Distance, Long Distance: Dating, Mating, and Waiting

It never occurred to me to be jealous. It never occurred to me that he was leading another life. After all, we talked on the phone, we emailed, we Skyped – all of it daily and often, for hours.

Young Woman with pouty lipsHe told me he loved me, he was committed to being with me, and we’d work out the distance issue eventually. Given that he had children as did I, we were both bound to specific locations for two or three more years.

Our jobs that held us each to different parts of the country?

That was a constraint as well.

But you know how it goes, right? Along comes the L word – love – and you tumble down the rabbit hole, convinced you’re sure enough and smart enough to figure it all out.

When you’re in love, particularly after the end of a marriage, you may find yourself especially vulnerable. Or are some of us always likely to be vulnerable, and consequently, we should take our time — every time?

Dating Others in a Long Distance Relationship

Dating others in a long distance relationship? That never occurred to me either. So color me surprised when it turned out he had several women on a string at once, with some indications he’d created separate lives with each of us.

I might have made excuses (for him) – had there been one additional amour. I would’ve ached from the deception, and rationalized that his sexual needs preempted his emotional resolve.

Color me naive, or better yet – stupid. And yes, I met him through online dating, had checked him out thoroughly on Google, and verified that he was who he said he was in other ways online.

I thought I had it covered. And I was wrong.

If not for one of the women catching wind of this man’s antics (and alerting the others), our relationship would have sailed along. We got together every few weekends, and he told me – I suppose – what he thought I wanted to hear.

Long Distance Dating

For a number of months before we were engaged, the man I married and I were involved in long distance dating. We had started out in the same region, but some months into the relationship (which seemed more than casual but less than serious), I took a job in another part of the country.

During those months before his job sent him to my new location, was he dating other women, since we could only see each other every three weeks?

It’s only now that I even consider the question. He certainly could have been dating others. I would never have known. But until we declared ourselves as some sort of unit (boyfriend-girlfriend, and later, engaged), it would have seemed perfectly fair. Not desirable, but not unreasonable.

The REALLY Long Distance Relationship

Now I consider another relationship, and it was transcontinental. We saw each other every few months, though again, we spoke daily and online. I sacrificed hours of my sleep so we might spend time together in that fashion (the time difference was challenging), yet we shared so many aspects of our daily lives that I was certain the relationship was entirely exclusive.

Our slow process of knowing each other came long after my divorce. We spoke of values. We shared confidences. My children liked him (that was a good sign), and we were genuinely loving with one another.

I was lonely, yes – but I certainly didn’t lack for constant activity. Two kids, multiple contracting gigs, speaking with him – it all filled my life.

Still, the long stretches of months without touch or scent or taste – they were hard. Yet when we were together, our experience was sublime.

Eventually I ended the relationship, and we remain on good terms. It was not over distance or values or lifestyle, but over something else that is critical to each of us in different ways, and something I couldn’t manage without.

The Long Distance Marriage

Of course, dating is one thing and marriage quite another. You may be in transition during your engagement, waiting for the time you can be together and then marry. Sometimes, the marriage itself requires separation – careers that take you to different ends of the country, finishing a university program, military assignments that send a spouse overseas, or extensive travel by one or both partners. You endure all of it, hoping it isn’t forever.

But is marriage sustainable when we find ourselves in these situations? Will physical distance increase emotional distance, or is that a matter of how much time apart, how committed each partner is to regular communication, and the character of the individuals involved?

So how do you keep it going? Is staying in touch through talking and texting and Skyping enough? And if you’re married and living significant periods apart, does this somehow allow you to justify a little more socializing with “friends” of both genders?

I can’t begin to imagine the strain on military families, not only bearing distance but extraordinary worry.

Distance in Marriage

Of course, there is that particularly painful phenomenon of distance inside a marriage. Too many of us know this story: the quiet when the children have gone to sleep and you find there’s little to say to each other; the silence of the bed as he turns and settles on his side and you, reluctantly, cling to your own.

There are no shared confidences. There is no affection.

It’s a peculiar sort of loneliness, tinged with regret, with remorse, with what ifs, and with bewilderment.

Naturally, you find yourself wondering if someone else is filling the void. So you try a little harder. Or you don’t try at all.

Long Distance Loving – Is Cheating Inevitable?

It seems to me that it’s difficult enough to nurture a relationship. When you add physical distance, is it inevitable that someone else will slip into his heart – or yours? If not a sexual liaison, then an emotional affair?

As long as we aren’t “exclusive,” do we accept that dating others may lead to intimacy? Do we enter these relationships aware of that risk?

And yet, long distance relationships will continue to be part of our romantic and marital landscape. Contemporary life creates an odd experience of expanding and contracting distance, thanks to technology. But won’t distance always fracture our core relationships and familial units in some fashion – complicating our lives as we pursue our passions, or do what we must just to get by?


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  1. says

    Funny, I was just chatting with a friend the other day whose husband cheated on her while working in another city on a long-distance gig. It seems almost inevitable, doesn’t it? Sometimes I suppose the distance can’t be avoided. (In their case, they really needed the money.) But it does seem like it opens up a real opportunity for cheating, especially if there are any underlying “issues” in the couple (and when aren’t there?)

    Which of course doesn’t mean that affairs can’t happen when you live together. But the distance just gives them that much more room to breathe.

    Delia Lloyd

    • BigLittleWolf says

      It does seem that way, doesn’t it, Delia. If there are any issues, the physical distance makes it that much easier to “justify” attachments to others – even temporary.

  2. says

    Long distance relatioships? Forget it.

    p.s. I’ve done them as “romances,” where the limitations are known and accepted for what they are. And we are still good friends. But for serious relationships — forget it. Don’t settle for less.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      There are times when long distance relationships – or “romances” as you say, Paul – are as much as we can manage. I know that was true for me, for many years, working and raising two kids on my own. A full-time relationship? I realize now that I would never have been able to pull it off, but I’m grateful that I learned what it was to love again, even with the issues inherent in geographic distance.

  3. says

    After college, my husband and I lived in different cities for four years. We were only two hours apart and saw each other every weekend and sometimes during the week, but the simple reality of not being part of each other’s day-to-day lives took a toll on our relationship and the distance nearly sunk us. I imagine that there are couples who could make it work, but, for us, it was a real challenge – and that was before kids were in the picture. Now, I couldn’t imagine it.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      You raise a good point, Kristen – life before and after kids. It’s challenging enough when there’s the couple. Add the work of children, and without extraordinary commitment (and support systems), I think it’s an almost impossible.

  4. says

    I wouldn’t call it impossible to maintain a long distance relationship but it has to be challenging. Unless you know that you are going to find a way to make it work and have a definitive timeline…

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I agree with you, Jack. But as Kristen alludes to, when children are involved, it makes it that much harder. Not impossible – and even with some advantages – but also, very particular struggles.

  5. Mark says

    “So color me surprised when it turned out he had several women on a string at once, with some indications he’d created separate lives with each of us.”

    Where do these guys get the energy? In the words of “When Harry met Sally”, I’ll have what he’s having.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Your comment makes me laugh, Mark. They’re out there. Everywhere. Energy doesn’t seem to be a problem. (Love the “Harry Met Sally” quote!)

  6. says

    “Is marriage sustainable when we find ourselves in these situations? Will physical distance increase emotional distance, or is that a matter of how much time apart, how committed each partner is to regular communication, and the character of the individuals involved?”

    I think the sustainability of it really does depend on the partners’ tolerance for the challenges, their adaptability and creativity, and the length of time that the relationship is long-distance. I did it for eight years across my relationship (six before marriage, two after, with a two-year break from commuting in between those periods). In hindsight, we would have been in much better shape in our second round of long-distance had we not been worn down by the first. Our tolerance for the travel, the expense of travel, the all-too-brief visits, and the difference between physical presence in conversation and the lack of it was at its breaking point by the time we reached the end of the commute. Both of us would now go great lengths to avoid having to do this again, ever.

    “So how do you keep it going? Is staying in touch through talking and texting and Skyping enough?”

    In the end, it was almost not enough to talk via all the technologies we had available. We began to hate talking on the phone because we’d just be irritable and then tensions would lead to blowouts. Which decreased any desire to be creative in making our circumstances less unpleasant. I’d say it’s important to recognize when the routines you have in place to connect are no longer as effective as they once were–that’s the time to get working on additional strategies together, before frustration inhibits your ability to work with your partner and generates only feelings of blame.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      How you managed for 8 years, CT, is remarkable and testament to the commitment you both had – and have.

      Thank you for providing advice based on experience, for those who might be living this situation now, or considering it. What a relief it must be for you both that this is behind you.

  7. lunaboogie says

    So sorry for your surprise. Hope you are doing OK.

    When I was single, I had several “long distance relationships” – one on the other side of the state that went on for 10 years, (we met several times a year either here or there), – another in another state and we flew back and forth every other year. Neither was serious, serious, and I dated others at the same time who were actually here – until I found the one I wanted to be exclusive with.

    My best friend had a spouse who traveled a lot. Turns out he had a thriving other life for 10 years that she eventually found out about. She says he was then like a stranger. My brother in law, conversely, always thrived on long distance relationships (he adores European women) that I KNOW were exclusive. The first year of his marriage, he and his spouse lived on separate coasts and even now they teach in cities 300 miles apart and are together only 3 days per week. It works for them, but I think, really, it is the exception.

  8. says

    Somewhere, La Rochefoucauld had a maxim about love at a distance being like a flame in the wind. If the flame was small, it went out. If it was large, it was fanned. Maybe it worked that way in the 17th Century..

  9. says

    I have been in a long distance relationship for 3 years and it is awful! We didn’t meet online, we re-connected at a h.s. reunion, and he was my first boyfriend, but that was 30 years ago. We are both divorced and both have 3 kids. We try to see each other every 2 weeks (he lives 915 miles from here, yes 915) but due to our custody schedules we sometimes have 4 weeks in between. We text, we talk on the phone, we Skype, but at times one of us gets edgy and it gets very hard. I keep asking myself how in the hell I got to be 47 years old and in a long distance relationship! I vowed no more in my 20’s!

    • BigLittleWolf says

      It’s so difficult to find someone you “mesh” with, when dealing with kids and especially, when you are of a certain age. At least, in my experience. This is one of the reasons that we tolerate these long distance relationships with all their challenges – despite our vowing that we won’t do it again.

      Thank you for joining the conversation, Pennie – and all best wishes for this being a good, nourishing, loving relationship – despite the inevitable complexities involved.

  10. says

    My husband and I lived separately for a year and a half after we were married. I think as people and couples we underestimate the daily churnings as unimportant, but I believe it is a gateway to building a more affectionate and enduring marriage. After having our daughter, I couldn’t imagine living in separate locations.

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