Can Long-Distance Relationships Work?

Courtesy of chanpipat /

Yes and no. And not the way you think. Can you be involved with someone who lives far away? Yes. Will it work if you attempt to adhere to hard-and-fast rules where you define the success of the relationship by how “true” to each other you can be, by how little you can be invested in your local lives and live only to Skype?

Yeah, that’s not going to work.

It’s all about the timeframe and the expectation. If you’ve been very serious with someone and he or she has to move away for a set period of time, that may be doable because there’s a deadline. Or, you’ve been long distance and there are real plans in place to move closer within the next year.

But if he lives far away and there’s no realistic time period when he will be within striking distance–like, ever–then you have to be realistic, too. This does not mean you have to cut this person out of your life; in fact, an annual or even quarterly reunion with a long-distance love can be amazing, and give you something to look forward to.

I am not, however, a fan of the eternal, long-distance pine. And I have had several long-distance relationships, and not a one of them lasted very long. But I don’t see the distance as what failed them; I see our severed connections as having suffered a lack of vision, not love or affection.

You can keep people in your life in degrees. Too many of us see our relationships as an on/off switch—they’re either “on” in your life or they’re completely powered off. I do not understand this. I mean, I get why people feel they need to do this, but am shocked at why we continue to think in this very stringent and joyless way.

I’ll share: I met up with a man I’d known years ago at a dear friend’s funeral, where we connected over our grief—and found we had more in common than just our loss. He was from New England, where I was at the time, but was living in Miami. For a while it was quite romantic—he flew me to Florida, he came up to visit, and it was really a lot of fun. It’s fun to want someone you can’t have all the time (so, ok, yes, pining does have its upside). There was some talk of him moving back up north with his job, but then something changed. He became all of a sudden unreachable, unresponsive. When we finally talked, he said he’d made the decision to stay in Miami, and that meant he didn’t know what the point of our relationship was.

Wow. OK. So at first I was hurt that he would make this decision essentially to write off the state and me without talking to me about it. But also, I told him the relationship didn’t need to go anywhere it hadn’t already gone—that I would be just as happy to see him when he was up here, or make plans to visit him there. I was willing to reimagine the relationship so that we were free to live our lives, and yet could still enjoy one another when we could.

He was not so open-minded, and so it ended. But the real loss there was that he felt he needed to 100% vaporize. And he took it all—his friendship, everything. I feel bad for people like this, who think that relationships are all or nothing, when they don’t have to be. It was my loss, but I also believe it was his.

My point is this: By all means, cultivate and enjoy connections where you find them. But don’t get caught up on the on/off switch. Life is long. You don’t know where and how people will find themselves back into your life or your neighborhood. Keep it open, flexible, and loving, and you really can write your own rules.

Got a question? Some trouble? A mini crisis? Send it my way.