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.

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