My partner and I are long distance by choice—here’s why

My boyfriend and I have been together for 10 years, and long distance for all but two of those years. Friends and family always ask us who is going to move for who. Others ask when we’re going to finally tie the knot. Just about everyone is surprised when I tell them that being long-distance isn’t so bad, and yes, I could really see it being a long-term thing. The assumption is that if you’re together, you have to be, well, together. Living together. Or at least living in the same state. Especially when you’ve been together as long as we have.

I’m not completely ruling out marriage and cohabitation for our future, but I also don’t believe you have to get married or live together to share a life together. Relationships are not one-size-fits-all. What works for us might not work for another couple. In reality, sometimes it is hard being apart, and yes, we do miss each other. But the thing is, being long-distance and unmarried can also be kind of great.

Here’s why.

You can move to another city

The strongest marriages are between two people who are independent and a complete person without the other person. But when you’re married and living together, it’s only practical that the big decisions get made as a team. When I got a job offer at the end of college in a state four hours away, my boyfriend and I talked about it, but ultimately the decision was mine to make. The same went for him when he got a job offer in another state.

You prove there’s more than one model

The question that comes from people after, “When are you guys going to get married?” is usually, “What is he waiting for, right??” I’ve gotten that question from both men and women. It’s lighthearted and innocent enough, but it’s also a problem. It assumes that he gets to decide if and when we get married, and it implies that I just can’t wait for it to happen! You’ve probably also seen the stereotypical character played out of the man who gets tricked or forced into getting married by the girlfriend who just wants to see a rock on her finger. Not getting married and living long distance provides an alternative model of what it means to be a couple in love. And yes, there are women out there who don’t want to get married. There are also women and men who do.

You both learn to be independent

You learn by doing things for yourself. When you live with someone else, it’s easier to rely on them to do the things you don’t like to do or don’t yet know how to do. When you choose not to live with your significant other, you both learn to do your own grocery shopping, cook your own meals, clean your own laundry, manage your own finances and household, do your own taxes… you get the idea. Not only does this prove to yourself that you can survive—thrive even—on your own, but it also means that you bring a complete person to the relationship. Your partner can do your laundry, and you can do his dishes, but it’s because you’ve divided the responsibilities that way—not because either of you is dependent on the other.

You don’t have to plan anything

To be honest, one of my biggest mental blocks when it comes to the idea of getting married is the thought of actually having to help plan the wedding ceremony. It costs money. It takes time. And it can get stressful, even when you’re focused on the right purpose (love!). The idea of friends and families coming together to celebrate a partnership is wonderful, but…well, is it enough? Plus, at your wedding, by default, you’re the center of attention. It’s fine if you like that sort of thing, but it makes me want to match the wall paint.

Your living space is your own

You can totally be Monica from Friends when it comes to arranging your pillows just the right way, making the bed, and organizing just about everything to your liking. Or not.

You savor the time you do spend together

Because you don’t get to see one another every day, the time you do have together is special. You need to spend it wisely. You need to be present. Phones go away, meals get discussed, and day adventures get planned. Netflix binges still may happen, but generally you’re both focused on making the most of every moment together. Living in different cities or towns is a plus. Who doesn’t love showing someone else around their favorite sights and restaurants?

You also have more time to yourself

When you only have your time to worry about, you can be a bit more selfish with how you account for it. Nothing is competing for your attention. Nothing is there to disrupt your flow. And you’re not as tempted to ditch your work or procrastinate by doing something (ahem, watching another episode of House of Cards) with the person you love. Hello extra time for reading, writing, and creative projects. And alone time. Lots of it.

You stay uncomfortable

Getting married is often described by “settling down.” Don’t do it, even if you do decide to get married. Stay hungry. Keep working hard. Don’t get comfortable. Never, ever settle.

In the end, whether you’ve been in a relationship for 10 years or two, living together and/or getting married should be about what you and your partner want, not about what others expect of you. Not wanting to give up your separate life or independence in no way diminishes the significance of a relationship. You can be long-distance, in love, and unmarried. And happy about it.

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