Giving Up My Planned Romantic Formula For A (Very) Long Distance Relationship

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When I imagined my ideal relationship trajectory when I was a starry-eyed ten-year-old girl, I had some kind of “formula” in mind: Get to know each other for a year, date for a year, get engaged for a year, then marry and live happily ever after together.

Oh, and I expected this person to magically appear in my life the day I turned eighteen, so that I could marry young (but not too young, since my ten-year-old self had promised my dad not to marry before age 20).

Love forumlaFast-forward almost 20 years (not 8 as I had hoped)…. My planned trajectory was looking a little wonky. I was about to turn 30, and single. I had moved from Canada to Australia to pursue clinical and research training in neuropsychology, and my parents were desperately hoping that I would stay single for as long as I lived in Australia so that I would “come home.” But I was desperately wondering why the guy that I was supposed to meet when I was 18 had still not caught up with me–on either side of the Pacific.

Now halfway through my program, I had a chance to return to Canada on a study leave to work in one of my supervisors’ labs. Some Aussie friends insisted that this might be perfect timing to meet someone, but I figured that half a year wasn’t enough time for me to get to know anyone (after all, there was a formula…). Even if I did “meet someone,” I was heading back to Australia, so nothing could come of it, right?

When only three months were left in my study leave, I met a guy named Nick at a Bible study group that had started for the summer. What he said during the meetings really resonated with me. I was attracted to the convictions that he held and (let’s be honest) I was attracted to the rest of him as well. When I saw him walk across the room at the end of the study, I realised for the first time that I had a preference for body type in a guy and he fit the bill! We started a conversation after the meeting, and we couldn’t stop talking!!

But I quickly squelched my feelings of attraction. After all, I had only known him for half an hour. Not only was I heading back to Australia soon, but Nick had just moved to Canada. He even mentioned a long-distance girlfriend back home. I didn’t know at the time that his current relationship was coming to an end, but I had already decided that nothing could or should come of those crazy first impressions anyway, so we just settled in to a nice friendship over the next couple of months. I had no expectation that it would ever be more. I didn’t even expect the friendship to continue after my leave.

When it was time to go back to Australia to finish my PhD, imagine my surprise when Nick asked me if I would consider a long-distance relationship. This did not fit the formula at all, but I somehow found the courage to give it a try. We had a shared faith and many common values and interests. And after all, there was that initial chemistry…

Then my planned trajectory veered even further off course. About 11 weeks into our LDR, Nick said, “You need to make yourself available to be proposed to.” He was already confident that we were right for each other. I needed a little more time (both to be sure of my own feelings and to “make myself available” from 16,000 km away), but within 8 months of starting our relationship and less than a year after we first met, I had planned a trip back to Canada and we got engaged.

Exactly a year later, I planned another trip to Canada… for our wedding!! Finally, something going according to plan!

But then, we realised that while we might get the happily ever after, we weren’t going to get the happily ever after together any time soon. Immigration and financial issues that we couldn’t resolve kept us apart longer than intended. We had to do another 14 months of long distance before our LDR came to an end (the long distance, that is, not the relationship).

Just two months shy of three years long distance, we were finally able to start the “together” part of our journey. And even though it hasn’t looked anything like my ideal trajectory, both the long-distance and the in-person phases of this relationship have been wonderful!

The truth is, I’m surprised that I was willing to give up the formula I’d envisioned as a dreamy ten-year-old, because I am generally pretty committed to playing it safe and giving myself plenty of time to be sure that everything is going as it should. Yet despite having so little time together in person (just a few months as casual friends, 3.5 weeks as a couple before we got married, and 9 weeks over the first year of marriage), I had full confidence that it would be wonderful when we were together. How could someone with my personality not only ditch the formula, but embrace such a life-defining relationship while we were living on separate continents?

I’m convinced that one of the main reasons for my confidence (other than the fact that my husband is absolutely amazing) was the “ground rules” on which we based our long-distance relationship. We didn’t call these ideas “ground rules” at the time. Instead, we agreed, in a rather organic way, to some basic principles that emerged out of our values and personalities that would guide the way that we conducted the relationship and determine whether it should continue or end. These rules gave us a sense of security and safety to build our relationship fairly quickly and intensively despite the long distance.

What were those rules? I’ll discuss three of them in my next post in this series. Join me back here then.

In the meantime, what is one of the “ground rules” in your relationship?

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