Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Dismaying Story #20: Getting to Know Him from Afar

Dear Andrew,

I'm a 30-year-old girl who has been studying abroad in India for three years. During my stay here I met someone online, a 34-year-old guy from my own country who has been living in Sweden for almost 13 years. We started to get to know each other via the Internet and phone for six months, talking for six hours virtually every day. When I went home he flew there to meet me and for five weeks we tried to get to know each other. He asked me to marry him. At first I was so sure but then I decided I needed more time, which he accepted. It is unlikely we will see each other in person anytime soon because of travel difficulties. How can we get to know each other effectively with all this distance between us?

I am a spiritual person, which is very important to me, but he is not. Also, he has shown no curiosity about my beliefs, my studies, what I want in life or who I am inside. I'm afraid he won't be a good partner in this way, even though he is so affectionate, romantic, stable and kind. What should I do?

Signed, Seeker of Truth

Dear Seeker,

My first thought is that you did the right thing when you decided to take more time before accepting his invitation. You clearly have doubts as to what kind of life partner he will make. I agree it is troubling that you spent so many hours talking and yet you feel he has not shown much curiosity about you as a person or what goes on in your life. It makes me wonder what the two of you talked about all that time.

In one sense you know a fair bit about this man; you have already formed opinions regarding some of his strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand there is no substitute for face-to-face contact when getting to know someone, especially when you are considering marriage. You have only spent five weeks together, which seems to concern you and, in my opinion, you are right to feel that way.

A short period of intense contact like that is not always a true indicator of what life might be like with this person in the long term. You were both likely on your best behavior, doing everything possible to "make it work" with each other. You were not engaged in normal everyday life. Instead you were essentially on vacation and probably got to share many fun and relaxing activities like visiting family. How different would the experience be when you are both working or studying, living in your own homes and dealing with the ordinary stresses of life? If you are going to marry someone, you want to know what kind of person they are when under stress, not just how they act during the fun times. Will he still be supportive and kind when life throws challenges in the way? Will he care about your problems (not just his own) and do his best to help out? These sorts of questions may be difficult for you to answer right now.

Forgive me if I assume too much but I suspect there might also be another factor involved with your dilemma. You are both in your thirties and still unattached. Often people feel pressure to conform to societal norms and be married by a certain age. Also, many women know they would like to have children, which means being married while still young enough to make that happen. In your situation you might be thinking, "This is the best chance I have had and the clock is ticking. I may never find someone if I wait much longer." I cannot advise you how strongly such factors should weigh in your decisions -- only you can decide how important they are for you -- but you should be aware of these issues and think about them. Similarly, you are the only one who can decide how important it is for your partner to share your spiritual beliefs.

I advise you to hold off on making any marriage commitment until you have had a better chance to get to know him when you are face-to-face. This might involve a considerable wait but the decision is too important to rush into while you still have such doubts.

I also have reservations about whether he will be a supportive husband. I could be wrong (obviously I don't know this person) but in my experience, supportive people are empathetic and want very much to understand what makes their partner tick. I would not accept his proposal until you can convince yourself how he will treat you in this regard.

If you are contemplating marriage, then presumably there is a time in the near future when you could see the two of you living in the same place. Assuming you are both serious enough, perhaps you could consider waiting until then so you can get to know each other while living your normal daily lives.

Finally, once you think these matters through and arrive at your own opinions, (which, of course, may very well differ from mine) I suggest you be open and honest with him. Tell him what you hope will happen and give him the chance to decide if he is willing to do the same.

I wish you all the best as you "seek the truth."


Have you ever felt pressure to stay in a relationship? How did your long distance romance turn out? Let us know and your submission could be featured as a Dismaying Story.


  1. Ah, a subject near and dear to my heart.

    I met my husband online 11 years ago. It was incredibly innocent. He answered my computer related question on a newsgroup. I emailed him to thank him for his helpful response and 2 weeks later he sent me a follow up email asking if my computer dilemma was solved. (Little did he know...lol)

    He was in the UK and I was in the US so neither or us thought much about the situation other than we enjoyed writing back and forth. For two people raised on different sides of the planet, we had a similar sense of humor and writing style and became fast friends. Eventually, despite the 6 hour time difference, we hooked up online everyday to "chat". The internet was very different back then and internet relay chat (IRC), still in its infantile stage, was Unix shell based. There was no such thing as instant messenger back then, we typed each and every command line. It was work!

    Anyway, after 8 months he had the opportunity to fly to the US for business and I knew that I had to be there waiting at the airport when he did. We had never spoke on the phone, our only prior communication was the hundreds of emails and hours upon hours of chat conversations online - yet I knew him better and more intimately than I've ever known anyone before. As I was driving to the airport that night to meet him, I knew if nothing else - he was and would always be my best friend.

    To make a very long and complicated story short - though we have a happy ending, the majority of internet relationships don't. I believe what made our situation work is that neither of us compromised ourselves or each other in the process. We were honest (sometimes brutally) about everything and communicated through the entire process. (For the record: it was almost 4 years later before we actually lived in the same country!) My suggestions to anyone entering a long distance relationship is to take as much time as you need and not jump the gun rushing things just so you can physically be together. Get to know each other, be 100% confident that the person is honest and honorable and the rest will eventually fall into place.

    If you have doubts, listen to them - they may be there for a reason.

    PS. I wouldn't have changed anything about the way we did things (SLOW was definetly the way to go!) with the exception of the frustrating INS process. But that's an entirely different post... lol

    PSS. Sorry Andrew, I didn't mean to write a book. I tried to condense. It's hard, I'm a bit wordy. :)

  2. Hi again Kellie: Thank you for that. What a wonderful contribution! I love stories with happy endings but you're right -- many of the Internet relationships I hear about eventually end badly. And don't worry about being wordy; drop back anytime and write as much as you want.

  3. Hi Andrew, I am currently in a long distance relationship. I don't have much time to post it here at the moment but I will sure drop a line as soon as time permits. Take care.

  4. Consider yourself... Linked! :)

  5. Intriguing subject, whether distance or online communication's invloved. I salute everyone's honesty -- and, Andrew, your evenhanded and respectful response. That's a gift; it's hard to do. I've been married twice. I'd have to say, simply, that it is worth addressing these tough questions, one doesn't want to be Grandpa, in a John Prine song, "leaning on his rake, wond'ring if his marriage was a terrible mistake."

  6. Spousalist: Thank you for your kind words.

  7. Ok.
    I don't want to be a 'downer"
    But hey, lets take a look.
    Neing married to a Finn, I'll say it is close to a Swede.
    First off...
    then... step back and use your head WITH your heart.
    Remember that there are huge cultural differences (like stuff you wouldn't think of and stuff your matey mate wouldn't think of bringing up... well, cause it is normal to you and them)
    KNOW solid in your heart that no matter what it is you can deal with it and love them anyway or deal with it.

    'Cause seriously... I hear on TV that MONEY is the biggest arguement that couples have... add cultural priorities to that? whew.

    Not that (I AM ) sticking mu freakin nose in or anything...

    Oh yeah and the food....

  8. Anonymous3:50 PM

    dearest andrew , thanks alot , u are so true , and im working to do my best in my relation , im gonna tell him a truth of what is really going on in my mind , u helped alot ,

  9. Hmmm. I think maybe you have read my story but maybe not... My husband and I met last summer, and finally got together and spend every other day together fir 5 weeks, only from 8pm-1-3am, and we then worked together during the day. We spent a lot of time talking, and we had issues, language, really fierce attraction, things that hinder getting to know people :) But I knew.. I knew after the 1st time we went out I wanted to marry him. He took time in allowing himself to follow his feelings.. because he said he wanted to be sure--sure he would not hurt me. I visited again 45 days later after I left ofr a week. I was kinda scared-- because here I was, going to visit someone I knew-- and loved-- but didn't really know.. here I was going to a foreign country without telling anyone except a few friends and 2 cousins, going to live with this man for a week. And he was magic. We became engaged witht he plan to marry-- maybe this summer or this past spring. Then we learned immigration would take forever. he needs to leave his country to finish his degree-- but also to avoid having his family pressure him. it's easier this way. Job market there is depressed like you wouldn;t believe or else we would live there first. He cannot afford ot live by himself, let alone with me. Plus, I have my degrees and he wants me to get them even more than *I* want me to get them. he is so proud. For many reasons we decided to go this route is my point.


    So when we learned how freakin long this would take, and when we learned in order to get an Arab Muslim into the US you HAD to be married-- you cannot just be engaged like to a European.... I called him as soon as I got home from my lawyer's consultation. I said hey, wanna get married in 2 weeks? He said, "I would like nothing more."

    So we did. it was risky. But we felt so good about it. We have issues-- like my fear and trepidation of a second wife. Haha he never even said he loved me until I came! to get married! That's when i told him he had to say it or else. It's not culturally correct to say until they are married. Wish someone had told me that sooner. he showed me through his actions what he felt which was why I went. But I just wanted to hear it.

    Then I left and didn't see him for 5.5 months. I went back this visit for 7 weeks, for the field school. I decided we would probably meet the real "selves" in this visit, not the pretty ones that never do anything gross. We did. And we love eachother more now than before. We became relaxed and comfortable completely in ourselves this trip. Now I feel like I have known him forever. We have had fights now and found little peeves, but we realized how well we really do just get along.

    He is putting himself 1999999% into this. I realized I had to do the same for this to work. I could not protect myself. I let go and am in there just like him. I think this is what helps us-- the dedication to understanding, compromise, and respect.

    And phone sex.

    Just saying. :)