Can long-distance relationships work?

He turned my world upside down and then went abroad. Should I put my life on hold for two years?

Published February 11, 2003 8:07PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I've been friends with this boy I met my freshman year of college (I'm now 25). We've always had a special connection as friends, but I never saw him in "that way," so I was content in our platonic friendship. I always had a sneaking suspicion he had feelings for me, doing various sweet boyfriend-ish things like leaving my favorite flowers outside my door and running ridiculous errands for me when I was in a bind. (If I actually mentioned the ridiculous errands, he might know it's me.) There's also that way a person looks at you if he's smitten. I also had a boyfriend in college, so I'm sure that helped quench any erotic feelings between us.

He's been traveling a lot in the years after college, and we've still maintained a good friendship. We were able to go months without e-mailing or talking, but we had complete faith that we would remain good friends.

Upon returning home from one particularly long trip, he came to visit me. During his visit, the flirting was a little more intense, and we ended up having sex. All of a sudden my world turned upside down. It was amazing, beautiful, intimate, sweet rockin' love, and I wasn't sure what to do with myself. We saw each other in the weeks following even though we knew he had to leave for another two years abroad. I'm pretty sure that I'm in love with him and that he's smitten with me, but we're both too scared to really show all of our cards. Plus, I think "long-distance relationships" are an oxymoron, especially if they start out that way.

What do I do? Everyone is telling me not to put my life on hold for him. I'm not. I'm dating and going out and having fun, but it makes me miss him more. On top of that, I think he's being cautious about all of this because he said he historically doesn't do well in LDRs. If I make a conscious decision to just let him go and move on with my life, will I still be in love with him when he comes back? Is that a risk that I have to take? Should I carry the same faith in our friendship surviving his travel as this potential love? When I try to talk about it with him, he says things like, "It's just two years," or "Don't think about it." This has the opposite effect, as I think about him at least 14 out of my 16 waking hours. Please advise. You rock.

Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

Dear Bewitched,

One of the most important things to learn in life is how to deal with questions for which there are no answers -- how to identify them, how to attain a just and sane posture toward them, how to regard them, how to carry them around with you, how to honor them, where to store them at night, how to recognize them when they visit you in your dreams, how to know whether to speak of them or not, and to whom.

I think you already know the answers to some of your questions, and to others there is no answer. So I would encourage you to do what you are already doing: Go on with life. Simply pay attention to the quality of your various emotions and questions; ask yourself which questions can be answered and which emotions can be named. If you love him, say you love him; if he is gone for two years, say he is gone for two years. These are simply facts; they need not torment you. If they do torment you, remember that your powers are limited; you cannot know the future; you cannot control what other people do. You can only love, and know, and wait, and live.

The rest of the things you are feeling are the unknowable and unnamable secrets of the heart. If you become conscious of which things are unknowable, you will be able to look at each unknowable thing and simply say, "That is one of the unknowable things that I carry around with me."

Sometimes, when there is no war to fight, or when our enemies are far distant, we are nothing but apothecaries, weighing out our cares, taking inventory of our woes and hopes. It is as if we sit by candlelight at a desk late at night in the back of the pharmacy, turning over little stamps from China and Austria, the stamps that paid the postage for exotic medicines, looking at the stamps with a magnifying glass, just looking, just studying. We're not even looking at the substances, we're just looking at the stamps of the envelopes they arrived in, but still we are entranced. We study these things and sometimes they speak to us and sometimes not. These things are the mysteries of our lives: what will happen in the future, how friendship will morph into love or bitterness. We just sit there with it.

Time takes care of the rest.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.

By Cary Tennis

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