Can You hear me Now? Good. I Doooooo!

One of Carolyn’s peanuts wants to know about the chances she has at making a long distance marriage work. While relationships have survived and even occasionally thrived in this unusual circumstance (usually by necessity, more rarely by choice), I’m afraid that everything this woman hopes to build in her new marriage despite the distance, will actually be prevented specifically by it:

Dear Carolyn:

What are your thoughts on a long-distance marriage? I’ve been dating a man for five years total — with a 20-year break between years 3 and 4. During those 20 years, we moved to different states, each got married, had two kids and then divorced. There are joint-custody situations and young children on both sides that make it nearly impossible to live less than a five-hour drive apart. We see each other at least every other week and we have a wonderful relationship (easy when you see each other every other week, I suppose). I really do see him as my life partner.

We could continue this long-distance dating thing for the next 12 years (when the youngest turns 18), but I’d really like to be married. Difficult to quantify, but goes something along the lines of: We’d be a family. Our family would always come first and invitations would be easier as would the holidays — no questions that our “family” should be together — even if it means not seeing one set of relatives one holiday.

But having been through a divorce and not wanting to relive that experience in this lifetime, it seems the deck is stacked against long-term success.

Anywhere

Several things strike me about her letter that suggest…well, not that she’s oblivious to the challenges this kind of relationship will pose, but that she wants license to ignore them.

-I don’t think that “I’ve been dating a man for five years total — with a 20-year break between years 3 and 4” is really a realistic description of a relationship (though it makes for a clever surprise reveal in her letter!). It sounds like she’s trying to use those three years long ago, which I would consider a different relationship altogether, between practically different people, as the “first” three years of this one.

“we have a wonderful relationship (easy when you see each other every other week, I suppose)” so she knows that they haven’t had to deal with the day-to-day realities that most couples would have to deal with in a 2 year relationship, but doesn’t seems concerned about how that will impact them in the long term when and if they move to the same place. Nor does she talk about the difficulties of maintaining communication and intimacy in a long distance relationship. Reality is going to hit in some way, at some point. That doesn’t need to be a bad thing (reality is good!), but she has to recognize it coming.

“I’d really like to be married…We’d be a family. Our family would always come first and invitations would be easier as would the holidays — no questions that our “family” should be together”
I’m not really sure what she means by “invitations,” or why that’s so important, but it seems to me like the “family always comes first” and “family should be together”–the most powerful reasons she wants to marry this guy–are totally cancelled out by being 5 hours apart.

An excerpt from Carolyn’s response says:
What you’re regarding as family, as you know, isn’t a legal unit, but an emotional one. To work as an emotional unit you need his full contribution and commitment. Once you have that, married or not, the other stuff will follow, including invitations and divvying up family visits, etc. You may have to insist on it, and repeat yourselves, and persist through others’ resistance, but that’s all secondary stuff.

I agree: if she wants to build a family with this man, she needs to start with day-to-day actions, not with ceremonies. And my impression so far is that she uses the word “family” pretty freely without any specifics about her children or his–and that’s a bit suspicious.

She doesn’t seem to be considering how their children will react to this arrangement, or how they will be a part of this family. If the reason neither of them can move is a joint-custody situation, and they see each other every other weekend, presumably their visits are when the kids are with their other parent. So how well do the kids know their potential stepparent and stepsiblings? And when the marriage happens, will they be expected to spend 10 hours in the car on 25-50% of their weekends? I’ve done a lot of that myself recently and it’s a big pain. What about sports? Part-time jobs, down the road? What will they have to give up to serve their mom’s vision of their family?

Although at first blush her plan seems to favor the kids over her own desires (waiting to be together until the youngest turns 18), in fact it serves the requirements of her custody arrangement–not the actual best interest of the children. This long distance family will lead to them spending more of their lives in the car than at any home. What about living somewhere in the middle? Unless the mom doesn’t actually WANT to deal with the reality of living together and blending their families for real. From the perspective of the kids, this arrangement sounds pretty awful to me.

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