Can a long distance engagement work?
Every Monday I like to put up a Reader Question and then take a stab at answering it–and invite my readers to chime in, too. Here’s one from a woman in a long distance relationship wondering about engagement:
A few years back I met a guy from several time zones away. We got to know each other through facebook/skype/texting/etc, and saw each other in person for a month or so each year. The last visit (3 months ago) we both admitted that feelings had developed beyond that of “just friends”, and we want to try a relationship with a purpose (neither of us want to just casually date).
What kind of advice would you give to those in a long-distance relationship? We are neither young nor desperate, and are willing to take our time. Even so, I don’t want to miss a huge red flag (or HIM to miss one!) that would be completely obvious if we were living close to each other.
This is such a common scenario today, and here are a few thoughts I have on having a healthy (and productive) long distance engagement:
Long Distance Engagement = Skyping with a Purpose
This reader has hit on something really key–when your relationship consists mostly of Skype dates, how do you make sure you’re not missing red flags? When you see each other on a regular basis, you can figure out if they’re lazy, if they’re good with kids, if they’re kind to strangers, if they take care of their home, and other things like that. When you don’t, then all you see is the persona that the person uses online. How do you get past that?
You Skype with a purpose!
And by that I mean that when you do Skype, you aren’t just talking about “safe” things that make you feel close and all luvey duvey. You don’t just bond over childhood memories or favourite movies or things like that. You actually have to ask the hard questions and make an effort to get to know each other. That can be a difficult thing to do, and the first step is doing exactly what this reader did–clarify the expectations of what this relationship is.
What Are We Doing?
One of the problems with long distance relationships is that, especially in the early stages, you’re always guessing about what the person feels about you. You text and they don’t text back for a day. Does that mean they don’t care? You were hoping to Skype tonight but he’s too busy. Does that mean you take the relationship more seriously than they do? And because you can’t really see body language in the same way, it’s inherently insecure.
Long distance relationships for just that reason have the capacity for a lot of heartache. I’ve seen my girls and other kids I know agonize over long distance relationships because it’s just not clear where it’s going. One person may just have fun chatting while the other is really invested in the relationship. And how do you take it to the next level?
It isn’t worth obsessing over someone long distance for too long. I think we owe it to ourselves to clarify what we’re doing. So once you have some degree of confidence, ask, “what are we doing?” And it’s fine to set some ground rules, like, “if we’re going to talk long distance, I don’t just want to be someone you turn to when you’re bored. I expect that we’ll connect twice a week to get to know each other. If you’re not comfortable with that, I’d like to move on…”
Many women assume they’re in a long distance relationship because they have a guy that they like that they skype with every now and then. But he may not see the relationship the same way. So you do have to talk about it, and be prepared to move on if he isn’t that into you.
Once it’s apparent that you both do want to date with a purpose, then it’s time to do some interesting things while you talk online!
Do Some Personality Tests
Early on in your relationship I think it’s fun to take some personality tests online and figure out some basic things about each other. What is your love language? What is your MBTI type (this is my favourite personality test!).
Ask Some Hard Questions
If you’re moving towards engagement, you have to really know each other. But it can be tough and awkward to ask the hard questions. So I’d recommend getting a book, like 101 Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged, that you agree to work through together. That way if a question’s awkward, you can say, “well, we did agree to work through the book….”
Some people have found the book a little negative–like he’s giving you all kinds of reasons NOT to get married, which can solidify someone’s decision who is commitment-phobic. Perhaps I’d agree in some cases, because I do think commitment is one of the hugest issues in marriage, and you’ll never find that “one perfect person”. However, because of the inherent riskiness of long distance relationships, I’d really recommend a book like this, because you do need to discover those red flags.
Some of the key things you’ll want to know: how does He serve God? What has God been saying to him lately? What is his relationship like with his family? What are his career goals and how is he moving towards them? How do you handle money? When’s the last time you looked at porn? Yes, they’re tough, but you need to know!
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Get Other People Involved
As much as possible, use Skype to create some interactions that you would normally have. Meet his parents. Meet his friends. In fact, as often as possible Skype with other people involved, too. You want to become part of his social circle and he should become part of yours.
Once the relationship has become serious, it may be good to set up a Skype meeting between a pastor and the two of you.
And take other people’s concerns seriously. When you’re in a long distance relationship, it’s easy to think of the two of you as living in your own little world, but if you get married, it won’t be just the two of you. It will be your friends, your family, your co-workers. You have people who care about you–listen to what their instincts (and even the Holy Spirit) may be telling them.
Set Up a Schedule to Talk
If you’re moving towards engagement, then you should be skyping/texting/interacting regularly–I would say at least 2-3 times a week for an extended period. If you only talk once a week, then it’s easy to just put on your best face. You want to see them in real life as much as possible–and they need to see you like that, too.
Do A Bible Study
Read and study the Bible together and pray together. Now, some people aren’t really comfortable with in-depth Bible study. That’s not their way of relating to God, and that’s okay. But you can still read a Psalm together. You can agree that “this month we’re going to read through the book of Acts”, even if you don’t do a word study on it. And you certainly can pray together! Make sure that your spiritual life is part of your long distance relationship, even if you can’t go to church together.
Long distance relationships can be challenging, especially when you want to get engaged, here are some suggestions how to make sure it’s healthy and productive.
Plan for “In Person” Visits
I know it’s expensive, but you simply must spend the money and be together in person several times before you get married. It’s cheaper to do that than to rush into a relationship that’s wrong. Ideally these visits could be for a few weeks, but even a long weekend is better than nothing. Meet his family. See where he lives. Go to church with him (do people know his name? Do they greet him?). The hard part, of course, is where do you stay, since you likely don’t want to stay overnight with him. That’s where meeting some of his friends on Skype beforehand can be good. Or perhaps you can stay with his parents! It may be awkward, but it’s actually good to get to know his social circle and his family anyway.
Once you do get engaged, I think it’s important to move to the place where he lives, or have him move to where you live. Obviously sometimes immigration issues may make this impossible, but if it is possible, be with him on a daily basis before you actually tie the knot.
I know many couples who have married after a long distance engagement, and they’re all still married and still happy. My daughters did the hair for one wedding last year that was just a blast–she was from Pennsylvania, and he was from Saskatchewan, and they met in Bible quizzing. I’m not against long distance relationships at all. I just think you have to be super careful and super wise, and go in with your eyes wide open. But in this day and age when technology makes long distance engagements possible, it opens up a whole new world, and I think ultimately it’s a good thing.
And, of course, if you’re getting married, I can’t recommend The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex highly enough! I wrote it for any engaged or married woman, but it’s really my prayer that more engaged women will read it, because I think if you understand sex better from the beginning you’ll save yourself so much heartache–and you’ll have so much more fun. I’ve got a special chapter in it for the wedding night/honeymoon, so please read it before you get married!