Hilborn, Lang Leav, and Pierre Alex Jeanty. Today, I have a worldwide following of over 350,000 devout fans.
Some of my fans have called me a legendary poet. Others have given me the title, “King of Poetry”—which I’m humbled to receive. Regardless if you read my poems and think these same thoughts, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is I know poetry and the art of creative expression.
To really fuel the flames of passion, you must find a creative way to express your love. This can be through poetic compositions like I write, a song or set of lyrics, or a drawing or painting of your beloved. Whatever you do, do it with inspiration, focusing on the positive qualities of your lover, and let them be your muse.
My writing really took off when Jesa entered the picture. There is no ignoring the fact that she is my muse and inspiration. When I write poetry for her or about her, I focus on the positive aspects of the relationship or her beautiful qualities—both inside and out. I think about the way she makes me feel or I write about a personal moment we shared.
The great news is you don’t have to be a top artist in your niche. You can do the same with your own creative outlet and share it with your lover. Keeping what you create private, something only he or she will see. But keep in mind, whatever it is you create, your lover may share it with their friends and family. And this isn’t a terrible thing, because he or she only wants to show how thoughtful and great you really are.
8. Listen to the stories of their past
I believe to understand a person, you must understand their past. People will gradually change over the course of their life, but many of their behaviors and beliefs remain the same.
Knowing about your lover’s past is important if you plan to get in a serious, long-term relationship with them. You need not know every single event, but listen to their stories carefully. Learn about them as a human being. Be mindful and don’t criticize them over the events of their past. The past is the past; those events will never change.
Asking about the past is an excellent way to learn about a new love interest. But it shouldn’t only happen in the early stages of dating. You should continue learning about them through the entire relationship. Each of us has so many things we’ve experienced in life. Hearing about stories that others have experienced helps us relate to each other. And what better way to relate to a lover than to hear their stories.
With that in mind, you too should share your stories. Don’t let it be one-sided, where you’re constantly probing them, but not opening up yourself.
One thing that Jesa and I love to do is share old photographs from our childhood. We’ll exchange photos via Messenger, then talk about them. But I have so many more photos—hundreds—from when I was a kid. So, when I finally get to visit her in the Philippines, I’m bringing a childhood photo album with me. That way we can sit side by side on the sofa, flipping through it, and I can tell her more stories about my youth.
9. Find common activities to enjoy together
This piece of relationship advice should go without saying. But as a relationship progresses, it becomes even more important. You need to find common activities to do with your lover.
The activities may include listening to music, watching movies, going for a car ride together, bowling, or going to the zoo. And if you’ve been dating your boyfriend or girlfriend for a while, you will have already discussed or explored many options with them.
For Jesa and I, the distance between our two countries is a constant challenge. More than anything, we want to be in the same country, the same city, the same house, and the same room together.
But the two of us have found creative ways, even in our long-distance relationship, to bridge the gap. We often listen to music together. In fact, one reason I fell in love with Jesa is because she would spontaneously burst out singing the lyrics to songs. She has a beautiful voice, and I love to hear her sing.
Another activity that we like to do is watching movies on Netflix. When it’s time to watch, we both get comfortable on our beds or sofas, start the film, then kick back and relax. The whole time we’re on video chat and we can see each other if we want. But most of that two-hour block we’re focused on the movie.
What I really enjoy about watching movies in this way is I get to hear Jesa laughing at the funny parts. “Despicable Me” is one of our favorites!
10. Make them laugh!
Nothing is more beautiful than hearing the laughter of your lover fill a room. Their chuckles echoing against the walls and the sweetness of their smile at the end. Therefore, put some level of effort into making your partner laugh.
I love to be sweet to Jesa, but a couple months into our relationship she gave me vital feedback. It didn’t come easy for her, because she didn’t want to offend me. Reluctantly, she told me I was being too sweet. Her feedback surprised me, but I quickly adapted. What I took from that conversation is that she didn’t mind a little sweetness, but what she really enjoyed was laughing together.
From that day forward, I’ve tried to tone down my sweet factor, unless it’s through poetry or surprising my Filipina girlfriend with gifts. Instead, I turned up the laugh factor, expressing more wit and charm. And I can’t express enough how this change in my behavior has done wonders for our relationship. Since then, we’ve had fewer fights, she’s less moody, and Jesa remains engaged and receptive to what I say—no matter the topic.
Every person loves to laugh. It’s an innate human process to social bonding. Laughter brings us closer to our family, friends, and lovers. It’s seen as something universally positive—and that’s exactly what your relationship needs. Positive moments to bring you closer.
To make a person chuckle, you need not tell jokes. But if you’re good at remembering and telling jokes, then go for it. Instead, you can always add wit to your conversations, playfully poke fun at your lover, or act out funny skits together. Just keep it positive and enjoy the laughter.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides in the world and the Philippines opens up their borders to foreigners again, I plan to get on a flight to see my girlfriend, Jesa. I don’t know how long I must wait, but we’re both anxiously awaiting that day. When two long-distance lovers finally meet for the first time.
As we close out this article, you’ve read many words about my love life with Jesa. You’ve gotten to know me and how one poet thinks about love and romance. Hopefully, the lessons gleaned from my personal experience help you improve your existing or future relationships. I recommend putting them into practice as soon as possible, even starting today.
If you do, then you’ll love like a poet.
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