This interview is the first edition of Long-Distance Love Stories, a collection of stories and insights from real couples who dated at a distance.
Just as farmers were beginning to plant crops in 2015, the first seeds of Carly and Marshall Viland’s relationship were sown at a church in rural North Dakota.
The two were visiting relatives that Sunday, and their uncles had secretly plotted together to introduce them. Their uncles’ plan turned out to be successful: a month later, Marshall and Carly went on a date in Fargo, North Dakota, and talked for seven hours straight.
From that first date to their wedding day in December 2016, Carly and Marshall’s entire relationship was long-distance. Now that they’ve been married for almost three years, I asked Carly to share about the challenges and blessings of long-distance dating and engagement.
I love Carly’s vulnerability and her articulation of how God used long-distance to shape her and prepare her for marriage. I hope you’re encouraged by her responses that long-distance relationships can bring glory to God.
What were the hardest parts of your long-distance relationship? How did you handle them?
One of the hardest parts was that we both really wanted to spend more time together but we could only do that over weekends and some holidays. We got used to this arrangement of going back and forth between our two states and cities, but it definitely got harder the longer we dated. Thankfully, we both were really invested in our jobs and communities, as well as with our family and friends, so we were pretty busy during the weekdays anyway.
I think the best way to handle the hard parts is to plan things in advance to look forward to doing together. Another thing is to make the most of your situation and communicate with one another the best you can even if you’re far apart. Marshall is SO good at calling or texting me back and I have always appreciated that about him. If he wasn’t good at that, it would be hard for me because I’m someone who likes to talk, text, and stay in touch with people.
How did God grow your relationship with Him while you were dating?
Often times, I felt really surprised by God. I had a lot of bad self-confidence about whether or not I was someone a man would want to actually pursue intentionally. Yes, I had prayed for that to happen, but I basically started to believe a lie that I was not worth it.
Once I met Marshall, there was this sense of peace that I trust and believe that it came from God. This peace was something different than before and it honestly was a pretty easy path towards marriage for us once he told me his intentions after we’d known each other a little longer.
My relationship with God grew to the point where I needed Him to help me figure out what being someone’s girlfriend looked like (I had never dated anyone before, let alone long-distance dated). I never felt like I had to prove myself or put on a fake front when I was with Marshall, so I think God showed me a gift of tangible grace by bringing this Godly man into my life.
Marshall has always been someone I can be my total self around and that is the best! There were no gimmicks and it was clear as could be that Marshall was the man for me! God had brought us together in His own unique way. We can’t write the story ourselves, I truly believe God orchestrated each little detail.
What challenges and blessings did a long-distance engagement bring?
It was hardest when communication meant that we spent time “together” talking to each other on the phone. Also, I basically wanted to say “I Do” right after we got engaged. I’m someone who is very logical and strategic, so I knew that if we were planning to get married, why wait so long?
My pastor told me that the best goal for a wedding is to keep it simple. I kept that advice close to my mind as I spent 6 months planning ours. At first we chose a wedding date that was only 3 months from our engagement, but Marshall saw how stressed I was trying to get everything together quickly (venues, photographers, marriage counseling, wedding dress, etc, etc. etc.) and said we should wait a little longer until his busy work season in the ag and construction business was over.
After we made that decision, it honestly gave us so much peace and everything couldn’t have fallen into place in a better way!
You’ve been married for almost three years. Looking back, how would you say God used the experience of dating at a distance to shape your relationship?
It’s so obvious to me why God began our relationship in a long-distance setting. Although I thought our “long-distance” was over when we said I do, I was very wrong.
Because of the nature of Marshall’s job, he had to be away for 5.5 days a week for about four months during our first year of marriage. It was a very challenging time for us, and especially for me being brand new to a city where I didn’t really know many people, but I think it would have been even more challenging had we not already had a foundation in what long-distance looks like.
There are still some times where he is out of town for a number of days or he works about twice as many hours a week that I do (but thankfully gets to be at home at night and not in another city), so this long-distance foundation comes back around every now and then.
(You can read Carly’s thoughts during that season of struggle on her blog, here)
What advice would you give to someone just starting a long-distance relationship?
Pray for the Lord to give you both discernment of whether or not He wants you to one, pursue a relationship, and two, intentionally invest many hours of driving and flying to see one another if you live far away from one another.
For me, it was a no-brainer to say yes when Marshall asked me if I was interested in dating long-distance. This was because I already had been praying about whether or not God wanted us to pursue a relationship. Additionally, I saw how much Marshall loved Jesus and I wanted to get to know him more even if it meant investing time in travel, talking on the phone, writing letters, etc.
I also knew that even though we were long-distance, the relationship wasn’t going to be one-sided. For example, I have seen a couple of my friends endure this painfully as they realized that they were more interested in putting the time, effort, and communication compared to the one they were dating. If this happens, I think it’s really important to have a conversation with the person you are dating and decide if you truly want to make long-distance work.
Marshall made it very clear to me that he would drive to see me and that gave me a lot of relief because it would have been quite a challenge and wouldn’t have felt like he was pursuing me if I was the one doing all the driving ALL the time. Thankfully, we pretty much shared that part and it helped me see how God was bringing our two paths together to become one.
It’s easy to get swept away in the thought of a new relationship, but I truly wanted the Lord to bring me (and Marshall) guidance through this time. I had never had a boyfriend before and I was 23 years old when I met Marshall. I had always been very intentional about considering who was worthy of dating (even if it was to give someone a second date), and I had a lot of peace and clarity before I gave Marshall my answer to his questions about long-distance dating him. I had met him in April, we went on our first date at the end of May, and after a few dates back and forth, he asked me to be his girlfriend in July. I’m so grateful I got to know him a little bit before he asked me to be his girlfriend.
We didn’t kiss until New Years Eve, and although it felt like an eternity to wait for the day that he would kiss me, I am SO glad he waited (and that I waited too) because it was a beautiful thing to first get to know him as a good friend and boyfriend before that. I would offer that as advice too, especially for those long-distance, because it can be so easy to let feelings and emotions get on too much of a high when you hardly get to be around the person that you can quickly come to care a lot about (and it sort of escalates when you are long-distance and you only spend chunks of time together).
I like Marshall Segal’s example — “Be skeptical of the romantic euphoria you feel after a month of late-night talks or your first couple of weekends together. Give yourself more time to get to know each other. Plan for trips to spend time with people in each other’s lives.”
One more thing I want to mention is that after we got married, we realized that in long-distance dating we only really got to see the “best” sides of each other. For instance, every weekend we got to see one another I was SO excited and probably hardly slept the night before. Therefore, I was so on top of the world and never really in a low place very often (unless I was sick or something).
It brought unrealistic expectations once we were married because then Marshall saw that I am not always 100% of the time on the upswing. Yes, I have my sad, frustrated, crabby Carly moments too! Thankfully, we have Jesus as our glue in our marriage and in all reality, no one is always on the upswing all of the time.
We have gone through a few hard seasons together in this past year (related to some things others are going through and it’s affected us) where we’ve both had to deal with hard emotional situations, but the Lord has shown us more and more of His grace in those times. Paul Tripp shared these thoughts on marriage, “God’s purpose is for marriage to be a workroom of His personal transformation, to make us people of love, and to reveal His grace…marriage isn’t a container of our happiness, but a place for revealing God’s grace.”