The ups and downs of long distance dating

Long-distance dating is hard. And given a choice, most people would probably avoid it.  But it’s also quite common. In this jet-setting age where people frequently travel for school or work, there’s a pretty good chance that at some point of the relationship, a couple will find themselves in separate cities. For some couples, the physical distance affects their relationship negatively and they eventually break up. For these people, their relationship can be described as, “out of sight, out of mind.” But for others, “distance makes the heart grow fonder,” and their relationship is strengthened during the time they are apart.

When Tim and I started dating, I was in Toronto and he was in Vancouver. He asked me out over Skype and we didn’t see each other in person until a month into our dating relationship. In the year and a half between the time we started dating and when we got engaged, we spent about two-thirds of our relationship living in separate places around the world. It took a lot of work, but we made the distance between us work for us rather than against us. Along the way, here are some of the pros and cons we discovered about long-distance relationships.

The ups of long distance dating:

It forces you to be intentional.

One of the best things about being in two different places was that we had to make the most of the time we did spend together. Because there were time zone differences to factor in, our conversations would often have to be scheduled and could only last a maximum of two hours long. Knowing that we only had those precious little windows of time to connect forced us to think about what we wanted to talk about in advance. Since both of us are list-makers, we would often have a list of stories we wanted to tell the other person or questions we wanted to discuss so that we wouldn’t waste any “air time” when we got to talk. If we had dated in the same city, it would have been much easier for us to shift our focus onto doing activities together and neglect the deeper conversations that ultimately helped set a good foundation for our relationship. Dating long-distance required us to get to know each other from the inside out.

It works well for initially getting to know an introvert.

Being an introvert, I needed time and space to process my thoughts before trying to explain myself. When we started dating long-distance, we initially relied a lot on email to communicate. This was a great way for me to tell Tim about myself because it gave me a no-pressure environment to answer his questions. As our relationship grew and I became more comfortable with Tim, I didn’t need to email as much.

It removes the stress of needing physical boundaries.

Since both of us desired to honour God and our future spouses by saving sex until marriage, not being in the same city worked to our advantage in this area of our relationship. Our friendship could grow without being coloured by the temptation to get physically involved. Of course, we still had to have conversations about physical boundaries for the times we were together in person.

It’s good training for relationship building in less-than-ideal circumstances.

Let’s face it, most of life is lived in less-than-ideal circumstances. But when you are dating, it’s easy to slip into an alternate reality where everything is spectacular and you can escape the stresses of life because you’re with this great person. Dating long-distance gave us the opportunity to practice building our relationship in the face of challenges such as limited time and energy – circumstances which inevitably happen in the course of marriage. If our relationship could survive the test of being long-distance, we felt more confident that it could survive the rigours of marriage.

The downs of long distance dating:

 You don’t get to be with the other person.

This is the obvious one. The reason you’re dating is because you like each other and like spending time together. When you’re long-distance, you obviously don’t get to see each other in person very often. It sucks. What Tim and I discovered while dating long-distance was that it was more difficult for me than for him. I think the reason is because a woman’s mind is like spaghetti, all parts of her life are interconnected. When she thinks of one thing, it reminds her of everything else. So no matter if I was working, resting, or playing, I would be reminded of Tim and would miss him. As for men, their brains are more like waffles – compartmentalized. When he is working, all he thinks about is work. When he plays, his mind switches to thinking about only that. So it wasn’t as difficult for him because he didn’t think about me that often. It wasn’t that he didn’t miss me, it’s just that his brain wasn’t built to think of multiple things at the same time (at this point, one could insert a joke about the simplicity of a male’s mind, but I won’t do that).

You don’t get to see each other in real-life contexts with a variety of situations.

One of the biggest disadvantages to long-distance dating is that you only get to observe the other person in a one-on-one setting. But in order to really know the other person, it’s necessary to see him/her in action in a range of settings and situations. This was why shortly after Tim and I started dating, I decided to get transferred at work for a project that allowed me to be in the Vancouver area for five months.

You pretty much function as a single, non-dating person when you’re apart.

Some may see this as a positive thing, but when you’re dating long-distance, aside from the times when you’re interacting online or over the phone, you can basically live your own life just like it was pre-dating. It’s like you’re part-time dating. In the long run though, this can hinder your relationship because you don’t get to experience the intermingling of your lives. You don’t get to practice taking the other person into consideration when you make your daily decisions about where to go, who to see, what to do, etc.

You might not get a realistic experience of the other person when you’re together.

Another drawback of dating long-distance is that the times you do get to spend together in person become somewhat like miniature honeymoons. When you disagree on something, you tend to think, “Oh, we’re only together for such a short time!” and want to gloss over it instead of bringing it to the table. This can easily set you up for unrealistic expectations for who the other person really is, or what the relationship might look like down the road.

The adjustment can be a shock when you do end up in the same city for the long haul.

Three months before our wedding, I moved to Vancouver. In those initial days after I landed, Tim and I found the adjustment to being in the same city and seeing each other on a daily basis somewhat shocking. “What do we do now?” was often the question. It took us a while to get used to having each other around without feeling like we had to engage the other person in conversation or involve them in what we were doing.

Dating long-distance is probably suited better to certain people, but despite the challenges, I’m glad it was part of our story.

 Flickr photo (cc) by AMELIA SPEED