Long-distance love can survive under certain conditions

Q: I stumbled on your article about long-distance relationships the same day my boyfriend left for four months. I agree with your perspective, and from previous experience, know firsthand that long-distance relationships are no cake walk. However, you state, ‘I didn’t say long-distance relationships don’t work or can’t work.’ Do you have any insight as to how a couple can make it work, and further, upon the other’s return, is the relationship stronger than ever? — C.V., Hilo, Hawaii

A: Let’s begin by admitting something: Love is irrational, and fate is sometimes cruel. We don’t get to decide when we fall in love. We only get to decide whether and how we will respond to the love into which we have fallen.

So, you love a man who must be absent for a time. You’ve decided, I surmise, that both he and you are worth fighting for. That sounds like self-respect, and, if this is to work, self-respect will be one of your most important allies.

All couples more or less constantly negotiate the equation of “connectedness and separateness,” even when they’ve been married forever and sleep in the same bed every night. In great love affairs, neither always connected nor always separate will work. In great love affairs, there is a “connectedness-in-separateness” that is presupposed, trusted and nurtured.

In the course of a proximate (not long-distance) relationship, two people fall in love. Most of us can agree that the state of “falling in love” is 1) a lot of fun and 2) crazy. But it’s important. Because here is where two people forge an essential bond. They can’t stop talking, calling, texting, e-mailing. They arrange huge blocks of time, subordinating work and other friendships, just to be together. They touch a lot. Kiss a lot. Etc.

For most couples, it is after this bond is forged that they begin to negotiate connectedness-in-separateness. While “falling in love” is a lot of fun — I’d love to do it again before I die — it is nonetheless psychologically untenable. The human identity won’t tolerate continuous states of fusion or dissolution. Or, as author John Sanford says, Romeo and Juliet had to die. No way they could have taken that energy into Sears to buy a washer and dryer.

But for the relationship begun across distance, the couple must navigate protracted separateness before the new bond of connectedness can be satisfactorily forged. The new love has awakened a hunger for connection that cannot be sated. Time and space prevent it. It is this frustration that must be endured for long-distance relationships to work.

I know couples who have made it work. Here is a short list of what those couples have in common:

* They clearly define fidelity, especially if they are not yet married or engaged. They never presume what constitutes commitment. They agree on it in words. We don’t kiss, court or have sex with other people. But maybe it’s OK for her to go dancing at the bar with girlfriends. Maybe it’s OK for him to do the same kind of thing with guy friends.

* The couple share, at least conceptually, a picture of why this distance is for now necessary and a scenario in which the distance will no longer be necessary. That is, there is some light at the end of the tunnel, at least theoretically. I know, for example, two people who, while not in love (yet), were considering a relationship. Both divorced. Both with kids. Both unwilling to live apart from their kids, and both unwilling to separate the children from the other parent. Hmm. This distance is more or less permanent then, until the last child is 18. Accept it. Or move on.

* The couple shares the view that the distance is an investment in the relationship. Perhaps the one partner is finishing school, seeing a business deal to fruition or tying up loose ends of a life lived before this new love. If the couple agree on the necessity and importance of the distance, and can conceptualize the distance as actually contributing to the long-term health of the relationship, then the chances of survival go up.

* Sometimes, in some cases, the distance actually provides a time and space for personal development, and personal development is always a good investment for a great love affair.

Best of luck, C.V.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling and Wellness Center in Las Vegas. His columns appear on Tuesdays and Sundays. Questions for the Asking Human Matters column or comments can be e-mailed to skalas@ reviewjournal.com.

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