What we’ve learned in dating long distance

I sat at the gate a half hour before I would board the plane and cracked open a copy of Harry Potter. It could quell the urge to pout about how I had to spend the morning: traveling 784 miles away from my boyfriend.


The distance between my city and his is a difficult but worthy hurdle. A molehill that often feels like a mountain. An excuse I use to pout a lot at airports. And doing this — dating at a distance — has required teamwork to make work what wouldn’t work without effort.

It has required patience: 5 days close, 25 far (give or take). It has involved a learning curve (we use this meme a lot). But what we are learning is important: that it is possible to withstand the separation, by acknowledging (and acting on) what long distance daters need.

We’ve learned that we need structure.

Call it a schedule, if you will. Ground rules, even. Sometimes people resist this because it sounds like a threat to their freedom. But very little frees long distance daters to live their lives like knowing exactly when they’ll see (or Skype) each other next.

A long distance couple that doesn’t have structure doesn’t know what to expect, or what is expected of them. They also don’t have to show up — all conditions favorable for resentment. Deciding together what the days and times are each week that you’ll dedicate to each other undoes that.

Structure produces expectations. Meeting expectations expresses commitment.

We need trajectory.

That is, to acknowledge that long distance dating is a temporary part of a longer path, and to discern something important while we date: to where would God like this path to take us?

Having trajectory requires a couple to discuss with prudence what they don’t have to discuss at all without it: the future. We are not designed to “wait and see” what happens when we’re in relationships (long distance or not). We’re supposed to decide what happens.

Trajectory reminds us to decide.

We need boundaries.

Couples who are in long distance relationships need to talk. But couples who are in long distance relationships do not need to talk all day. Put the phone in the drawer (is what I tell myself daily upon arrival at work).

The temptation is strong for lots of people to be in constant communication with the person they date (regardless of how far apart they live). But boundaries prevent us from ignoring the important stuff in front of us, such as what people are paying us to do all day at work or the friends and family who surround us.

Boundaries also provide us with something important: anticipation. That 5:30 p.m. “FREEDOM!” text brings us bigger smiles than it would if we had been talking all day.

And oh, how we need Jesus.

A significant other is not a source of peace nor the “fuel station,” as Timothy Keller calls it, that “fills the tank” when we’re “running on fumes,” spiritually or otherwise. A significant other can’t be those things because only God is those things.

And it can be easy while you wish you were with each other, geographically, to begin to expect your significant other to do God’s job.

But it is so, so good when you realize that it’s a reminder to focus on Jesus.

New to my work? Click here to learn about my own book, Chastity Is For Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Tom Quiner

    Karen and I dated long distance for more than a year in an era before cell phones, email, Facebook, social media, and cheap long distance (25¢ a minute in those days). We’d write each other letters 2, 3, or 4 times a week. We could afford to call each other once a week. We’d see each other in person maybe every 3 or 4 months. This separation helped to forge an unusually strong relationship. We will celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary next month.

    • Arleen Spenceley

      Beautiful! Thank you for sharing this, Tom.

  • Bryan

    I’ve had a few long-distance relationships. While they didn’t work out, I did learn a few things.

    Like you said: structure. You have to set aside time for each other. Plan for it. My first LDR I called her every night before going to bed. It was always late, and there were times I fell asleep on the phone, but we made the time for each other.

    The second thing is to constantly give thanks for the time you have. I was dating the perfect girl, and I didn’t appreciate what I had. I demanded more than she could give. What I didn’t see was her choice to call me with her limited time rather than her parents. She was a missionary who was allowed no more than 20 minutes a day on her phone, if she could use it at all.

    Just like any relationship, you have to be mindful of each other’s limitations, cherish the time you do have, and focus on making a gift of yourself.

  • I like the idea of not communicating all day long. That is really hard somedays especially when I don’t have much going on.

    I have this immense fear he is just going to disappear which is just ridiculous and I know my boyfriend isn’t going to leave me…but I had so many guys in the past that have just disappeared. They don’t say this isn’t working out I don’t like you they just unfriend me, block me, and stop responding.

    • Arleen Spenceley

      Lots of women and men have known the fear you feel. Not talking all day requires trust that you’ll both show up again at the end of the day. It would create conditions for you in which you can learn whether your fear is unfounded. If it is unfounded, it’s a weight lifted — you’ll know you don’t have to be afraid that he’ll disappear. If it isn’t unfounded, it’ll still be a weight lifted in the long run — you’ll be glad, eventually, not to have wound up with a guy who just stops showing up.

  • Yooinn Hong

    Hope God does not waste the hard time! Could you do a blog about how you guys met and (possibly) discerned where you are being called? 😊

    • Arleen Spenceley

      God never wastes time! (And eventually, I just may write that post. 🙂 )