Feeling closer together in long-distance relationships
She Said, He Said
Dear Jeff and Lori,
I’m a middle-aged, divorced woman and have spent many years searching for Mr. Right. Six months ago I met an amazing man while he was on a business trip. We had instant chemistry, and spent almost every minute together before he had to return home. We’ve managed to see each other twice since then, and talk almost every day. I love him, but have never been in a long distance relationship before. Am I setting myself up for disappointment?
Lori and Jeff: In the realm of relationships, long-distance love is a fantastical beast. The very distance that defines it also serves as a source for increased intrigue, passion, longing and loneliness. For many couples, long-distance relationships (LDRs) keep the essence of the shiny-new-love-honeymoon-stage long beyond that of lovers in the same zip code. Because of having limited access to each other, LDR partners tend to be more thoughtful and meaningful in their communication, look forward to each opportunity to see one another, and have much less of a chance of taking each other for granted. But the separation that drives appreciation can also lead to a lack of fulfillment.
Lori: Whether or not your long-distance romance disappoints will depend on how honest you can be with yourself. There are two ways in which LDRs lead to letdowns. First, long-distance lovers, swept away by passion and romance, can blur the lines between reality and fantasy. In the early stages of every relationship, we tend to idealize our partners, putting emphasis on the strengths we know, and filling in any blanks with the best possible light. The more time you spend with someone in the everyday minutia, the more you become acquainted with who they really are. In a long-distance relationship, you can stay immersed in the fantasy for much longer, which can lead to deeper disappointment down the road if you’re not ready to see his shortcomings.
Second is having love without logistics. If you’re falling in love, it’s time to pull the cord and have an honest conversation about what each is wanting for the future. Don’t wait and hope you’ll magically land on your feet together. Are you imagining growing old with someone under the same roof? If so, could you ever relocate? Could he? Before you sink your heart any deeper into this relationship, get clear on your expectations, needs and non-negotiables.
Jeff: Relationship expert Esther Perel writes about the “shadow of the third” in her book “Mating in Captivity.” This “third” can be the ever-present possibility of infidelity, our partner’s past romantic history and current deeper friendships. Perel suggests that, if acknowledged and treated respectfully, the shadow has the potential to enhance rather than harm relationships. This hint of uncertainty can bring in excitement and intrigue, which helps to keep both partners on their toes, showing up and not taking anything for granted. In your case, the third is the distance between you and your new man. It’s not necessarily the physical distance, but also the uncertainty of the future. Will either of you eventually want to give up your life where you live currently and move closer to each other? Will you see each other differently if you do?
The challenge, of course, is if you do eventually decide to join lives and be together full time, you will need to acknowledge the absence of this particular “third.” As you spend more and more time together and get comfortable enough to create routine and habit, it will be important to remember that just because you now share a closer physical proximity, the distance between your hearts could grow miles apart.
Lori and Jeff: The bottom line is that this process needs to be one of intent. Your best protection from disappointment is having clarity about your own needs and expectations, having the courage to share them openly and finding the strength to walk away if he’s not up to the task.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.
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