Transitioning from a long-distance to a local relationship is a big change.
You’ve waited so long for the day you’ll finally be together. When you know it’s coming, the excitement is hard to contain.
At that same time, you might be nervous. If you’ve never lived in the same city before, you may worry the other person will be different than you thought they’d be. If you have dated in person before, you may worry that one or both of you will have changed too much.
However you feel about it, switching to in-person dating will surprise you in some way. Here are a few ways you can prepare to make the transition a little smoother.
1. Talk about your expectations for spending time together
Right away, spending a lot of time together makes sense because you’re so excited to finally be together. But after a week or two, you’ll need to settle into a more healthy — and realistic — pattern.
When you were long-distance, your relationship probably didn’t interfere with your daily life very much. You talked late at night and texted when you had free time throughout the day.
But once you’re in the same place, you’ll find you need to make choices about what to prioritize on a weekly basis.
Some couples need to be more intentional about spending time together, and others need to be more intentional about spending time apart. I would say most couples who transition out of long-distance fall into the second category.
So, before your long-distance relationship becomes local, take some time to talk about what you think is a healthy schedule for seeing each other.
Will you see each other every day, every few days, or just on the weekends? How much of that will be just the two of you, and how much will be spent in groups?
You’ll also want to talk about how you’ll spend your time together. You may expect you’ll go out to eat together once a week, while the other person thinks this is more of a monthly activity.
Ask each other questions like:
- What do you see as the difference between a date and just hanging out?
- How often will we go out for dates?
- How much money will we spend on an average date?
- Who will plan dates?
At least one major change you’ll experience is talking less and doing more. In a long-distance relationship, you can’t do much besides talk, so it becomes a defining factor of your relationship.
These patterns can lead you to believe that you both really enjoy talking all the time. However, this might not be the case.
I love to talk, and quality conversation is one of my love languages. When we were dating long-distance, we could talk for three hours straight without getting tired of it.
But after our long-distance relationship transitioned to local dating, I discovered that Reed prefers to talk less often and for shorter times than I do. He still enjoys quality conversations, but he’s ready to move onto something else after about 30 minutes of dedicated talking.
If you are someone who loves to talk, be prepared that the other person may not share your love of conversation as much as you thought. This can be a good change, but it can be jarring if you’re not expecting it.
2. Reevaluate your boundaries
While other people may think that long-distance makes pursuing sexual purity easy, you know that’s not true. The emotional intensity of a rare visit makes fighting sexual temptation very hard.
The good news is that you’ll no longer feel the need to squeeze in as much physical touch as possible when you’re always in person. Cuddling for hours at a time will get old after a while.
But that’s the bad news: things will get old faster. A general rule with physical touch is that as soon as you start doing something, you want the next thing.
Once you start kissing, you won’t be content with anything less. You’ll continue wanting more: kissing becomes making out, and so on.
To deal with these new challenges, reevaluate your boundaries before you close the distance. Here are a few questions you may want to talk about:
- How much time is it wise for us to spend alone?
- What time should we say goodnight and head home?
- Are there any areas where we need to tighten our boundaries?
- How are we doing with emotional boundaries?
- Who can we ask to hold us accountable to our boundaries?
- How can we respect our roommates’ preferences for space and PDA?
3. Plan for a mix of shared and separate group activities
When one of you is newer to the area, becoming friends with the other person’s friends is the easiest way to get connected.
But if your boyfriend’s friends remain your only friends (or vice versa), that’s not always healthy.
Since friendships often develop around group activities, you can intentionally avoid this situation by joining some groups together and some groups on your own.
Shared groups are great because they give you opportunities to interact that are not one-on-one. These settings take the focus off of your relationship — “How can we care for each other?” — and put it onto others — “How can we care for other people together?”
Know that you don’t need to be glued to each other’s side constantly in shared groups. If the group is mostly made up of other couples, you can comfortably have two-on-two conversations. But if the group is mostly made up of singles, you can love others well by splitting up and mingling.
Separate groups, on the other hand, allow you to care for other people using your individual interests and passions. God has positioned you — not your boyfriend — in your specific workplace, college major or neighborhood. Your boyfriend can support what you’re doing without needing to be involved.
At the same time, you must tread carefully with separate groups that are mixed gender. These groups can easily breed jealousy in your relationship — and sometimes, the jealousy is justified.
There are two things you do to minimize relationship conflict arising from mixed-gender, separate friend groups.
First, make sure the other person is welcome to join occasionally. Your boyfriend doesn’t need to come all the time or even most of the time, but make sure he feels accepted when he does.
For example, I joined the international student outreach team of our student ministry. Reed didn’t come to our planning meetings because that wasn’t his role. But he attended our events sometimes, and my friends always welcomed him when he came.
Another thing you can do is mention your boyfriend from time to time in conversation. This helps you and the other guys in the group remember that you’re dating someone and that there are boundaries to your friendship.
4. Wait to make major decisions about your relationship
Researchers have shown that long-distance relationships cause you to idealize the other person. No matter how hard you try to keep things real, you will struggle with this.
So, when you’re finally together, you can experience several rude awakenings all at once. This is normal, but you’ll need time to grapple with your differences and pray about whether they’re deal breakers for getting married.
During this transition period, be wary of hasty decisions. You’ll both be experiencing a lot of change in your life, and it can be stressful.
If you’re not already engaged, I’d recommend planning to wait at least a couple months after you close the distance before talking about marriage again. Engagement is a big transition, and you don’t want to enter it before you feel like you really know and understand each other.
It’s also easy to say, “This isn’t what I thought it would be like” and ditch the relationship right away. But with each of your broken expectations, you need to ask yourself, “Was I right to expect this?”
It was hard for me to realize that Reed isn’t as talkative as I’d originally thought. At first, I felt like I’d been misled. After a while, I realized it wasn’t his fault I didn’t know that. And even further down the road, I realized that our relationship could still thrive without constant talking.
All of those realizations took time and prayer, and we needed to work through them before moving forward with getting engaged.
5. Be ready to break up
I know this sounds harsh, but both of you need to face the possibility that your relationship won’t last once you’re in person.
Four out of ten long-distance couples break up within three months of becoming geographically close. While it’s encouraging to think that 60% of relationships make it through the transition, I’m sure most of the other 40% of couples were convinced that they would, too.
I don’t want you to be afraid, but in your heart, you must always remember that your relationship is a gift, not a guarantee.
This is hard to do. How can you be vulnerable and trust another person with so much uncertainty? How can you decide to move even if you don’t know if the relationship will work?
The answer is that you must be certain of other things. You must put your trust in someone who won’t disappoint you.
Jesus Christ is the only someone I’ve found who offers that kind certainty. He says in John 10:28, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
When you put your faith in Jesus, he will never let you go. As God himself, he won’t disappoint you. He won’t be disappointed in you, either.
In the midst of the uncertainty that lies ahead, I encourage you to find peace in Christ. Only He can prepare you for whatever may come.
And whether you break up or spend the rest of your life together, Jesus will be with you through it all (Matthew 28:20).