Thursday, 24 May 2012

Doubts About Long Distance

I received an email about a long distance relationship the other day. All I'll say about this email is that a nice young woman has a long distance friend who became a long distance boyfriend, although I don't think there was an in-person, on-the-spot interview involved in this change. She described their relationship as "dating" although they certainly aren't going out anywhere: they live quite a distance apart and haven't seen each other for some time. He never comes to see her, and the last time she organized a trip to see him, her plans fell through. He did not seem particularly upset.

I don't have a problem with long distance relationships. I now have long distance relationships with my family and many of my friends because I moved to the UK from Canada so as not to be in a long distance relationship with my husband. What I have a problem with is long distance relationships that pretend to be something that they are not, e.g. romantic, marriage-track relationships.

The essence of a romantic, marriage-track relationship is being there for one another. Separations are avoided, but, if inevitable, made as short as possible. Everyone is different, of course, but as soon as B.A. and I started talking marriage, we started planning his first trip to see me in Canada. And while he visited me in Canada, we started talking about when I could visit him again in the UK. And while I was visiting him in the UK, we came up with various unfruitful schemes about how to get married right away. And when back in Canada, I went slowly crazy counting down the days until I could see him again, and he stopped eating. Here comes the groom, skinny as a broom.

For about eight months, our relationship was mostly long distance. He called me every day, and we wrote almost daily emails. Then we got married, and I never wanted to be separated from him again, but I had to be because of being FOREIGN. I had to go back to Canada for weeks and sit around waiting for my Spousal Visa. B.A. called me every day, and we wrote almost daily emails, and I cried a lot. BUT--listen to this--BUT after I got my Spousal Visa and flew home that night, being apart for relatively short periods of time was, and is, no longer such a big deal.

It is no longer such a big deal because (A) we are past the initial and painfully insane stage of a marriage-track romantic relationship and (B) we have been living together for three years. Long-distance is not the norm; being in the same flat is the norm. Long-distance is almost a holiday. (Three weeks apart is my absolute max, though.)

And therefore I will go out on a limb and say that long-distance can work for people who are in time-tested, proven, committed relationships. Heaven knows, there are (or were) many, many women in the UK whose husbands were (or are) on oil rigs in the North Sea for weeks on end, and they make (or made) it work. They make it work because they have something to make work.

And that's the problem. If you never go on a date with the man you're dating, you're probably not dating him. I'm sorry to say this, but there is a danger that what you are is free phone therapy or free entertainment. Heaven knows I have warm memories of my last ex-boyfriend Volker, but the major reason we were in a romantic relationship at all, he later admitted, was that he enjoyed my emails so much. How sucky is that?

I was not really in a relationship with B.A. before we met in person, and fortunately I never thought we were. When he started reading my blog, he was at the end of a psychodrama and had no energy for a new romantic relationship. He had his own stuff to deal with. So he left funny messages on my blog, and I left funny messages on his blog, and every once in a blue moon, he wrote me an email. I love writing emails, so it was difficult not to bombard him with emails, but I managed. Friendly but unobtrusive, that was me. My friend Lily would call this emotional chastity.

There is long-distance, epistolary flirtation, which is fun but fundamentally unstable. And there is long-distance romance between engaged and married people doing their best to keep the home fires burning. And there is even long-distance romance between established boyfriends and girlfriends who were together for quite a time before their separation. But I simply do not believe that an entirely long-distance romantic relationship, one that was always long-distance, and that looks like it will be long-distance for a long time to come, can be an authentic romantic relationship.

A man in love wants to be with the woman he is in love with and, unless it means hurting people to whom he has more pressing commitments (e.g. wife and children), makes it happen. End of.


Too young said...

Here's an embarrassing confession:

For a few months, I had an epistolary-and-then-phone "affair" with a writer 20 years my senior whose work I admired. It sounds ridiculous now, but we called what we were doing "dating." In fact, he was very emotionally exploitive and wouldn't let me refer to myself as a "girl," but only as a "woman" because I think it made him feel better about the fact that he was messing around with the head of someone who, at the time, wasn't even 20.

We're no longer in contact, and I regret this extreme foolishness immensely and wish I could forget it ever happened. But at the same time, I learned some things from it. About men, about "relationships" and nonrelationships, about staying rooted in reality and about what I'm like when sanity fails me.

Blech. I'm still very confused about the nature of the relationship and what kind of impact it had on me, and whether or not it's even worth mentioning as part of my past. On the one hand, it definitely left a mark, but I never want to be put in the position to explain it, especially not to a future real-life-touchable boyfriend. But on the OTHER hand, never speaking about it to anyone feels like I'm carrying around some deep, dark secret. Once again, blech.

Canadian Doc (formerly Med School Girl) said...

In the fall, I started dating an old acquaintance from a Catholic summer camp. We dated back and forth, traveling to each other's province 5 hours away by car, and 1.5 hours by air. Alas, I did not get my long-awaited 5 year residency in his province (my home province). He officially broke things off, and I was heartbroken at the lost opportunity; so much so that I was reconsidering my specialty choice and everything. I couldn't decipher God's will from my own hopes and dreams. As my sister-in-law wisely said: if "we" were God's will, it would also be on his heart and not just mine. In the end, I accepted the residency position I got, feel peace, and recognize that a 5 year long relationship with someone 5 hours away when you're both 32 is not going to cut it.

Grad in a big city said...

Yes. This. So much. I would add that even "established boyfriends and girlfriends who were together for quite a time before their separation" need a concrete endpoint to make this work. In my own case, by the time the number of years together was surpassed by the number of years apart, something broke in my head and I couldn't make it work anymore. I could have done if there was a hard number of years I had to wait after that, but not a nebulous 'someday.'

(and yes, I've read long enough to know that years in a relationship isn't advisable in your lights, but we were in college for most of those years)

CoLAURAdo said...
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Andrea said...

It sounds a little bit as though you have some regret about marrying the way you did. But I looked at your blog and you love your husband, I can see that, so I'm wondering if you could clarify this comment above. To me, it sounds as if you are saying "Don't do as I did." Any additional thoughts there?
I'm speaking here as someone doing Internet dating, which most often brings forward long distance candidates...

n.panchancha said...

Goodness, some very intense stories from people. Long distance is HARD! But long distance that isn't even a real, committed, seriously-open-to-marriage relationship is ridiculous and painful. Too Young's story is so sad (ugh, ugh, ugh - memories that creep back to make you feel disgusting are awful, but that's not what God wants!), and it's terrible to be in a situation where you don't have the experience or confidence (or ability?) to end a bad relationship. Hopefully most people reading this won't be in such dire straits.

My (non-Catholic, good heavens!) best friend has become something of a local expert in long-distance relationships after surviving about 14 months of separation in a period of 1.5 years after moving away from her boyfriend's hometown. (He was in New Zealand, and she in Canada; she returned to NZ for him first and then they moved together back to Canada.) Her hard-and-fast rule is that if there's no definitive end-of-long-distance date in sight, even if it's more than a year away, then the relationship is pointless. I'm inclined to agree.

(As a bit of a hopeful addendum: there's been at least one time in my life when I realized how many exciting, amazing things I'd be open to doing if I wasn't trying to plan my life in order to be close to someone who wasn't even committed to me. It was a revelation! A bittersweet one, but a healthy and good one, too.) :o)

rachel said...

I met my husband online and I can honestly say that I fell in love with him 10 days after we met. Granted, at the time we hadn't met each other in person and I knew and he knew that I was the one but we couldn't really have any confirmation of that until we actually met in person. He lived in Buffalo, NY at the time and I lived (and still am) in Florida. The only way that we were able to grow our relationship into something lasting was for us to be in the same city so he moved down here to Florida and found a job, apartment, etc. Then we were able to pursue our relationship and were engaged a few months later. It is very tough to do but if one is committed, a long-distance relationship can work but it takes a lot of patience and effort.

CoLAURAdo said...
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CoLAURAdo said...
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CoLAURAdo said...
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sciencegirl said...

I feel bad for you, Colaurado. The following are known causes of stress:

starting a marriage
new baby
changing jobs
death of loved one

and it sounds like you had all the top 4 at once, and very nearly #5. It would be ideal to space some of those out, I think. I'm glad you pulled through, and I hope life on the prairie perks up for you outside family life soon.

As for me, my longest distance relationship is actually with my family. I moved away for college and have been in multi-flight distance ever since. My boyfriend is in driving distance.

Made that mistake before said...

I think this is wonderful advice from both Seraphic and others who have been in LDRs before.

From my experience, even if you know someone well enough as a friend, and then you start a long-distance relationship, you still need time together in one place before making decisions such as engagements. Unless you are both very mature and sure of yourselves, as may be the case with some.

In my case, he was very much pressuring me to accept his marriage proposal while we were long-distance, and it just didn't feel right to get engaged. Sure, I probably should have listened to that inner voice and broken it off then - but instead I quit my job, moved across the Atlantic and tried living in the same city. It was over 2 months after I moved back. While I regret quitting the job, I don't regret moving here and trying to make things work - if I hadn't been close to him on a daily basis I never would have seen his 'normal' reactions (extreme jealousy, possesiveness, and how our characters combine to make us volatile nerve wrecks over matters that are not nerve-wreck material). There is nothing like actually dating someone, spending normal, after-work time together as opposed to 5-hour-long-Skype dates to actually really get to know them.

We both probably had/have a lot of maturing to do, but this is not something I would have realized dating long distance. If I hadn't protested against making decisions while long distance, I would now be married... and miserable. Sitting on the bathroom floor sobbing kind of miserable - because that's what happened when we started interacting on a normal basis.

Gorgonzolius Stiltonika said...


a whole lot of what you said could apply to dating an immigrant, or being an immigrant dating a national. In terms of family and stuff. Any thoughts?

Seraphic said...

I am sorry CoLAURAdo had such a rough time. I have been living in Scotland now for three years, and although I can see the drawbacks (especially professional) to moving to another country, I never had it that badly.

Dimples27 said...

My goodness. I am feeling just a tad bit nervous after reading your posts.

Currently in a long distance. My boyfriend is 4 hours away (driving distance) but I've known him for about 5 years now. Started off as good friends attending the same university and met through our Catholic choir where we both sang (boyfriend also played cello). Boyfriend currently in medical school. I'm graduating with a doctorate's myself hopefully in August. End of Fall 2012 semester is the latest.

Four months into our long-distance relationship. Met all his family, very trad and loving Catholics. Seraphic's comment about 3 weeks max physical distance being her limit echoes loudly with me as that's exactly how I feel. I begin to be all dramatic and hormonal when I haven't seen my boyfriend in about that amount of time. We are both doing our best to be physically present for each other. Luckily, his parents live here where I still study and so when he is here we do away with the cost of staying here.

My biggest concern now though is discerning whether or not I should move to his current city, which is 4 hours away. Because really we are certain he will be there for about another year and a half for medical school. I have been praying about this trying to figure whether I should send out my job applications in his area instead of here so we could be in one city. I certainly hate the plain idea of 'moving for the reason of one person' because somehow my friends tell me there is a stigma associated to it and that it's not always smart to do so. In my heart though, I am open to living away from my current city, being in any other city across the US for the job as long as it falls within the area that truly interests me. However, I feel like I need to include my boyfriend in my plans too. It would be nice to be in one city. Just that I'm afraid it might ruin the healthy boundary between us that we are struggling to maintain.

We write each other letters in the mail. We pray on the phone almost each night. But the physical presence, there is absolutely no substitute for it.

My boyfriend is also on the fence about my moving to his city in case. We are currently discussing this and he has expressed that he wants me there. But at the same time, he is not sure how it might play out for us and is mainly afraid that I will end up regretting the decision if things go sour between us. He doesn't want it to happen of course. But I feel he just doesn't want me to feel bad after all I Amarillo be the one to do the big move.

My honest take? Anywhere from here is gonna be a big change for me - transitioning from graduate school to actual professional career. Having to include my boyfriend in the planning makes it a bit more complicated. I am nervous.

Help?? Is it worth a shot?

Seraphic said...

Ooh, tough call. Unless there's been a marriage proposal--and that's unusual after only four months--my gut says apply for a job in your own city. A boyfriend, no matter how nice, is not a fiance and certainly not a husband. Moving to his town too soon might scare him to death.

More importantly, what does your gut say?

MaryJane said...

@Dimples27: Just a thought, but why not apply for jobs in various cities? You mentioned that you really are open, and given the job market in the US right now, it might be practical to send out numerous applications (a pain, I know!)

You could include boyfriend's city, among others, and then see where you get an offer you can't pass up. If it happens to be his city, you could further discern from there.

It's just that right now you seem to be discerning a hypothetical. (What if I get a job in his city? Do I take it?) Why not see if the job is even an actuality first?

Charming Disarray said...

So if it's a bad idea to move closer to a guy unless you're engaged, and a bad idea to get engaged unless you live close together, and considering that most people would like to find someone who lives close to them but can't, what does that leave?

Getting to know someone long distance is a huge risk and can be complicated, but I assume that people do it because it's better than being alone or sitting around waiting for someone to show up in their neighborhood. It seems to me that as long as one or both of you can travel frequently or move and you're both serious about making it work, as opposed to having something casual and open-ended, a long distance relationship is an obvious if somewhat inconvenient option for Catholics who want to find other Catholics. I'm not just not sure what other choices there are.

Seraphic said...

I think I should write a post on feeling icky about youthful mistakes.

Much older people can play much younger people like fiddles because most much younger people simply don't have the life experience to figure out what the oldies are doing.

In the case of the girl who was in a weird long-distance psychodrama with an older journalist when she was a teenager (at least she isn't Joyce Maynard), I would recommend not dwelling on it for now or discussing it. She should not discuss it with men because men subconsciously take cues on how to treat a woman from other men. She should chalk it up as a lesson that older men who take advantage of younger women are not glamorous but skeezy, and then mentally divorce him. The more she continues to think about him, the longer he controls her life in some way.

If Joyce Maynard had kept quiet about her relationship with J.D. Salinger, she would not be going through life as "J.D. Salinger's Ex-Girlfriend." And somewhere out there is a nurse (or former nurse) who had an affair with Thomas Merton and never breathed a word to world that she was "M."

Mary E said...

I definitely agree that if you are in any mature and healthy dating/courtship, you should have a goal and purpose. If you are emotionally, spiritually, physically mature enough, marriage should (at least somewhat) be clearly in the future.

My boyfriend and I met when we were studying abroad in Austria--we were both 20, sophomores and undergrads at a Catholic University in Ohio--and realized we were both from the same hometown in Texas! We became great friends and started dating a year later. A couple months later we found out that he received a scholarship to study abroad again and intern in Berlin. I broke up with him after 4 months because it really felt like the timing wasn't right and my mom didn't really approve of my dating before being finished with undergrad anyway.

We kept in touch for that next year (email) and lost touch for another almost year before we finally semi-randomly met up when I went to visit our college in April of 2011. We got to talking and decided to try to work on our friendship first to see if dating was possibility since neither of us really got over each other or tried dating anyone else since. I was working in Phoenix at the time and he was moving back to Texas. In the 4 months thereafter, I found out that I got into my grad school of choice--in AUSTRIA again! We had been chatting on the phone mainly during those 4 months before I left my job and came home. We decided to make it official and get back together in August 2011--some 3.5 weeks before I headed to Austria, where I'd be studying for the next 4 semesters. He's now working back home, which is great because it's only 30 minutes from where my parents live. We spend lots of time together when I'm home for vacation (7 weeks for winter break, heck yeah! And almost 3 months this summer). He came to visit last month. We spend lots of time talking almost every day and email a few times throughout the day usually. We write letters...we pray the rosary over Skype. =) Cheesy, I know, but it works!

Our situation is different though. We had a solid friendship/relationship base before I moved out here. And he is very supportive of my educational goals. In a way, that gives we lots of peace knowing that if we do get married, he's already so supportive and not pressuring me in any way to move here or there or do this or that. We have talked about marriage and we hope that it can happen not too long after I move back to the US after graduating next summer.

Ultimately prayer is what gets me through, end of story.

Also, it gives me so much consolation to hear about couples who have done it and have been successful. It is possible! My prayers are with all of you!

Seraphic said...

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