If you’re trying to determine whether you should start college in a long-distance relationship, I feel for you, girl. You’re on the edge of a thrilling season of life, but you’ve also got some tough decisions ahead.
Namely, whether or not you should break up with your boyfriend before you start your freshman year.
But in the end, you need to make a decision yourself. In order to do that, you need wisdom.
The best source of wisdom I know is the Bible — God’s words, written down for you. While the Bible doesn’t speak specifically about long-distance relationships, it does provide directions for finding joy and hope in the midst of difficulty, as well as explain what true love looks like.
As you explore what God has to say about relationships, ask yourself these six questions — shaped by my personal experience with long-distance dating — before you start college in a long-distance relationship.
1. How much will this move change us?
Some moves propel you into seasons of life that change you profoundly. Your freshman year of college is usually one of those times. It definitely was for my husband and me.
A month before move-in day, my now-husband-then-friend (finally) confessed his feelings for me. I was so happy but so confused. Our friendship had been entirely long-distance until then, but the distance was about to stretch from a 3 hour trip to 12. I knew dating was a much bigger commitment than a friendship, and I wasn’t sure if the distance would work.
But the real reason we didn’t start dating then? He didn’t think I was secure enough in my identity in Jesus Christ.
That hurt to hear, but he was right. During my first few months of college, God revealed I’d been finding my worth in all the wrong things — my major, my friendships, my ministry — instead of in Jesus. I needed those extra months of singleness to process who I was before attaching myself to someone else.
While God was changing me, he was also changing my husband. The best part is that instead of drawing us apart, these changes actually made us closer. Once we realized that, we started dating.
All of that is to say that it’s okay, and probably even wise, to think twice before bringing a relationship through a major life transition like college. Like our story shows, “not now” doesn’t mean not ever, but it does mean you might want to take a break and seriously seek Jesus in it.
2. How strong are our feelings for each other?
While others may tell you to follow your heart, it’s a horrible idea to make decisions based on your feelings. Jeremiah 17:9 says the heart “is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
However, when it comes to dating, we can’t leave emotions entirely out of the equation. Love is a choice that should increase your affections for one another over time.
Romans 12:9 tells us, “Let love be genuine.” If separation from your boyfriend is imminent and it’s not breaking your heart, you might need to consider how much you actually care about him.
If you’re not sure how you feel about him — or you value your freedom more than you value the relationship — you either need to choose to invest more time, energy, and prayer into it, or you need to break-up.
One of the biggest dangers when you start college in a long-distance relationship is that it can prolong a relationship that’s never going anywhere. Be kind to your boyfriend and don’t continue to lead him on if you can’t see the relationship lasting.
3. What’s causing the distance, really?
Separation from your boyfriend is a great time to learn more about yourself and focus intently on glorifying God in your studies, your friendships, and your career. But there’s a big difference between using these things to serve God and using them to serve your selfish desires.
I struggled to understand that difference after my freshman year of college. After realizing I wanted to marry my long-distance boyfriend, I faced a choice: I could stay where I was for three more years and get married after graduation, or I could spend one more year at my university, transfer to his school, and get married before our senior year.
Transferring schools was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made. We prayed for weeks and asked a lot of people for advice.
After a while, it became clear that the biggest thing holding me back was the fear that I’d be ruining my future. Even though I would be continuing in my major, I knew staying at my university would be better for my career.
While my desire to grow my talents to the best of my abilities was good, I was forgetting two crucial things: First, God controls the trajectory of my career, not me or my university’s reputation. Second, He doesn’t define success like I do, so I can glorify Him wherever I am.
God might be calling you and your boyfriend to separate places for a season. But you should immerse yourself in the Bible to make sure God is the one leading you, and not your own selfish heart.
4. Who can I ask for advice?
If you do truly care about each other, falling in love is overwhelmingly delightful and being forced apart is profoundly grieving. When you’re choosing between breaking up or starting a long-distance relationship, it’s smart to seek the advice of people who are less emotionally tied to the situation.
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” (Proverbs 12:15). Friends, sisters, leaders, and even your parents might be able to help you understand if you should start college in a long-distance relationship.
While nothing can replace the counsel of people who know you, Dating at a Distance is another place you can go to for Christ-centered advice. We exist to support you as you make decisions about your long-distance relationship.
5. Am I ready to get married?
At 18 years old, you’re probably a little young to get married. It would be a little strange if you’re ready to start wedding planning at the drop of a hat.
At the same time, though, you might be thinking, “Whoa, of course not. I don’t plan on getting married until my late 20s.”
In that case, I’d encourage you to do some serious thinking about the purpose of marriage. Why?
What you believe about marriage affects who, when, why, and how you date — not to mention where. If you see marriage primarily as a time for settling down and starting a family, it won’t appeal to you as an adventurous young adult. You might not even think about getting married until you’re 28.
But if you see marriage as a way to display the gospel and grow in holiness, you’ll actually look forward to marriage, and you won’t want your season of dating to last any longer than it needs to.
You don’t need to rush into marriage. If your relationship is young like ours was, take advantage of this time apart to really get to know one another. I learned so much about my husband while we were dating because distance forced us to communicate.
Still, if you’re dating someone, marriage should be on your radar. You can read more about the purpose of Christian dating and marriage in Not Yet Married by Marshall Segal and The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller.
6. How long will we be apart?
Four years is a long time to be long-distance.
Think about how much time has passed since you started high school. That’s how long you’ll be apart if you’re attending different colleges — if not longer, since only 19% of students graduate from public universities within 4 years these days.
It is possible, but it will be really, really hard. It’s also possible to transfer (I did it, obviously), but that’s also really, really hard.
I know that sounds pretty hopeless, so I want to remind you that plans do change. You might change your major and it’s the perfect opportunity to transfer. You might realize college isn’t for you and return home. James 4:13-17 reminds us that we really don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
With the same reasoning, though, you can’t count on your plans changing, either. Like it or not, you need to think about the future of your relationship.
If you’ve honestly answered all of the other questions and this is the only one making you pause, don’t let this one hold you back. The important thing is coming to a place where you can both say something like this:
“We honestly don’t know how we’re going to make this work. But we’ve prayed and asked others for advice, and we feel like we should continue dating.
“We don’t know what the future holds, but we’re trusting God in the process and we’re willing to obey Him if He tells us otherwise later.”
Unless you can agree with that statement, I’m sorry to say it, but you probably shouldn’t start college in a long-distance relationship. You’ll want to start thinking about the kindest way to break up with your boyfriend.
How To Survive the Break-Up or the Distance
Break ups are painful. Long-distance relationships are painful, too. I’ve been through both.
And you know what? I’ve seen God show up in those painful places more than almost any other times of my life. Knowing Jesus Christ doesn’t erase the sorrow or anger, but it does enable me to see beyond my circumstances to a greater joy in Him.
Whatever you decide, my encouragement to you above all is to seek Christ. When you seek Him, you will find Him, if you seek Him with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)