Carolyn Hax: Is a long-distance relationship worthwhile?

Carolyn Hax
Columnist June 28, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I know you usually advise readers not to sit around and wait for a significant other. . . . Long-distance relationships [stink]. I get that. Does the advice change if the significant other is headed to Japan for a year (so, a definite endpoint) and really seems dedicated to making it work, with regular flights back to the States, waking up early to phone/Skype, etc.?

I really like this guy — we’ve been dating for two years, and have grown very close — but I also don’t know if I’m taking on too much if I choose to wait for him, and I get that waiting around isn’t usually a good idea. Am I giving up a great thing by giving up on this, or am I saving myself pain in the long run?

Anonymous


That is a concept I just don’t understand: “saving myself pain.” The only sure way to avoid all emotional pain is not to care about anything. And I can’t think of anything more painful than that.

Certainly it makes sense not to be reckless and entrust our feelings to people who’ve proved to us that they can’t be trusted — and we should all be attuned to any self-destructive patterns in our histories.

But I don’t see either of these here. Instead I see two people who have taken two years to establish that they really like and are good for each other. Does breaking up in this case qualify as “saving myself pain” or ensuring it?

Meanwhile, I think you might have misunderstood my position on “waiting.” Long-distance is sometimes unavoidable, so I don’t have a blanket opinion that waiting is a bad idea. What would paired-off service members do, for example, if their partners refused to wait out deployments?

What I do advise is to take into account: how solid the relationship is, how mutual the goals and feelings, how long you’ll be apart, and how flexible you both are about living your lives while you’re apart.

The latter has a lot of wiggle room, since some couples are committed and monogamous and should stay that way; others may be earlier in their courtship and might benefit from releasing each other from any commitment and just seeing where they are after the separation term is over. What matters is that you’re both able to think clearly instead of being all over each other about following some sort of Long-Distance Relationship Code.

When you care, you try, and you see.

Re: Long-distance:

My now-husband and I were in a long-distance relationship for most of two years. The advice I’d give is to not view time apart as “waiting around” for him to get back, but instead think of it as a break from the dating world.

I felt like I got to know myself during that time even more than I did during my single years, when a lot of my mental energy was taken up by dating. And, this may sound pessimistic, but I find it really valuable to know that I can build myself a life without him if I need to.

LDR Veteran

Love this, thanks. I think couples also find out whether they work together on a purely conversational level — much insight to be gained.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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