long-distance love: what would you do?

QUESTION FROM A GREEK TRAGEDY READER: I am writing to ask for some of your wit and wisdom. I started dating a great guy about three months ago. Right from the start, things clicked. On our first date, a dog peed on his shoe, and we both collapsed into hysterical laughter. On our second date, amongst friends, he held my hand under the table through the whole night. Initially, he was perfect for me. Little by little, he began to let me in to how he feels and what he wants. He’s been very honest about wanting to go back to school in his home state and be closer to his family. I don’t want him to leave, but I understand the motivation. He doesn’t like his job here, and he feels isolated from all the people he loves. He has set plans to move home in May. My dilemma is how do I handle this? I can ride things out and enjoy the time we have (after all, a lot can change in four months), or I can try to say goodbye now, hoping to save myself from some of the pain. We haven’t talked much about his leaving, and we haven’t discussed at all if he would want to try a long-distance relationship. I realize that I have to talk to him about the situation, but I want to try to straighten out what I want first. I feel like I’m in a relationship that already has an expiration date. I know milk can stay good after the expiration date, but eventually it will turn sour. Is it worth the risk?
straight up advice
Here’s the short answer:

I think the key to a happy life, a full life, is to love all you have, to feel lucky for each interaction, to watch and interact and learn from the people in your circle, BUT to realize that they’re not yours to keep. When you go at life with this outlook, you take responsibility of your own happiness and don’t overstep your bounds and force your shit onto someone else. You have to love deeply, but loosely, knowing each of us has our own journey and that those in our path will forever change it, change us, but they’re not ours to keep… I’m not saying it’s easy to love loosely. The truth is we can’t live our lives in prevention mode, keeping our feelings under lockdown, hoping to escape the inevitable pain one day. Because it never fucking works. But it has to make it easier seeing each moment as a loan. —Excerpted from Win or Lose Love

Here’s the longass answer: people will tell you that you can’t really save yourself the pain. That you have to love like you’ve never had a broken heart, go for it full throttle, knowing it’s going to hurt like a scissor-nicked crotch sometime in the future, but to hold onto each day you do have. And, here’s what I can tell you: I’ve done that. Twice. And every word of that was true. Until it wasn’t.

In college, it was Jeremiah. He was graduating. I had two more years. He was heading back to Buffalo, all packed up. It was summer; he left. Went back upstate. We spoke on the phone. Real mail. Packs of photos with captions penned on the backs, descriptions of his friends at home, of a life I never knew. It’s so much harder being the one left behind.

He couldn’t take it anymore and surprised me two weeks later, moving back to the city to be with me. Neither of us could be apart. We both held on and gave us a real shot, moving in together. Raising a furkid. Then, eventually, moving into our own places, onto other people, then back together again. And then apart for good. But it wasn’t distance that came between us. It’s one thing we knew for sure and never had to rose-color with a nearly there, "what if." We were better as friends.

Years later, after my OnceWife upon a life, I was in a relationship with a man I knew would be leaving. We’d "met" via email. He emailed me through this blog one afternoon, and I responded quickly, with a single sentence, if that. The fact that I hadn’t gone on in a detailed reply made him sit up and notice. The predictable chase.

That evening, I was on a first date with another man, and as fate would have it, there he was, Email man, at the bar, shaking his head. What are the chances? Here he’d reached out to a stranger via email, something he’d never done, and on the same day, he ran into me. In a bar neither of us had ever frequented.

He interrupted my date, apologized for interrupting, then told me he and his friend would be across the street, if I wanted to "catch up." Bold, bold, move. Power move. And the move was most definitely welcome; my date was a wet-nap.

Later that night, I fell into the bar across the street, and then into his arms. Yes, really. "Bashert," he’d said. Or maybe I said it. Though both are unlikely. Maybe when he told his mother he met "the one," she whipped out the Yiddish word for destiny. Either way, we took the fast track and became inseparable, sleeping together every night. We became each other’s plus one, met friends, instant "significants." Then, looming the whole time we discovered each other, was the fact that he’d already quit his job, ready to head off on a long-awaited, one-year trip around the world.

"Well, if it’s your dream," I had said.

"But, it’s not my dream. I mean, the thing is, yeah I had this trip planned before I had a reason NOT to plan it. Before I met you. It’s not my dream, but I feel like I’d be letting people down if I didn’t go at this point. I mean, come on, I’ve already quit my job. And if we’re really meant to be, we’ll stay together through it all. We’ll meet up. You’ll visit. We can make it work."

But I knew myself well enough to know that I could never survive a long distance relationship. I’m far too needy. And I had a hard time trusting people, especially myself. I didn’t need promises of forever. I needed him in my everyday life. And if it wasn’t going to be him, it would be someone else. It might be different when you live in the suburbs, but when you’re in Manhattan, out five times a week, mingling, bars, parties, it’s just not realistic. Not for me.

So there’s your first question, to yourself, independent of what he might want. Are you ready for a long-distance relationship? One with an indefinite time line? It’s one thing when you know it’s a set time, with a future planned, but another when it’s just hanging out there, this undefined space of "us."

Here’s the one cliche that holds true on both sides: love something, set it free. If it’s yours, it’ll come back to you… and YOU will want it back. Can you live constantly trying to outsmart, outmaneuver love? Yeah. But it’s no way to live. Bottom line, though, and don’t forget this: if a man loves you, he’ll move heaven and earth to be with you. He’ll choose you, put your relationship first, before any decision he might have made once upon a time before you. If world traveler loved me the way he proclaimed, he would have delayed the trip until we could take it together and let "us" be the adventure. He wouldn’t have let our "now" become a "what if."
So I guess what I’m saying is, make sure he’d kill a small horse for you. Once you know he’d do anything to be with you, to stay with you, to explore the possibility of an "us," then you can worry about how hard you both might fall. But you’ll worry together. If he’s not stopping everything for you, I wouldn’t put both feet into the relationship. I’d find a new pair of strappy sandals and choose a different direction.

go ahead, ask GOT QUESTIONS? NEED ADVICE? If you have questions or need advice on anything from where to eat to how to get over the bastard, just email your question to my advice email address.



  1. I am way too untrusting for a long distance relationship. To me, it’s an excuse to avoid real intimacy. It’s an idea of love without any real compromise. It’s very Sandra Bullock in that 9 Weeks Notice movie… and in real life.

  2. Or, you could go with him. Obviously that depends on your circumstances (your career, where you live, where he’s moving to).

    Four months after I met my husband, he moved back home to another country. It was an involuntary work transfer set in motion before we met and ultimately out of his control. I was ready to make a change, so I applied to graduate school in his city, and moved in with him four months later. Two and a half years after we met, we married. Moving was the best decision I ever made. I broke a lot of my “rules”, but I also made sure I had a life of my own to fall back on. (And graduate school worked out too.)

  3. Same boat here. Except I think I love him more than he loves me, or more deeply. He denies it, says this is how he loves me, loosely, knowing I can leave him. But I don’t buy it. I genuinely think if someone thinner, hotter came along, he’d have second thoughts about me, no matter how good/cherished/adored/needed I make him feel.

  4. I think Stephanie is right on with her advice, to love loosely, as best you can. And to remember you’re on loan to one another. If he’s not begging you to come with, you shouldn’t even be spending this much of your time on him. Not even a blog entry worth.

  5. I just read your Win or Lose love entry. You write about such series topics better than anyone I know. Thank you.

  6. And here’s the flip side of that coin, albeit from friends of mine who are many years older than those you’ve mentioned. They met more than 30 years ago, kept in touch throughout their marriages to different people, even meeting up for dinner together with their spouses when one couple was vacationing. He lives in Europe, she in the U.S. Both now are widowed. They reconnected via e-mail, took that relationship to intercontinental phone calls and IMs. They met again in person in the U.S. almost a year ago, after which they set up a schedule whereby they’d meet every few weeks either at a midway point, at her home, or his. He proposed marriage; she wavered. She reconsidered after a bit, and this summer they’ll be wed in a very, very casual ceremony at one of the midway points, and then continue their every few week rendezvous until he retires in a year or so when they’ll divide their time by spending 3 mos. here, 3 mos. there, then repeating the cycle. Flying around the world constantly can be a royal pain, but it certainly keeps the romance alive. She never dreamt she’d lead such a life.

  7. I agree. If a guy wants to move the world for you he will. If he wants to commit to you he will. The best thing is to be free spirited and show your love but know that he might not be yours to keep.

    I met my husband in college. We started dating the summer after my freshman year. I was due to transfer to a school two and a half hours away. (Not far by any means)…But we were in college, etc. Secretly, I plaid it cool but I confided to my older cousin that I was considering…staying…FOR HIM. She told me not to be stupid. That if the relationship was to work out, it would. I took her advice, fled the scene and I’m so happy that I did.

  8. I’ll just say one thing- I met my husband at Summer Camp when I was 19 and he was 17- he was going to Syracuse and I was already at Clark University. When I first asked him what we were going to do at the end of that summer, even before we knew we were in love, he said, “I guess we’ll just be friends?” I was crushed. But I kept the conversation going, who knew I had so much chutzpah at 19? and we realized that it wasn’t what either of us wanted to do, so we decided to be long distance. 7 years later we moved in to together in NYC and got engaged without having been in the same city except for a summer when he was finishing up at Emerson in Boston and I had just graduated. Long distance can work- granted Syracuse to Worcester and then Worcester to Boston and then Boston to NYC isn’t a grand distance- it is a distance. For us, I think long distance worked because it gave us time to really get to know each other, and ourselves as we grew in to adults. I also have to agree with the quote Stephanie provided. There is no need to remove yourself from love as a way to temper the blow, the blow will come either way and hurt just as bad either way. Soak it up while you have it. It is why I ultimately moved to New York to be with the man I loved, I don’t know how much time we have to be together but I know I love him so why wasn’t I with him?
    Good luck!

  9. Off topic – what happened to the layout? I find this really hard to read, not very screen-friendly. Especially the comments.

  10. if Train A is travelling at 180 mph


    Train B, is ‘feeling isolated from all the people he loves’

    Train B, better wake up and smell the rotten milk.

    1. trains, so fucking confusing…

      mrs. milklady

      let’s change mode of transport


  11. Great advice! I also think that before you figure out the status of your relationship, ask yourself: what do you want? And, are you capable of being in a long-distance relationship. Often times, they do not work out the way we want them to and we waste so much time trying to make them work. I happen to have married my long distance relationship 5 years after we had started dating, I lived in New York City and he had moved to Charlotte, NC a few months after he graduated from college. I was a year out of college. It worked for us. But we also made it work and I should say he made it work. He made 100% effort to be with me. I now live in Charlotte, NC. But I knew this was right for me. Just make sure you think about what works for you and how you feel before deciding to go along with what works for him. Stephanie is right. If it is meant to be, he will move heaven and earth to be with you!

  12. I was long an ‘importer.’ Rarely dated local guys. Long-distance relationships are stressful…with the wrong person. i had a few of those. When I met the right one, we maintained an overseas relationship (San Jose – Prague) for a while. But we both had to have open minds going in and realized we both had to open to the possibility of relocation. If the idea of ever relocating and taking that risk is unacceptable to you, then get out before you’re in love. If you can remain open and willing to see what happens, then it’s worth the risk. My guy moved from Prague, and we got married, but the possibility of moving to Prague to be near his family is always a possibility.

  13. homegirl, I love the way you answered this. It’s exactly what M.C. and I did for eachother when we met while living on opposite coasts. He would have moved to me but I chose to move to him because it made more sense finacially and our style of life just ‘fit’ better in Cali than Boston.

  14. “if a man loves you, he’ll move heaven and earth to be with you. He’ll choose you, put your relationship first, before any decision he might have made once upon a time before you.”

    This, I completely disagree with in the context of the asker’s relationship. This is something you needed because of YOUR insecurities, YOUR moose-related childhood, YOUR father telling you that no one goes for fat girls and YOUR cheating first husband. There’s no shame in being needy, as you’ve confessed to being. I am too. But not every relationship needs heaven and earth moved the way that you do. Which seems to be the everyday, all the time way.

    I don’t think his moving means there is no future. It means there will be some hard times ahead, some time apart, and some difficult conversations (you move, he moves, you pick a place in the middle and both move…all this on top of jobs, the economy etc). But to ask him to stay, knowing that he hates his job and feels isolated will only transfer those feelings to you eventually. You will be the only thing he has to make him happy and while that may work for Stephanie (who has also confessed to relying on Phil for her happiness and it being unfair of her to do so. And also it not working), that is a lot of pressure on one person. His family, friends and job PLUS you can make him happy. Don’t take it all upon yourself. You can’t do it. No one can.

    It’ll be hard. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. I’m not going to tell you that if it’s meant to be it will be. That’s B.S. Who knows what’s meant to be? But there’s no manual for “what’s real, heaven and earth moving love.” You’ll hear stories of love on different continents. Love where they never left the other person’s side from first meeting. And love that’s a mix of the two. But your relationship is completely unique. Try it long distance. If it’s not working for you, be honest. Tell him you need him there and help him find a job he doesn’t hate. Maybe travel more back to his hometown so he doesn’t miss his family and friends so much. Realize his family is important (as are you) and feelings of isolation are no small issue. There are a million different options and ways to love. Don’t get discouraged yet! Good Luck.

    1. Sorry Danielle, but I don’t agree with you at all. If this guy isn’t reconsidering his move in light of this new relationship, or planning a way for them to be together in the future, it doesn’t sound like he is planning for a future that includes the relationship.

    2. Wow Danielle–i completely agree w you. to do a long distance relationship, you need to be indepdent and not needing a warm body next to you all the time. yoou also can’t focus on the future.. you need to live in the present and appreciate the relationship and the person before you while strengthening that relationhip.. but you also hasve to strengthen yourself and enjoy your own life and city and family and friends.

  15. Just want to say that you are so awesome for answering these advice things. I know how busy you are and want you to know how much I appreciate your take on things, even when I don’t agree (which is actually often). I will say, though, I envy the way you go after what you want in life, without caring who’s watching. I’ll always be a fan.

  16. Totally agree SK. He has to show that wherever he goes, he’s damn well gonna figure out a way for her to go too. I love your advice section! It keeps me thinking!

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