How Do You Align What “Being Apart” Means?

Today’s question is from a 20-something who is trying to define her long distance relationship. It all comes down to expectations.

Q: I am 21 years old, and I am in a relationship with a boy who makes me feel comfortable, supports my dreams and makes me happier than I’ve ever felt. Unfortunately, I met him while studying in Ireland. He’s Irish, and I’m American, and soon enough I’ll have to return home, leaving him in Ireland. We are discussing the future, and our biggest problem is overcoming the problem of labels and definitions:

1)     We both agree that we’ll still have feelings for each other

2)     We both want to make our relationship work in the future if we find a way to be together

3)     We both realize that it’s incredibly challenging to stay in a long distance relationship

But we seem to have different ideas on what to call this kind of relationship. He talks about it in terms of being very close friends while we’re apart, seeing where things go and re-evaluating at the end of the year (when we both finish college).

I see it as being apart for a while with a plan to get back together when we have more freedom in our lives to work things out. How can I communicate my vision to him, how can I make sure I’m completely understanding his vision, and how can I reconcile the two versions of our future to make a plan we can both be comfortable with?

A. Sorry to put a damper on this, but long distance relationships are VERY difficult. It seems that you’ve not been together long (and also 21 is still very young.). In my experience long distance relationships only work when a– you have been together for a long time and b– you have a definite time set for when you will be together. Both are essential to make it work. – 40-something, married, doctor, Los Angeles, CA


A. It is not so much discussing what you will “label” this type of relationship as it is discussing what you both expect out of it.  His idea of “being very close friends and seeing where things go” sounds like it leaves open the idea of dating others.  Your idea of “being apart for a while and getting back together” does not.  My advice is to actually talk about what you mean.  Does he want to see other people and if so can you deal with that?  It is not that he doesn’t understand your vision, it is that he may have a different one. – 40-something, married, mom, business owner/entrepreneur, Brooklyn New York


A. One of you has more certainty than the other. You say…let’s go do our own thing with an understanding that we are definitely going to get back together in a more committed way. He says…let’s go do our own thing and see if we get back together. So communicating your vision would be telling him that you completely expect to be with him at the end of this year. With that outcome in mind you would approach anything that happens in this year differently than if you were more open ended.

It’s like sermon I once heard. A minister was talking about hope vs. faith. He made an analogy to a job. He said to consider two situations:

Situation 1: I tell you that you are going to have a menial job for a year and that at the end of it you would maybe get rewarded.

Situation 2: You were told you were going to have a menial job for a year but at the end of it you were going to get a million dollars.

You would approach those situations very differently. The first is hope and the second is faith. Your two “labels” reminded me of this analogy. You have faith you will be together. He kinda hopes you will be together.

I think that it can only turn out well if you are in the same place. And it can work. A few couples I know who met early and went away to college or lived in different cities after college talk about how being committed to being together even though they were apart let them grow together and apart.

The time apart gave them time to explore, sow a little wild oats etc. But the knowledge that they both wanted to be together kept it safe in a way. It was fun but merely a prelude to a commitment..and a commitment to spend time together during the period of physical distance. Of course anything can happen…you may find time apart gives you different perspective. But for the couples I am speaking of…they found it to be a good way to gain their own identity and find their own interests. But the key is they were on the same page.

In the ministers story…it sounds like you are faith and he is hope. That could be trouble. Maybe talking about it with these labels can help you get on the same page.” – 40-something, married, marketing executive, Columbus, Ohio



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