Can I stay in my casual long distance relationship?
"Is it even possible to keep seeing each other? I haven't felt so happy with someone in close to 10 years, and I want us to find a way to date that works for us, even if it's unconventional."
A SWEETIE PIE:
I have been seeing someone I really, really like for over two years now. It has been casual, and it hasn't been a super consistent situation-ship until last January. We have seen each other every month or two at least once for a year, which is pretty good considering we lived in different states and again, we are casual.
I don't mind being open and non-exclusive, but things have felt more serious recently. We went to each other's holiday parties and met each other's coworkers, we started saying "I love you" usually drunk, but sometimes sober, he tells his friends and coworkers about us, we recently met each other's family members (under random circumstances), and people in my life have told me that they've never seen me as happy as I am when I'm with him.
The not-so-great parts: I just moved across the country, and now we are a flight away from one another rather than a drive. He has absolutely no plans to move out of his city. I have been trying to date in my new city and meet people, especially since he is not a big communicator when it comes to texting/calling. While I was on my first date here, he texted to ask if we could talk on the phone, which he's never done before. Then he told me that he thinks he contracted an STI in the past couple weeks, right before I last saw him.
I'm going to get tested (of course) and waiting to hear back on the results from his test. How do I navigate this relationship going forward? I don't want things to end, and neither does he, but obviously it's going to be complicated with the distance. I'm also upset that he took risks with my health and didn't mention it until he noticed symptoms himself. He's planning to visit soon, and if this continues, I need more from him than a level of casual where I'm the one orchestrating all the plans and he's not being safe with multiple partners. Is it even possible to keep seeing each other? I haven't felt so happy with someone in close to 10 years, and I want us to find a way to date that works for us, even if it's unconventional.
Let me state for the record that I’m very very very PRO casual relationships. I think they’re often super fulfilling, and I certainly don’t think that “seriousness” equates to value in terms of dating. Casual relationships and open relationships (two different things, obviously) are great!
However, I think this particular relationship is … in trouble. I know you probably wanted me to be like, “Here’s how to make this work,” but I don’t see a great way forward. Just because something is doomed to end doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile in the meantime, so I don’t mean it like that. You can know you’re going to not “end up” with a person and still have a meaningful and satisfying relationship. I’m not enthused about the idea of you doing that with this guy because it seems like the relationship itself (rather than its timeline) is unsound.
Of course, with all that said, you can certainly keep “dating” him!! I’m not in charge!
The problem you have here has nothing to do with the relationship being open and very little to do with the relationship being casual. The problem—well, actually problems—are about the feasibility of the relationship itself. If you want a clear list of the issues, here’s what I see:
He sucks at communication.
You two are long distance and will remain this way.
The relationship is no longer casual.
These things together are going to make for a disaster.
Let’s break that down, shall we?
He sucks at communication.
Ok, you know I’m going to do a quick shout about the fact that he didn’t communicate well around sexual health. Contracting an STI or giving an STI to your partner is a very common, normal thing that happens. It can happen in long term relationships. It can happen in exclusive relationships. It can happen to anyone and it does happen to loads of people every year. Every day! STIs are normal. That’s not the issue. The issue is his communication around his health and, consequently your health.
Normally, I might give him a little bit of a break—assuming of course that he apologized profusely for not communicating earlier, he totally got what he messed up and that you two had talked about what happened, how it made you feel and what the new boundaries are—but you also said, “[H]e is not a big communicator when it comes to texting/calling. While I was on my first date here, he texted to ask if we could talk on the phone, which he's never done before.” EXCUSE. ME?
My boyfriend also loathes talking on the phone—I’m not crazy about it, so not a big deal. BUT WE LIVE IN THE SAME APARTMENT. TOGETHER. AND WE ALSO TEXT. What are y’all doing if it’s not talking and texting? Sending postcards? Shooting off flare guns? I mean how on earth are you two communicating at all outside of your quarterly fuck-sesh?
This brings me to my next point! 👇
The long distance issue.
Ok. There are TWO big rules of long distance dating (and what you two are doing is dating, in case you didn’t know, because y’all have been doing it for two years and saying I love you and are meeting families and shit).
The FIRST rule of long distance dating: You have to be better than other couples at communication. Twice as good at least. You have to be more honest, more vulnerable, more open about what’s going on. That’s true for long distance relationships and that’s true for open relationships as well. YOU TWO DO NOT HAVE THIS. I am deeply sorry for that. That’s painful as all hell to have to reckon with. But you two have middling to bad communication. You’re hiding your “I love you”s behind alcohol. You’re not communicating about STIs. HE’S LETTING YOU DO ALL THE DATE PLANNING. 💥THIS IS BAD💥. The type of relationship you two are trying to have takes loads of work in the best circumstances with the best communicators. You’re dating a guy who doesn’t call, doesn’t text, doesn’t plan dates, and doesn’t care about your health.
The SECOND rule of long distance dating: There MUST be an end point to the distance. You cannot not have a timeline for when you’ll be back living in the same city. This is inviolable. There is absolutely no point (sorry!!!!) in dating someone who is living in another city when there is not a concrete pre-set end point to this arrangement. Now, if every time you fly to Houston for work conferences you end up sleeping with a guy you met there a few years back, ok. That’s different. That’s not dating. That’s a hook up who lives in another city.
Again, what you are doing is dating, and you both are going to be living A WHOLE ASS FLIGHT away from one another for… maybe ever??? I mean how do you think this goes? How do you think this ends? Are you gonna be 59 years old and still flying to see him once a month, hoping that one day one of you makes the move?
The relationship is actually no longer casual.
Ok, I know I mostly already made this point, but I think part of the reason this all feels so fraught for you is that you really are starting to fall for this guy, but the problem is that love cannot be created over a sexy visit once every couple months. That is not love, I’m sorry to say. That’s fun visits.
This is going to be a hot mess.
Even though spending time with him makes you really happy right now—which I do not doubt for a moment!!!!—this cannot and will not go anywhere. To be perfectly frank, I don’t think the guy cares that much about treating you well. I think he’s nice and fun and probably really hot. All of which are incredibly great qualities. But he’s not a good partner. In fact, he’s a double not good partner because not only is he not giving you much or committing but you’re also hung up on the scraps of this love to the point where it’s blocking you from finding new people. I mean what could illustrate that better than a date with a new person in a new city being stopped so that you can get a call about an STI he has???
You can find casual, fun, open relationships in your city with people who will call you and text you and put in effort. People who care about you and respect you, even if you guys aren’t exclusive or heading to the altar. There is nothing wrong with casual AT ALL— just want to reiterate that I’m not against this type of arrangement!!!!—but you may also find that you want more. It seems like while you may like the open or non exclusive part of the relationship, if you’re saying “I love you” to someone, you may actually like more serious or intimate relationships. I don’t know. I could be wrong.
I do know that there is nothing left to get from this relationship other than a few more rounds of casual sex and a whole lot of messy heartbreak coming down the line if you drag this out. I genuinely believe that your best bet is to use the move to the new city as a clean break and say, “You know what? I like you—hell, love you— but this is just not going to work with the new distance. I think we both feel too much and too little for one another and we’re going to keep being jerked back and forth between those extremes. Let’s stop now while we have overwhelmingly good memories.”
And then go enjoy your new city!!!! I’m so envious of you getting to move to a new place! How wildly fun! You will meet new people—friends, coworkers, romantic partners. You will fill your life up. People will make you just as happy as this guy. Honestly, probably much happier! I promise it.
Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter; she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tweets about everything else at @1followernodad, is a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. You can reach her or yell at her at email@example.com.