Ask Dave-Can Long-Distance Love Work?

Our relationship is still new and very promising. But he’s moving soon—how should I handle it?

By Dave Singleton

ear Dave,
I started seeing a very cool guy about four weeks ago. To make a long story short, it’s developed into something more than casual. He’s smart, attractive, and funny. The problem is that he plans to start law school next August in a place that’s four hours away. He told me this last night during dinner.

I was shocked, but then we agreed about how well things are going with us, which led to talk of our future together. We’re not exactly at the love
Be aware that the mind plays tricks on you in a situation like this.
stage, but both of us want to keep dating. Today, after his news, I am having second thoughts. Why get close to someone who’s going to leave? If I like him — and I do — should I fight to make this work? Or, is it a case of bad timing, and maybe I should let go? I tend to get very attached to guys I like, so I don’t want to get hurt down the road. On the other hand, how often do you meet a really great guy? What if he’s The One and I blow it? I’m so scared about this. It’s all I can think about. I have thought about dating long-distance or moving with him. What would you do in my situation?
-Is it Bad Timing?

Dear Timing,
Timing is important, I agree. But be aware that the mind plays tricks on you in a situation like this. There’s the chance that desperation will take over and blow things out of proportion. Before you know it, the promising, but relatively new, dating relationship has morphed into the doomed romance of the century. Before you start projecting too much, keep this in mind: No “good” relationship is ever born out of desperation.

You could fall in love with him, and a long-term relationship could work. He moves, you stay, or you two work out the travel logistics. Or, the news of impending departure could sabotage your dynamic as a couple. You (or he) might put up a protective wall in anticipation of your good-bye.

I certainly understand your concerns. Absence either makes the heart grow fonder or ruins the relationship. A wise person once said, “Distance is to love as wind is to fire: It kindles the great flames, and extinguishes the very small.”

Yes, you need to weigh any potential regret you might feel because you didn’t try vs. protecting your heart. But before you make your next move, consider this:

Assess your capacity for emotional risk.
When you invest your money, stockbrokers ask you to determine your level of risk tolerance. For example, if
Don’t have intense, serious conversations unless you are face-to-face.
you are risk-averse, the broker might play it safer with your funds than he would if you told him you welcomed an educated gamble. The same approach applies to matters of the heart. What’s your tolerance for risking a deeper connection with this man? It’s a very personal answer, but one you need to weigh. If the future feels too daunting, maybe some space would help, but it’s doubtful considering the newness of this relationship. Since you have feelings for him, why not take a chance and hang in there until you have a clearer sense of the potential?

One red flag doesn’t mean the race is over.
Yes, his moving is a relationship red flag, but the good news is that he’s not leaving tomorrow. You have months to weigh your future together. Why not take a few weeks, adjust to the news, and see if you can reestablish the exciting groove you had before the news? If you can, go with the flow and see how plans and feelings unravel. Only time will help you to determine if the feelings are strong enough to warrant a commitment.

Know the rules of engagement for long distance.
If (and it’s a big “if”) you decide to date until he moves and then attempt a long-distance relationship, consider what’s involved. Yes, long-distance love can work. But there are rules of engagement for it, which include:
  • Exert relatively equal effort. Unless there’s a compelling reason not to share the cost (both time and money) of travel, sharing maintains balance in the relationship.
  • Be wise about telephone communications. Don’t have intense, serious conversations unless you are face-to-face.
  • Make your partner feel secure. Don't ever leave one another’s company without your next joint plan nailed down. You need to maintain a sense of momentum.
  • Integrate, integrate. Make sure your friends and family know your partner, even if they might not see him very often.
Don’t move just for him.
If you seriously consider moving to be with him, make sure you do it for your own reasons. You need your independence, which definitely means you need to be able to find work near his school. You might also want to consider getting your own place, at least at first. The last thing you want to do is move with no job, no other friends, and no life. The healthy balance of a relationship goes haywire when such complete dependencies occur.

Bottom line: Don’t make any decisions out of desperation. It sounds like you are off to a promising romantic start. But you don’t know each that well, so it’s hard to assess his partner potential. You need to give things some time, and, fortunately, you do have some of that ahead, with both of you in the same town during the coming months.

What you face isn’t easy, but at least you have some time to sort things out. I think that love, like life, always involves taking risks. To get to the fruit on the tree, sometimes you have to go out on a limb. Whatever decisions you make, don’t be consumed with fear as you make them.

Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Visit Dave’s website and send your dating questions and comments to him at
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