Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Dating with Distance

Last night, B. told me he now has to work six days a week.

As the child of two workaholics, working six days a week is not unusual. Growing up, Dad would take us to the office with him on Saturday so that we could help out or do our homework without too many distractions.

But now, I see such a schedule differently. B., for those unawares, is my boyfriend. We live two hours apart, and until I went to Asia a little over two months ago, the distance did not bother me. This summer, however, has been a busy one for both of us, especially as he is now in his rotations, which are less flexible than class and studying, since he has to actually be at the hospital. His work schedule, combined with the need to sleep and the time it takes to travel, is going to sharply cut any time we wish to spend with each other. I am, how you say? nicht sehr amusiert. (That is, "not very amused" - I'm practicing German for my upcoming trip! My accent is horrible.)

Aww, shucks
I've always considered the distance between us as a buffer; a no man's land, where one of us would cross every weekend. I'm an independent person, see. The distance provided that lovely balance of work-home-relationship. I think having distance between us has helped us advance and pace the relationship, and allows for more creative modes of communication, like sending letters, writing poems, and sharing articles.

It was B. who saw deeper into Max Lindenman's piece "On Dating Nice Catholic Girls" than any of the Bright Maidens. After reading the original article and the three responses, B. told me we had missed the subtle point.

"His problem," said B., "was not with the girls he dated; it was that he didn't feel special in the relationships."

I took the bait; I re-read the article. By golly, B. was right! Mr. Lindenman had written (and how had I missed it?):
Like the husband who suspects his wife of cheating, I began hunting for clues to confirm my fear, not trusting myself wholly to acknowledge them. Nevertheless, it became clear, a case for an emotional trade deficit could be made. Whereas I had a handful of friends and two hands full of enemies, Melissa was all chatty charity with everyone she met, from me to the cashier at Souper Salad. The same thoughts she murmured to me as we lay entwined of an evening would turn up the next morning on her LiveJournal page, edited for tense agreement. 
If Melissa made any distinction between public and private, friendship and love, my eyes were not tuned finely enough to see it.
As a writer, this passage spoke especially close to home: I'm chatty with the grocery store clerk and most people who cross my path. I talk through my thoughts with B., but also with my family, Elizabeth and Trista, and a handful of friends whose minds engage my own more broadly. This is how I was before I started dating B., and how I continue to be. Is that so wrong? Does my outreach to people and need for interaction of ideas with others lessen my attachment to my boyfriend?

I do not think so, and neither does B. (I asked.) Not feeling special is a symptom to a bigger problem, me thinks: communication. The above author and his girlfriend spent ample amount of time together, but, in the end, went separate paths because she was not ready for "the epic plunge of love" and he, from what I gathered from the re-reads, grew jealous of her indiscriminate openness. He wanted more to be sacred between them. As he wrote, almost sadly, "There's a great deal to be said for nice Catholic girls: the up-front quality, all those depths made visible, like the ocean in a color-coded map."

I'll go 360 in a minute; back to formulating my thesis. Dating with distance: it's manageable.

Sure, I miss him, hug the family dog Heidi more, play tennis because he can't (being in rotations and all), keep busy with my family, writing and reading, talk to him when possible (his bed time is now hours before mine) and [try to remember to] write letters. He's currently taunting me with another idea for a poem (he's incredibly witty).

As my Dad advised me, as in any relationship, it's all about priorities. I've found, though, it is more about patience.

(Watch it, if just for the scenery!)
I struggle with patience, but I'm starting to find the distance sanctifying, and I'm beginning to gain amazing insights into it. The distance could be worse even, and not geographically.

The tagline of The Painted Veil (one of my favorite movies) is "Sometimes the greatest distance is between two people." These two people, however, were married and lived together. B. and I are not married and do not live together. Yet, without forgetting that I am comparing my relationship to a fictional one, we have much better communication. More importantly, we have honest communication.

B.'s honesty is one of his best traits, and, combined with unfailing upfrontness, we's like peas and carrots. I read recently that "honesty is very rare". So many relationships could avoid the awkward or feeling like a waiting room by a want to be honest. You have to desire honesty first, and there are plenty of ways to be tactful and polite without keeping another person wondering, especially when you're already dating that person.

Girls enjoy over-analyzing everything. I'm of the opinion that analyzing a person is not the same as getting to know them. Moreover, over-analyzation shows mistrust. It says, there is more there, and I want to know. But if you're not asking the questions to the person directly, you're not going to get the answers you so desire. I trust B., because he's honest with me when we disagree. If we had been more interested in impressing each other when we first met, we might have kept our, ahem, stronger opinions to ourselves.

Honesty isn't just bluntness; it's a desire to share the real you. This is the kind of connection distance cannot lessen. When you have a real connection with a person, three things happen:
A) You seek their thoughts, and to honestly share your own
B) You want to be a better person
C) You see opportunity in difficulty (to paraphrase Churchill)

I remember my friend Andrew, another medical student, telling me about an alcoholic who hurt his foot. He did not personally care what happened to him, but he cared about his dog, and thus sought medical care. The take-away-point was, can disease be a blessing? Andrew saw how it was a blessing for that man. It changed his whole perspective on life and the choices he was making.

B. and me!
Distance can be, and is, a blessing in my relationship with B. This does not mean the time between us is any easier or more joy-filled, but rather, the blessing B. is to me provides a pathway to offer up my current frustrations to God.

Jacob had to wrestle God till dawn before he extracted a blessing from him, and I expect these coming months will provide ample opportunity to test such enduring faithfulness. My initial unhappiness at the knowledge that I am going to see him at most one day a week (and, most likely, less some weeks) is being overcome by praying and practicing patience. If God's will be done, then these next months apart will be blips on my soul's sonar.

More on this later, but if you have any thoughts or ideas, please share them with me. On a completely unrelated note, my Catholic Sexuality series posts that were supposed to start going up today are delayed one week. Thanks for your patience!


  1. Love this. I'm in a four-hour-apart relationship myself. As two grad students, we don't have the time/money to visit more than every other weekend. We've been doing this for almost all of our 2.5 year relationship! It took me until Advent this past year though to realize all the spiritual benefits. I can offer up the frustration, I can grow in patience (I'll be working on that one for a while), I can work on a more fulfilling prayer life (Adoration, etc), since we have a fairly routine visiting/calling schedule. I feel less pressured to leave school early to hang out with him, so I'm more likely to go to daily Mass.

    Sanctification comes in all shapes and sizes. ^_^

  2. "Girls enjoy over-analyzing everything. I'm of the opinion that analyzing a person is not the same as getting to know them. Moreover, over-analyzation shows mistrust. It says, there is more there, and I want to know."

    That may explain a lot of conversations between me and my most recent ex-girlfriend. Sample conversation:

    Me: "The sun rises in the east."

  3. Well said J-Rob. All things have a purpose, each situation a time and a place. Even if we are not content with the circumstance, it does not make it a bad one. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Great post! My husband and I dated for almost 8 years before we got married. For over half that time we were living in different cities -- between 3 and 6 hours apart at different points in our relationship. We would see each other 1 or 2 weekends a month. In between visits we talked on the phone (thank goodness for cell phones with free long distance!), emailed, instant messaged, and wrote letters. It was incredibly hard at times, but it really made us appreciate the time we spent together. What you wrote in your post about communication and honesty hits the nail on the head. These are, of course, essential to any relationship, and even more so when you throw distance into the equation.

  5. I would love to hear more about how you got to know each other despite the distance. What did the early stages of dating look like? - Trista (can't seem to log in right now!)

  6. This is a great post! I love your take on distance. I'm so happy that you and B. are making it work. I have never been in a long-distance relationship myself, so reading about a successful one is very intriguing.

  7. Beautifully Julie. You two make a nice couple. I have read and watched "The Painted Veil." Oh, painful story.

  8. I enjoyed this post, Julie! When Bryan and I got engaged and then faced nine months of separation as he moved to Montana and I stayed in Michigan, the distance was something we both dreaded. While I'm not going to deny that it was painful in a lot of ways, our relationship (even though we'd already been together for two years) grew stronger through the difficulties. Some blessings we found in the separation were the development of a deeper appreciation for each other through missing each other, and the push to have more focused and meaningful communication when we did get the chance to talk to each other (and hurrah for modern technology and the communication opportunities it gives). I hope you two also grow in your relationship through the challenges. :)

  9. We all have seasons in our lives when we cannot spend alone time with our beloved, whether the separation be due to distance, work or raising little ones. Writing letters is a wonderful, intimate way to communicate.

  10. Love reading your thoughts on all of this! I have never been in a long distance relationship (nor a "real" relationship in a long time) but I have definitely experienced the emotional distance, which I think can be worse than the geographical. Can't wait to read more about what you both learn from your experiences... maybe a guest post from B. sometime???!

  11. "His problem," said B., "was not with the girls he dated; it was that he didn't feel special in the relationships."

    I had a lot of problems with the things Max's girlfriend said or did, to be honest! Just didn't write about them. For instance, her reaction to him saying cuddling could be a near-occasion of sin was shockingly selfish. "For you, maybe," was the response (if I remember correctly). Well, lady, if your boyfriend finds that to be a near-occasion of sin, you better change your ways to help him out!

    Good eye, B.! Thanks for giving us greater insight into the male perspective.

  12. After reading this belatedly, I have to say "Long distance relationshippers unite!" Being several hours apart is definitely a cross to bear. For me, the past 2 years of our relationship have been a challenge to abandon impatience and envy for trust in God. When The Beau was in England for 6 weeks this summer, it made me appreciate adoration chapel visits and finally start reading "Love and Responsibility."