To start I will say that YES for those of you who don't know I am in a long distance relationship.
A surprising number of my friends out here are also in long distance relationships. It works for some people it doesn't work for everyone. However, it is doable, and myself and most of my friends who are also doing long distance are still holding strong after a year and a half. We just have the home stretch now.
So you want to know how to approach a long distance relationship while in the Peace Corps?
A lot of how you approach the situation will depend on how long you have been together, your financial situation, and your Significant Others (SO) general acceptance of you doing the PC.
As far as a financial situation is concerned money isn't required (my fiancé and i don't have a lot of money) but it does make it easier – some volunteers swear by being able to talk to the SO every night... or traveling frequently to see each other.. which is something i could never afford to do. Every situation is different, but you can definitely find a way to make yours work for you.
It would be a lie to say it isn't hard. It is very hard. But you can do it.
My biggest suggestion would to be very upfront with each other before you leave about the expectations for this 2 year separation. TALK ABOUT EVERYTHING!
I know the application process has changed a lot, but when I did the relationship questionnaires we actually sat down and answered the questions together. It was difficult, but forced us to really talk about the situation (and as touchy as some of the subjects are we got some good laughs in as well) -- If you are already past this point in your application (maybe you just met!), you could use some the same questions as a guideline to sit down and have a discussion with each other. It seems silly as you are doing it but it really helps in the long run, and makes your SO feel like they are a part of your decision making and application process as well.
Going in to the the Peace Corps you and your SO may have already been together more than 5 years – or less than 6 months. I don't know how far along you are in your relationship BUT it is also good to have a discussion about the end point. This doesn't have to be marriage (ours was and he actually surprised me and proposed during my vacation home in November -- i thought we were waiting so it really was a huge surprise!!) BUT what ever the plan is for 2 years after – marriage, grad school, moving in together, or just picking up where you left off – you should try to make sure you are both on the same page. It is important to know where you both stand and have a common goal to be looking forward to. If not, your SO might be wondering if you are going to stay a 3rd year? Or if you are even considering them in your plans at all for when you get home.. these are hard emotions to convey when you want each precious moment of your short phone calls home to be happy and not volatile.
Lastly, before you leave set up a general plan for how you plan to keep in contact during your 2 year service. Simple things like how often (or if you write) should be included. Your SO might not know you want them to write -- and if you are expecting a letter it will put stress on the relationship. How often you plan to talk on the phone should also be on the discussion board (but this will change after you see the first phone bill and learn the realities of international calling). Most importantly, do you hope to plan any trips to see each other? If so where and who will be in charge of that planning process (preferably the person at home with the good internet).
That being said, don't forget that THINGS WILL CHANGE once you are in the Peace Corps and no plans you make or discuss will actually be fixed until they happen (often vacations fall through the wayside when finances change for example --- or maybe you won't have phone reception in your village). Be prepared for the fact that the plan you talk about will not always be exactly what happens. It is more like your 2 year relationship guideline.
Peace Corps is an emotional roller-coaster and you will have bad days and good days and a SO is really great for being your support system as long as they realize that we experience the extremes and they have to be there to support us NOT to tell us to give up and come home.
AND PLEASE don't forget to apologize to them from time to time when you feel like there have been more bad days than good and they are PROBABLY the ones hearing all about it. Don't forget to say sweet things and remind each other how great it will be when you are back together again. – It is also OK to cry from time to time, no one will think less of you for it.
*The “On The Homefront” book that Peace Corps issues to new volunteers for their families is also very helpful (I actually requested an extra copy to give to Erik and his family as well!)