Are we getting married too soon?

Dear Anthony,

My pastor is skeptical that long distance relationships can have the personal and practical growth to move toward marriage. My fiance lives in California, and I’m in Canada. He first wrote me on AMS nine months ago. We met the first time two months ago. A month ago I flew to California for our second in person meeting. He proposed. I flew home to pray about it and a few days later said yes. We believe we have the maturity, love, and shared spiritual life to begin marriage. We would like to co-operate with our pastor, however, it does seem that Father already has some preconceived ideas about long distance dating. Do you have any advice we can share with him?

It’s obviously you are both deeply in love and want to share your life together. But I can certainly see why your pastor has concerns.

Only the two of you can make this decision. Not even your pastor’s concerns can stop either of you from your fundamental right to be married if you so choose. I, too, certainly have no way of knowing if this is what you should or shouldn’t do, nor advise you either way. It is your decision, and whatever decision you make should be supported by anyone in your life who loves you, and will definitely be accepted by the Church under the permissible canonical conditions which I assume are in place (i.e., both free to marry in the Church, both baptized, etc.)

Your pastor’s concerns, I believe, are not so much your long distance relationship, but the short length of time knowing each other and only meeting twice.

I’m sure for the two of you, the nine months you have known each other seem like a lifetime. No one can fully understand how two people can have such deep love and commitment in such a short time. It’s natural for others observing from the outside to consider factors of the situation and be skeptical. They have no connection or participation in your mutual love experience, so it’s impossible for them to know the full story.

However, their opinions regarding the facts are worth hearing out and considering, because it’s not uncommon that the love that develops so rapidly that it clouds and blinds prudence and reason. So having an open mind to what those you love or respect have to say from their observations and experiences is a good practice.

There are a few points I would like to share with you as food for thought that perhaps you have no considered and might find helpful as you continue toward your intention to marry.

The length of time you have known each other is a serious concern. No matter how much you know each other right now, it’s not as much as you think when it comes to a decision to marry. Sharing things about each other is not enough. Experiencing each other in person in all kinds of situations and with all kinds of other people provides a great deal of important information to know about the other.

Many common marriage problems are due to behaviors and attitudes. How you both react in uncomfortable situations or under stress. How both of you behave around or treat each other’s family and friends. Seeing what gets both of you upset or how you work through an argument. What issues of your past come up and under what circumstances. How you communicate with each other and work together to resolve problems or make important and not so important decisions.

Then there is non-verbal communication, which is what makes up the majority of how we communicate with other human beings. It’s impossible to experience body language without being together in person. Therefore, it’s impossible to know how you react to each other’s body language.

Responding to the call of love and deciding to marry must include an acceptance of anything negative about each other, including all bad habits, personal scars, behavior patterns, etc. You can’t fully know what these are unless you experience them first hand and share them as they come up. And when shared, there is nothing that can replace eye contact and hand holding and the like when it comes to accepting.

My concern is that the two of you have not had enough in-person time to experience so much of each other that needs to be experienced before deciding to marry. Have you spent enough time with each other’s friends and family? Have you determined that you both accept each other’s friends and have shown you are not jealous or possessive? Whoever is doing the moving to the other’s country, have you had enough time to help the family members process that?

Only the two of you can answer this, of course. If you are ready and fully accept each other, then wonderful! Let no one’s concerns, including your pastor’s, prevent you from moving forward.

Long distance relationships are very challenging. You want to make sure you know what you are doing as far as possible. Another three or six months of getting together in person can only help.

I would suggest you consider telling your pastor you will make a short term commitment to spend more in-person time together before getting engaged, then meeting with him several times together. He will feel a lot better and be impressed that you would make such an effort.


How can we maintain our long-distance relationship?

Dear Anthony,

I am in a long-distance relationship with someone I met on Ave Maria Singles. After e-mailing and making phone calls, we finally met in person, and we are hopeful about our future. Because of the distance, we won’t get to see each other very often, and we’re concerned about being able to maintain this relationship. E-mail seems sterile and shallow after a while. Do you have any suggestions?

I’m glad to hear that you have spent time in person already. That is really critical. I have no doubt that has only increased your desire to spend more time in person. That’s a good thing.

But don’t underestimate the value of your NOT being together in person as often as you would like, and how it can deepen your relationship. You should definitely be working at getting together in person as often as you can (I have recommended every two weeks or so as a benchmark, even if for a couple of days). The more often you are in person together, the faster you both will realize you are to get married or end the relationship. And knowing sooner rather than later if the relationship should end helps minimize heart pains and wasting time. Being in person often helps to know if you should be moving toward marriage, so you should definitely make it happen as you are able. Just understand that having long intervals between meetings can be a risk, especially in dragging the relationship on longer than it should (whether for marriage or for breaking up).

However, the time in between can be a tremendous blessing and a wonderful opportunity to grow deeper towards each other that you might not otherwise be able to do if you lived close by and could see each other in person more often. I want to encourage you both to write long letters to each other during these periods, sharing your hearts, interests, faith, past, etc. The beauty of a long-distance relationship is that it helps foster deep love and longing for each other that being in person all the time cannot. When you have access to someone all the time, writing does not take place. And writing provides an opportunity to share in ways that people don’t usually do when talking to each other. Plus, there is the added bonus of not having to deal with serious chastity issues that people who are in person all the time have to face, which can really cause problems, or disrupt the developing relationship, or even distort the relationship to the point of it ending when it did not have to happen that way. Chastity helps couples to grow in grace, so long-distance relationships are great for this, too.

So I encourage you both to rejoice in the opportunity to take advantage of this distance between you, and time periods between visits, and see it as a very holy thing. And make it valuable by taking the time to write long letters. The reason e-mail seems sterile and shallow (as you put it) is because you are not really “writing” to each other. You are just chatting. So take the time, nestle up on your bed, or sit at your desk or on the couch with cup of coffee or favorite drink, say a prayer, and then begin to handwrite a long letter. Yes, I said “handwrite”. Typing is too impersonal for this kind of writing (but if you are only comfortable typing, then I won’t hold it against you :-) The point is to enjoy the spirit of writing to the one you care about. And watch how you fall in love and what happens. I promise you that after you are married, you will be saying how much the distance was a blessing and how much you treasured the exchange of love letters.

Can fear of flying hurt a long-distance relationship?

Dear Anthony,

I’m in my 40s and have never been married. I’ve been chatting with a wonderful woman on Ave Maria Singles and she is open to meeting. I live on the west coast and she lives on the east coast. The problem is that I have a terrible fear of flying and she would have to come to where I am to meet for the first time. She is open to that, but I am concerned about how we would maintain this relationship. I’m not sure what to do. What do you think?

I appreciate your situation and feel for you. I can’t help feeling, though, that at some point you are going to have to confront and overcome your fear of flying. If you can’t, or you don’t think you want to try, you will have to stop considering someone who is flying distance away. A long-distance relationship is challenging, but it can be done. Those that are successful are because both persons made all the necessary sacrifices and efforts, primarily a commitment to spend time with each other in person. Depending on the situation, it varies how often the two can meet in person. But meeting in person is essential, and the more often you can meet in person, the better chance the long-distance relationship has of moving in a healthy way towards marriage.

Seventy percent of our success stories are of two people from different states, so I am not at all surprised that you are interested in a woman who is so far away. But how are you going to make this work if you can’t ever visit her because of your fear of flying? I’m not sure how you could sustain it. That’s fine to fly her out for the first meeting, but after that, you will have to start flying to her, don’t you think? It only seems fair. Does she know you have a fear of flying? If not, she needs to know before you set up a first meeting. But I’m not sure you should even put her through a first meeting if you already know you can’t ever get on a plane. Have you even given this any thought?

Perhaps she will still want to meet you for the first time with an openness to doing all the flying to you in your relationship. If she does, than God bless her. But it might be that she has an enthusiasm that cannot be sustained. The realities of life as time goes along might not make this sincere desire of hers practical to keep up with. I also don’t think it would be fair to “expect” her to do all the traveling. So you have to be very careful about how you approach this. Make sure you always show her a concern for how this would work out from a travel perspective.

But there is more to it than just the two of you. What about her family and friends? Critical to determining if you should marry a person is meeting and being with each other’s family and friends. You learn a great deal about a person when you see them interact with their family and friends. This is a very important thing. If you never visit her, that means you won’t get time with her family and friends. That is not good at all. Something to think about.

There is a positive to proceeding to have a first meeting. It’s possible that your strong interest in her after your first meeting could provide a grace to help you overcome your fear of flying, and you just might find yourself with the courage to get on a plane and fly to her next time. Love makes us do crazy things :-) And if this first meeting goes so great that you really want to see her again, and/or she wants to see you again, perhaps you will be “crazy” enough to get on that plane.

If you do decide on having the first meeting, just make sure you pay all her expenses. And make sure she understands the risk that you both might like each other and want to meet again, but it does not happen due to this fear of flying.

This also means that your fear of flying affects your meeting any other women after this one. Again, you have a great chance of meeting your future wife if you are able to meet women in person who are in flying distance. Your chances greatly diminish if you can’t fly. But if you can’t fly, then you can’t fly; that’s your reality to accept. But if that is, in fact, your reality, than you must be responsible in your online interactions with women and ONLY make contact with women you know you can eventually meet in person. Don’t start a dialogue with anyone who is a plane ride away. That just isn’t fair to her, nor to you. Your interest in this particularly woman is proof that your finding a future spouse will mean being open to someone who is only in flying distance. If you limit yourself to someone local, which you are free to do, your chances of finding the right woman are more unlikely. Not impossible, but less likely. I think you see where I am going with this.

Of course, the better solution is to get professional help and overcome this fear of flying once and for all, in the name of your vocation, your love for God, and for the sake of your future wife. This would make things easier, and I believe it would also make your chances of actually getting married much better. There is a chance that this fear of flying will keep you from every getting into your vocation. Certainly, it may very well keep you from getting married sooner rather than later (which is what most people desire).

All fears are an evil. They are not of God, and they should be confronted and dealt with to the point of having no more fear. And fears notoriously keep people from living life as abundantly as the Lord desires to have us live. To overcome fears is to be truly free, and allow us to live life to the fullest. In your case, the life your fear may be keeping you from is married life, which is pretty significant, I would say.

You really need to overcome that fear of flying. Even if this relationship does not work out, you jeopardize any future relationship because of this fear. So get some professional help, pray, and conquer this problem. Then you will be free to do whatever it takes, as God inspires, to develop a healthy relationship and get into your vocation one day soon.

Should I enter a long-distance relationship?

Dear Anthony,

I’m corresponding with a man who lives quite a distance away. While I know that Ave Maria Singles has many success stories involving long-distance relationships, I’m afraid that distance may become a barrier as our relationship develops. Is there any secret to making such a relationship work?

I’m glad you are writing me with this very good question while things are still early on in this relationship. Let me first say that long-distance relationships DO work. We have couples who were from different states and couples from different countries. So obviously it can work. However, it can also be a waste of time to correspond with someone very far away because of one or both persons not being serious about acting on the needs of the relationship as required, including not really being “open” to making a long distance relationship work.

So I always advise people who are considering someone from another state, and especially from another country, to make sure they are really open to meeting someone in person eventually, and that the other person is as well. It really comes down to that. And if both are open to the possibility of meeting in person if there is a sense that this relationship has potential, then keep writing and see where it goes. But you need to find this out right away, both with yourself and with this other person. The question to the other person is this: “Before we go any further, are you really open to making the sacrifices to meet in person a short time from now should our correspondence turn to talking on the phone and then interest in more?” If that person says, “Well, I don’t know,” then it might be wise to end the correspondence. And that person needs to know that it is not fair to write to anyone they are not open to meeting in person eventually.

I was contacted by someone who was corresponding with a woman from another country. They had been corresponding for nine months and he was wondering if he should find a way for them to meet and wasn’t sure how he could afford to do it. I told him straight out that it was not right of him to contact her in the first place if he did not know he could realistically fly out to meet her within two months after corresponding. You can’t write for that long. It wastes the time of both people.

Men especially need to understand this. They are the ones who must do the traveling to meet initially. They are the ones who have to spend the money on times they are together during this first meeting. (Usually they fly out for a weekend and he sees the woman several times throughout the weekend.) Therefore, he had better “know” he is willing to take this step with someone from another state or country BEFORE he ever starts writing to her.

Since you are the woman in this potential relationship that has begun for you, it would be very wise of you to ask him, in some way, if he is prepared to fly out to meet you, and if he is not certain that he would come and meet you in person if in a couple of months things are going well, it would be best if he did not contact you again.

That can be a hard decision to make because it is nice to have someone to correspond with and who seems interested. But believe me, there are too many men not willing to go beyond corresponding or even talking on the phone. You can’t waste each other’s time. And it is unfair of any man to write to someone he is not prepared to meet within two months.

If you are not comfortable bringing up this issue directly, then accept that a long-distance relationship can really work, but test it by making sure you don’t go past two months of writing. If he does not talk about meeting in person within that two months, you need to either bring it up directly and get an answer about his willingness to meet, or just move on. But know that a long-distance relationship can work if both are open to making it work, no matter what the sacrifices. That is a great test of love, and love is strengthened through the endurance.

Finding Rare Catholics

Dear Anthony,

I live in a large city, but in the time I’ve been a member of AMS, I’ve found only about a half-dozen members in my age range who live in the area. Surely there must be more orthodox Catholic women here than that! I do not want a long-distance relationship.

Thanks for writing. I certainly don’t want to take away from you anything that you feel is a legitimate need for you. Nor do I want to take all the blame off of our service. I truly believe we can do more to foster more new members, and I am working hard at doing that. My problem will always be that we are so focused on marketing to what has long been confirmed to be a very, very “niche” market within the Catholic world. In other words, fewer than 10 percent of those who profess to be Catholic truly believe 100 percent of what the Church teaches and want to live it. Then you consider how many of those are actually single, actually “know” their vocation is marriage, actually want to invest in the process of meeting the right person wherever that person is, and are actually “capable” of making a good spouse and making the commitment to marriage.

Because of this very narrow market, it is hard to get to those who belong on AMS. I’m sure there are more women in your area that should be on our site and that you should be able to make contact with. But do believe that the starting point for everyone on our service is to realize that you are a rare Catholic. You are single, you are faithful, you are practicing the faith, and you want to answer your call to marriage. It is only when our members realize they are “rare” that they can appreciate the real urgency of the situation, and why they MUST be open to meeting the person they seek wherever that person is.

Again, I do not want to take away from you anything you feel is important to you. But please understand my position. I have a bird’s-eye view of the situation for devout single Catholics who want to marry. It is very hard for me to see these realities and not say anything. Therefore, I have chosen to speak out whenever I can and try and give little “wake-up calls” to our members and all single Catholics. We are living in a time when single Catholics must be “heroic” (yes, heroic) in their efforts to find this person. The so-called “normal” way of meeting someone (based on past decades and centuries) is broken down so much that making heroic efforts is a requirement if you really want to meet the special person you are praying for.

So where, exactly, are these persons? They are spread out all over the place, and it is not easy to find them. Being a part of any network that can help your chances of coming into contact with them is helpful. That can be a church group, or a Theology on Tap, just as much as an Internet site like Ave Maria Singles. But I still say you MUST be prepared to make the heroic efforts and sacrifices necessary to meet this person in a place where you may not want to go.