“So, you’re planning to date long-distance for four years?” my friend asked when she heard that Reed and I had started dating. It was our freshman year of college.
“I guess — I really don’t know,” I said, pushing the pasta around on my dining hall tray. Waiting until graduation sounded like a long time, but I couldn’t see distance ending any other way.
All dating is uncertain in that you don’t know if your relationship will end in marriage. But long-distance dating throws another element of ambiguity into the mix: How will long-distance end? When will it end?
You might not be able to know the exact answers to these questions yet. But if you’re aware of what’s really causing your separation — and the different ways it could potentially end — you can reduce some of that uncertainty.
First, let’s look at the two things that cause long-distance relationships: external factors and other commitments.
Long-Distance Cause #1: External Factors
Increasingly in the age of coronavirus, many long-distance couples must remain apart due to factors outside their control.
If you live in different countries and the government is not issuing visas, that’s a really difficult external factor that you can do nothing to change. If you can’t find a job in the city where your boyfriend lives, that’s another very discouraging external factor.
Of course, there are some things you can control. If you don’t apply for a visa or a job, you can’t blame an external factor for keeping you apart.
But if you’ve done everything you can and it’s still not working out yet, I’m sorry. The best thing for you to focus on is probably not how to be together, but how to find joy in suffering until then.
Long-Distance Cause #2: Other Commitments
While you may experience some external factors, the most common cause of long-distance relationships is other commitments.
Maybe it’s your commitment to your university, your job, your family, or a specific ministry. Whatever it is and whatever the consequences of breaking that commitment, it’s something you can control.
You may not have intentionally chosen these commitments over the relationship. Perhaps you started dating after you were already committed to different places. Maybe it’s not something you even enjoy, it’s just something you need to do right now.
The reality is, though, that you’re where you are now and your boyfriend is where he is because you’ve each decided that there’s something worth keeping you there — at least for now.
3 Ways Long-Distance Can End
Based on these two causes, there are only three ways (aside from breaking up) that the long-distance phase of your relationship can end:
- External factors are removed
- Your other commitments end
- Your commitment to your relationship outweighs your other commitments
The first two situations resolve themselves. They don’t answer the question of whether you should be together, but they do allow you to make that choice.
The last question is much more complicated. When should your relationship become more important than those other commitments?
How To Prioritize Commitments Correctly
In order to make wise decisions about your relationship, your first and foremost commitment must always be to God.
Because only God can satisfy the deepest needs of our hearts, our decisions only lead to lasting joy when they’re centered around Jesus Christ. We will struggle to prioritize our commitments correctly if we do not prioritize God first.
You should absolutely look forward to living near your boyfriend — that’s a good thing! But eventually, the excitement will fade, and you’ll realize that your relationship can’t be where you find purpose in your life.
But for exactly the same reason, you also won’t find purpose in your career. You can work toward a better job at a better company with better pay, but the bliss of that dream will always remain elusive.
When Reed and I started dating during our freshman year of college, I felt that God was leading me toward a career in strategic communication. My skills and passions all pointed in that direction.
The problem was that I assumed, “If God wants me to major in Strategic Communication, he also wants me to continue attending one of the best schools for that major.”
I thought I came to this conclusion because I wanted God to be glorified through excellent work, but it was really because I wanted the satisfaction of self-importance. Instead of seeking to do my best, I had to be the best.
Here’s the thing: once I started treasuring Christ more than I treasured my career, it helped me understand how to arrange my other priorities.
For the first time, I could see that my commitment to that university was no longer greater than my commitment to my relationship with Reed.
After that, one of the other things I needed to know before I transferred schools was if I’d be breaking any other commitments God wanted me to keep.
When Good Things Keep You Apart
Hopefully, your reasons for being where you are not as sinful as mine were. If they are, at least you know you are not alone, and that God can change them!
But it’s also possible that God has you where you are for a reason. In some seasons, having a long-distance relationship may allow you to focus intently on serving the Lord in a specific way.
How do you know when that season should end, though? There are always more opportunities to glorify God where you are, after all.
I don’t have an exact answer for you, but I think it happens around when God begins to make your desire for your shared mission as a couple greater than your desire for your individual mission — and he creates an opportunity for you to make this transition wisely.
Notice the word mission. When you view marriage as a way to display gospel, you see that at its heart, marriage is missional. And when you embrace the idea that marriage is one way we experience the gospel, you see that marriage is a means to glorify Christ.
If that’s what marriage is about, then the way that you leave your commitments in order to get married should reflect the gospel, too.
One way you can do that is by demonstrating sacrificial love.
When closing the distance means giving up things you cherish deeply, people will wonder how you can love someone that much.
Hopefully, you’ll be able to tell them that it’s because your relationship draws its strength and example from Jesus Christ, and sacrifice is how Jesus demonstrated love (Romans 5:8).
But how cool would it be if the people you’re leaving behind could see how much you love them through sacrifice, too?
If they could see that you stuck around for an extra six months — sacrificing an earlier opportunity to be with your boyfriend — in order to pour into their lives and finish the commitments you’ve made to them?
There will always be some loss when you embark on something new, and it’s hard to know exactly when to move — and which one of you should move.
I guess what I’m saying is — be invested enough in the place where you’re living that if you leave, it’s a sacrifice. But also be invested enough in the people there that you’re willing to sacrifice being with your boyfriend sooner for their sake.
Above all, seek to proclaim the glory and goodness of Christ through whatever you decision you make (1 Corinthians 10:31). Let your life show that you treasure Christ more than you treasure getting married, building your career, or anything else.
Maybe all of this sounds exciting — but your relationship just isn’t there yet. You haven’t dated long enough to know if you should get married.
Until then, keep these ideas in the back of mind, but take the pressure off to have an answer now.
Talking every week about whether or when one of you should move isn’t going to help you figure out whether you should get married. If your long-distance relationship is new, it’s probably good to wait several months before talking about either of those things.
For now, focus on glorifying Christ where you’re at and trusting his plans, while remaining open to whatever he may be leading you toward in the future.