Friday, October 2, 2015

Surviving a Long-Distance Engagement, Catholic-Style

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Andrew proposed to me beneath a statue of Our Lady on our college campus, the summer after I graduated and right as we were preparing to spend a year apart, me for mission work and him for grad school 5 hours away.  We set our wedding date for 13 months later.

Given the choice, both of us would've preferred a shorter engagement.  Yet given the responsibilities entrusted to each of us over the upcoming year, it would have been both impractical and imprudent to get married any sooner.  Off we went in opposite directions, seeing each other roughly halfway between at one of our families' houses every two or three weeks.  And oh hell was it a marathon.  When I think back on that year, the hardest aspects were the mounting panic that our wedding was fast approaching and we had little time to plan, the heightened temptations against chastity that came with not seeing each other often, balancing time alone with family time (since they were hosting us and also happy to have us around), and struggling against impatience. If you're currently engaged long-distance and have similarly experienced at least one of these, and if you'll allow me some unsolicited advice, here's what my own heart could've used some reassurance on at the time:

Don't fall into believing the two of you are all alone.  Sounds obvious, yet I bought into this lie over and over, the one that made me think if didn't control every part of wedding plans and cultivating our relationship across the miles, everything would be doomed.  But it wasn't just on us to take care of all that.  So often, I forgot to invite the Father in and to turn to prayer for even the smallest matters.   Since we'd started dating, Andrew and I had just sort of naturally created our own litany to a handful of saints, and both of us had fallen hard, in particular, for JPII's spirituality rooted in human love.  At some point, Andrew reminded me of the grace and power that reside in saintly intercession, and though I, in my inadvertent pride, took a while to develop the habit of calling on their prayers, there truly was peace to be found there.  If you haven't already, choose a few patrons for your engagement and pray to them often.

Don't expect perfection, but don't stop pursuing it.  Chastity, yo.  It's such a battle--both before marriage, when it asks abstinence of us (though I don't personally consider chastity and abstinence the same thing), and continues to be tough after marriage, as spouses are constantly called to die to self, to live out their sexuality through self-gift in its infinite forms, and to strive for virtue and self-discipline.  But let's talk about the before marriage part.   No matter where the two of you are living relative to each other, it can be seriously hard to discipline the good and beautiful desire to physically express your love, so much so that for me, I sometimes questioned (and hated that I was even asking myself) whether love or lust was the motivation.  Add infrequent time together into the mix, thanks to long-distance dating, and things get even harder.

But listen.  While I fully view sexual sin as serious business, I also view it as so incredibly human.  We are created, body and soul, with a longing for the infinite, an ache whose earthly fulfillment is fulfilled, at least in part, through a properly integrated expression of our sexuality.  For those called to marriage, that expression is physical, so of course those desires are right at the surface during engagement.  While it's true that God is just, it's also true that he is so, so merciful and wants so deeply for us to run to his mercy and to come back to him every time we fall.  Be gentle with yourselves, don't give up the fight (I'm no theologian, but in my opinion there is more culpability in giving in to temptation because you've decided chastity's not worth it than in continuing to seek holiness even amidst occasions of giving in), and go to confession as often as you need to.  Speaking of which…

Seek out spiritual time together, especially time away from wedding planning.  Practically speaking, it was sometimes necessary for Andrew and I to condense into a single weekend some of the wedding planning that we might've had more time for had we been able to see each other more often (you can read about our semi-disastrous registry experience here…).  But, making it a priority to go to confession and Mass when we were together, and to pray with each other in the car and before heading off to bed, impacted our peace for the better, in ways I probably didn't even recognize.  When your time is limited, it's tempting to try and fill every second with managing your to-do list, yet we quickly noticed how much more relaxed and content we felt when we made a conscious effort at leisure and quality time.  Carving out time for prayer and for just sitting down to read or get coffee had the ironic effect of making us feel like there was actually more time than we perceived to get everything wedding-related taken care of, and had two added benefits for our situation.  First, making a point to relax gave us time with just each other, which was sometimes hard to come by when we were visiting each other in our parents' homes and were usually surrounded by other people who were happy we were there (that setup was really good for chastity accountability, but not as good for quality conversation between the two of us).  Second, it gave us an opportunity to trust each other and follow through on our word in a specific way; because it simply wasn't possible, or even necessary, to do every bit of wedding stuff together, we had no option but to delegate tasks to each other and do them on our own, a habit that came in handy after we got married, too.

Don't just make this time about surviving.  For me, at least, there were so many occasions when I wanted to fast forward through our engagement and just get to the altar already.  Normal as it might have been (someone tell me I was normal?), it would've been unhealthy if my entire life was defined by the fact that I was engaged or if I didn't take pleasure in anything outside of my relationship with my fiancĂ©.  I needed to remind myself I was doing work I loved and sincerely enjoying my life's other pursuits.  Time is sacred, for the simple yet profound fact that God freely chose to enter into it, a man among us.  Use it well.  Frankly, counting down to the start of my vocation flat out sucked sometimes,  yet I also clearly remember a sense of sweetness in the waiting and an urge to not make it wasted time, not in my friendships, my work, my spiritual life, and my overall sense of presence.

Last week Andrew had two back to back loooong workdays of student-teacher conferences where he didn't arrive home until I was almost ready for bed, yet by the time he walked in the door, I was so happy to finally talk to my husband that we were up for another few hours.  Even though he'd basically spent the past twelve hours talking, we spent the time asking question after question about each others' days, and I did my usual I'm-so-glad-Aaron's-in-bed-but-let's-talk-about-all-the-funny-things-he-did-and-look-at-pictures-of-him thing.

At one point, Andrew asked me if our conversation, one we'd unconsciously been saving up all day for, reminded me of our engagement.  It did!  Four years ago, when most of our daytime hours were occupied and we weren't seeing each other at the end of the workday, we didn't usually talk until after dinner in the evening and did a pretty similar blow-by-blow of our days, mixed in with all the thoughts and debates the day had sparked.  I love that I get to talk to this man forever.

What about you?  Is your engagement long-distance?  What are the biggest struggles you've faced, and the best ways you've found to deal with them?  I always, always enjoy hearing your stories!





4 comments:

  1. Thank you thank you thank you for that last part - "don't just make this time about surviving." My wedding countdown currently sits at 777 days and with over two years to go I'm driving myself absolutely crazy wanting to fast forward. Our decision to wait this long has actually made me upset from time to time, but I'm *trying* to look at it a bit differently now, so thank you for your help in that area! (My blog - Catholic Bride - is under this name now. Same blog, different title!)

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  2. Interesting to hear you had a similar story to us! We were engaged for 8 months, but dated for two years and never lived in the same state until we were married. Our longest stent apart was 7 weeks and that was just brutal. Also, we were married several hours from where we were both living at the time so needless to say, planning a long distance wedding was just as complex as a long distance relationship! I have shared a few times on my blog some fun ways we used to keep in touch or make things special from a distance. :)

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  3. Long distance engagement is hard! The hardest part for me was feeling like we were connected & communicating even though we were so far apart and doing very different things. Two things that helped were 1) video calls. The phone didn't cut it for more than a couple days at a time. There were definitely times when I didn't feel like stopping everything for those 30/45/whatever minutes, but I tried to make it a priority and it really helped! 2) Making the time we had together count! We were trying to save for the wedding (like most engaged couples probably are) so we didn't feel like we had much money for extras. When we were apart, I tried to find ways to save a few bucks - skip the coffee, eat a meatless dinner maybe - so that when we were together we could do something extra to cherish the time together, like a coffee date or brunch. :)

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    1. I love the video call idea; I have friends who would have a "date" over Skype while they were in different states, by making the same dinner and watching the same movie together alongside their computers so they could talk and share the experience. And how awesome that you were willing to save your money while you were alone so you could spend it on time together--I'm convinced sacrifices like that during engagement can only set you up for a better marriage =)

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