Dear Dr. Warren,
My question is regarding long distance relationships initiated on the Internet. How much time should you spend with someone "in person" before deciding to relocate? You can get to know someone over the phone and Internet, but I feel there are too many gaps that can only be filled by face to face interaction and that over an extended period. We are very attracted to each other and feel we are compatible, but how do you relocate across the country for a "maybe"?
This is indeed an important question. For many years I have emphasized that long distance couples take some determined and comprehensive steps before making a commitment of any kind.
My first suggestion is that you create as many opportunities as possible for face to face interaction before either of you move. You are correct, the phone and Internet work well to keep in touch, but eventually it’s vital that you spend hours and hours of time together just being in the same place. There’s really no other effective way to determine if you are truly compatible.
Secondly, I suggest that you visit each other in as many different circumstances as you possibly can. Limiting your visits to romantic weekends or holidays creates a false sense of experience together. It’s easy to come away from 5 romantic weekends convinced that your partner is loving, kind, attentive and adaptable. Of course, your range of knowledge about the person is shallow because you’ve never seen this person after a hard day of work, stuck in a traffic jam, furious at you because you were late, or enduring a crushing disappointment.
You must find a way to gather a wide range of knowledge about this person before pulling up your roots and moving. It may seem strange to travel across the country to try and witness your girlfriend while she goes about her everyday life, but I believe it is vital if your relationship is to have a chance of become a brilliant one.
Lastly, you must come to terms with the risk involved in your relationship. At some point, before you marry, one of you is going to have to pack up and move their life across the country. This should be done before there is intent to marry and certainly before there is an engagement.
If you have set the wheels in motion to marry and the move is just a prelim step in that direction, the momentum of the wedding may make it hard for one or both of you to say, “Wait, this doesn’t feel right.” You risk making a grave mistake. You need to spend time early in your long distance relationship discussing how this move would happen if the relationship continues.
Obviously Brent, the broad question you ask, “How much time?” is impossible to answer with knowing you and your circumstance personally. But my best answer is that you should wait as long as you can afford to wait and gather as much information from as many different circumstances as you can before you propose marriage. Whatever decision you reach with this particular person, I think that the caution and contemplation that you use at this stage of the marriage decision will serve you well throughout the rest of your life.