Long Distance Relationships – A Do or Don’t in Your 20s?

Q: I’m 21-years-old and entering my senior year of college.  This past year, I met and fell in love with the most amazing man I have ever met.  He is a marine and will soon be moving to a new base (Hawaii) and preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in the spring.  He’s worried about trying to make a long-term, long distance relationship work.  I’m worried about giving up on something this amazing just because neither one of us knows where we will be in two years. But I also worry about devoting the next two years of myself to a relationship that may ultimately fail.


These next two years are crucial to my future and I don’t want to miss an opportunity because my boyfriend and I may or may not be together at the end of all of this.  By the time he moves we will have been together for a little less than a year, but we are unsure of our future together.  This just feels like the biggest decision I have made in my life this far and I just wanted some advice from someone older who may have had a similar situation.

A.  Long distance or not, no one can guarantee a relationship will not ultimately fail…but that is not reason alone to give up on it.

Long distance can be tough but if two people are both up for it you can make it work. In your situation, it may be best to take it one day at a time.  You don’t have to commit to a lifetime together right now. Try to live in the present rather than attempt to figure out what’s going to happen two years down the line. See whether you miss him more than you feel like you are missing out on something else. That will tell you a lot.


Many women love the freedom they had in a long-distance relationships. It can be particularly good in your twenties when you are meant to grow yourself.  You can use this time to learn more about yourself and your boyfriend. This 40-something woman spent much of her latter college and post-college time away from her boyfriend. She found it’s what ultimately made them work. It can give you room to explore your own interests and develop a sense of self that you might not if you were spending every weekend and evening with a boyfriend.

The fact that we were together but not living in the same city for four years made the time that we spent together special and fun. Then we had our lives independently. We’re free to do what we wanted to do and have a social life. We didn’t entirely revolve around each other. I think that was pretty crucial. I suspect that had we been right in each other’s face all the time, we wouldn’t have felt the freedom to have independent lives. It would’ve worked out differently. You you have to cultivate independent lives and outside interests in a relationship. If you don’t have a social life, an intellectual life or some kind of activity that isn’t all about your significant other, it’s really hard to feel that you have a sense of identity.” – 40-something, married to man she dated all through her twenties


Similarly the 40-something woman cited below believes you don’t have to decide now. If it’s good, keep going and then get into your life and listen to your inner dial tone. If you find that you are growing apart ask why and really get into that.


“There is really nothing to decide, he will be going to Hawaii and you will continue on with school or your career and you can see how it goes.  There is no harm in giving it a shot, but you must continue on with pursuing your dreams.  You can evaluate the situation as it goes along.  Both of you will know if things change.” – 40-something


It’s good that you will have been together for a year because time does give you a better sense of someone. So many 40-something women say that you have to know a man for four seasons to know what he is really like in a relationship. That’s how long it takes to see what’s underneath the shiny happy glow of a new relationship. You have a foundation to go on as you embark on the more difficult task of staying connected while apart.  It does take effort to stay connected and find the time to talk and empathize with what that other person is going through (particularly given what he will be going through in Afghanistan). You have to be able to share your world with him, even though it is miles apart (and vice versa). That is what you are committing to when committing to a long-distance relationship.


“Everything you devote yourself to has the chance of ultimately failing, not just relationships. You could commit yourself to a course of study in college only to find out you don’t really want that.  You could commit yourself to a career path only to want or need a change down the road.  This relationship, as well as any other you commit to, COULD ultimately fail. The question you need to ask yourself is whether or not you’re committed to it enough to take that chance … and committed enough to try to prevent the failure.  If you go into it assuming it’s going to fail, it surely will.” – 40-something, Washington, DC.


Now is the time to really listen to your inner voice. Do you feel you are giving something up by committing to this? Do you want to be dating in your senior year of college? What opportunities do you feel  you would be missing out on? The minute you feel you are missing out on something you should ask yourself why? At the same time, if you feel like you’re not experiencing life because you are staying at home pining over your boyfriend (or worse he wants you to stay to home), you should get going. Just because you have an out-of- town boyfriend doesn’t mean you can’t have a social life. Similarly, what is he really worried about? Does he want to focus on his army career and feel a relationship gets in the way? Talk about all this now and make a decision based on shared expectations. You say he is an amazing man. What would you miss about him if you didn’t have him in your life?

The thing is, you will find out soon enough if it’s not going to work.  I had a long distance relationship when I was just out of college. I had dated my boyfriend for a little less than a year when he was transferred to another state. However, we did have the opportunity to see each other every other weekend. It was fun for a while. I got to see a new city and he got to see a familiar face in a new city. But it soon showed me that we wanted different things. With his move he became excited to settle down and get domestic. I realized I was not ready for that. I just couldn’t get as excited as he did about buying a washer and dryer and planning for retirement.  That was the answer. We broke up and it was for the best. I probably found out what I needed to know about both him and myself than I would have had we continued to date in New York City – filled with friends and fun and plenty of distraction!


Good luck!


P.S. And whatever you do, don’t rely too much on text messaging and short-format communication. As a wise 40-something man said to me, “texting is great for communication but don’t confuse that with discussion.:


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