Love, Lindsay: “I’m in a long-distance relationship. Is our unwillingness to move for each other a sign of a more fundamental issue?”
I have been with my boyfriend for the past couple of years. We were living together, and everything was going swimmingly — that is, until I up and moved across the country. For the past year and a half now we have been in a bicoastal relationship. It’s worked surprisingly well given that we both have jobs that allow us to work remotely, and we can have very long visits with each other.
That said, we are both very set on our respective coast. All his friends and family are where he is, and all my friends and family are where I am. There is no way he ever wants to move to my area, which I understand, but it’s hard for me to imagine making a compromise for someone who is unflinching when it comes to location. If I move for him, I’m worried there will be resentment, and vice versa. Basically, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for us.
While everything in the relationship seemed to be going well, is our unwillingness to move for each other a sign of a more fundamental issue?
Thanks for your help, Beatrice*
I don’t think your unwillingness to move for each other is a sign of a larger, “more fundamental” issue — depending on how you want your relationship to progress. From the sounds of it, you’re not a traditional couple, so your relationship probably isn’t headed on a traditional trajectory, and that’s totally fine. With any relationship, whether it’s bicoastal or cohabitational, the key to its survival is making sure it’s what you want.
However, because you’re writing to me, you must be worried for a reason. Everyone has doubts in their relationship, often stemming from fear of the future. We’ve all been there, and it, if I may be so poetic, sucks.
Once you accept that uncertainty, however, you can make peace with it in the moment and begin to assess it objectively. I consulted Dr. Paulette Sherman, psychologist and author of Dating from the Inside Out: How to Use the Law of Attraction in Matters of the Heart, who thinks the first steps you need to take to figure out if you want to continue your long-distance relationship is an honest self-evaluation. She advises asking yourself these questions:
1. “Why did I choose to move in the first place?” From what you said in your submission, it sounds like the decision was made because of factors outside the relationship, like proximity to family and job accessibility, rather than any problems inside it. That’s important to note, but it also brings us to the next question …
2. “Did the two of you discuss at that time how the distance would affect their relationship?” Take the time to assess the effects long-distance has had on your relationship. You may even want to make a pro-con list to take actual, physical stock of your doubts so you can better work through them.
3. “When you decided to move, did you understand that you and your partner might need to continue long-distance indefinitely?” This question may be the most key to your self-assessment. Many people, when they enter into a long-distance relationship, do so only for a certain period of time. The end of the distance often signals a progression to a new stage in the relationship. This may be why you feel like yours has since stalled.
As Dr. Sherman explains, “If so, then I’d say (albeit unconsciously) that perhaps a part of her was willing to take that risk and to prioritize moving over the longevity of the relationship.” Besides making a pro-con list of long-distance effects, consider making a list of your priorities. Where does your relationship fall on that list? Do you want it to be higher, and if so, what do you think needs to change to make that happen?
Both Dr. Sherman and I agree that your mutual ability to carry on a successful long-distance relationship for so long is something commendable. “This shows commitment and compromise,” Sherman explains. “… If they’re both young and aren’t considering marriage yet, then maybe other life choices like location and career trump the relationship due to the stage of development they’re in, and it’s a timing issue. I wouldn’t presume to know the depth of feeling they have for each other or their relationship goals, but this would be something they could explore.”
And it’s something you should explore together. Sherman noted that while you were able to describe your desires for the relationship and its future, you didn’t really mention his. Though you may personally know them, when was the last time you actually talked to him about what he hopes to get out of this relationship? I know that’s a scary conversation to have, and few of us actually want to, but you seem to be at a turning point in your relationship. To navigate this turning point successfully, you need to do with an open and honest sense of where you both want to head — individually and together.
This relationship — as great as it may exist in a vacuum — doesn’t seem like it’s progressing how you would like it to right now. That’s not going to change unless you (both) do. You seem to have reached a point where you need to make a choice: stay together or go your separate ways. I can’t tell you which way to go. Only you can.
However, what I can do is guide you toward some options. “If ultimately they want to make it work, they could explore living halftime in each place, or decide whether location preference overrides making their relationship work,” Sherman suggests. So that’s one way to go.
The other is breaking up and then reframing what you want out of a relationship. You’re a different person now than you were when you moved, and the relationship you’re in now should reflect that. So whether you decide to stay in this one, or pursue a new one, Sherman recommends “choosing your deal-breakers before you fall in love.” Essentially, deal-breakers are the non-negotiable reasons you’d leave an otherwise healthy and satisfying relationship. So figure out what yours are at this stage in your life, and that could include being bicoastal. “If that’s the case, then this relationship helped her to clarify a new deal-breaker,” Sherman explains. “So that next time, she can only date people near her or explore this issue sooner.”
So if you’re not ready to let go of your significant other just yet, then it’s time to make peace with having a nontraditional relationship, for the time being. We spend so much time worrying about tomorrow, but you need to take the time today to figure out who you are, what you want, and where you’re at in life. Figuratively speaking, are you in a place where there’s room for two or just one? Only you can make that decision, and it’s a tough one, I know. But just know that, having done all this hard work to be honest with yourself and your partner, whatever you choose will be the right decision at the right time. And, oh yeah, in the right place.
Lindsay here, A Plus’s resident relationship guru/columnist. While I may not know everything, I do know a lil something about love and our seemingly endless pursuit of it. Having written dozens of A Plus articles about dating, relationships, and sex, I’m ready and willing to investigate all of your romantically-inclined questions (submit here!) — because I’ve asked them myself. What I hope to bring to A Plus’s readers is a sex-positive, body-positive, and most importantly, you-positive perspective on modern love. Consider Love, Lindsay your digital Cupid.