THE world has become a smaller place. In recent decades the development of low-cost air travel, a globally linked telephone network, speedy mail delivery, and the Internet has opened up new possibilities in the realm of romance. And in many ways the idea of carrying on a long-distance courtship across hundreds or even thousands of miles might seem appealing—especially if marital prospects at home seem limited.
For some couples, long-distance courtship has proved to be a blessing. “We’ve been happily married for 16 years,” says Tony. Some may even argue that long-distance courtship has the advantage of allowing couples to get to know each other without the blinding power of physical attraction. Whatever its advantages, though, a long-distance romance presents some unique challenges.
Getting to Know Each Other
It is best to know as much as you can about someone you are thinking of marrying. However, as a husband named Frank says from personal experience, “it is not easy to get to know the real person, ‘the secret person of the heart.’” (1 Peter 3:4) Doug, another Christian who dated long-distance, admits: “Looking back, I realize that we didn’t know each other very well.”
Is it really possible to get to know someone who lives hundreds or thousands of miles away? Yes, but it can take extraordinary effort. “We had no money for phone calls, so we wrote letters once a week,” says Doug. Joanne and Frank, however, found letter writing to be inadequate. “We wrote letters at first and tried the phone,” says Joanne. “Then Frank sent me a small tape recorder. We would record a new tape each week.”
Honesty, the Only Way
Whatever form of communication you use, it’s important to be honest. “If you lie, it will come out afterward and affect the relationship,” observes a Christian wife named Ester. “Be honest with each other. Be honest with yourself. If there’s something you don’t agree on, don’t let it go. Discuss it.” The apostle Paul gives good advice: “Speak truth each one of you with his neighbor.”—Ephesians 4:25; compare Hebrews 13:18.
What are some issues that you should be sure to discuss? All courting couples need to discuss such subjects as goals, children, financial matters, and health. However, there are matters that may require particular attention. For example, one—or both—of you will have to move if you marry. Are you willing and able to do so, mentally and emotionally? How do you know? Have you moved before or been away from your family for extended periods? Joanne’s future husband wanted both of them to serve as volunteer workers at the headquarters of the Watch Tower Society, the publishers of this magazine. “He asked me if I could live in a small room, with little money,” recalls Joanne. “We had to talk it out.”
If the courtship involves someone from another land, are you willing to adapt to another culture? “Do you already enjoy each other’s culture on a day-to-day basis?” Frank asks. “Talk about these big issues early in your relationship. The sooner you find out, the better—before you have too much invested emotionally or financially.” Yes, living day by day in another culture is different from being a tourist for a few days. Will you need to learn another language? Will you be able to adjust to big differences in living conditions? On the other hand, could it be that you are enthralled with the culture and perhaps not so much with the person? Such fascination will likely wear off in time. But marriage yokes two people together permanently.—Matthew 19:6.
Tony explains: “A girl I know from another part of the world married someone from the Caribbean. But she found island life difficult. It was always hot, and she got sick. The food was different, and she missed her family. So they tried living in her home country. But he felt that the life-style there was too materialistic, and he missed the closeness he used to enjoy among family and neighbors. Now they are separated; he is living in his homeland, and she in hers. Their two children miss having the love and attention of both parents.”
Marrying a person who is from a long distance away, perhaps another culture, presents other challenges. Are you prepared for the added expense of travel and communication? Lydia recalls: “Phil used to joke that we had to get married because his phone bills were so high, but now we have to pay for my phone calls to my mother!” What if children come along? Some grow up knowing little about their own relatives, unable even to talk to them on the phone because of language differences! This is not to say that such problems are insurmountable. But one should calculate the expense of entering into such a marriage.—Compare Luke 14:28.
What Is He (or She) Really Like?
How can you tell if your friend is really being open and candid? “Every good tree produces fine fruit,” states Matthew 7:17. So what are his works? Do his actions back up what he says? Does his past support his professed goals for the future? “The first things we found out about each other were our spiritual goals,” explains Ester. “He had been serving as a full-time evangelizer for eight years, and that gave me confidence that he was truthful about wanting to continue.”
But suppose the person you are courting seems evasive. Don’t drop the matter and just hope for the best. Probe deeper! Ask WHY? A proverb says: “Counsel in the heart of a man is as deep waters, but the man of discernment is one that will draw it up.” (Proverbs 20:5) “Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word, but the shrewd one considers his steps,” warns another proverb.—Proverbs 14:15.
Still, you can learn only so much about a person by letter or phone. Interestingly, the apostle John wrote a number of letters to his Christian brothers. While these letters did much to strengthen the bond of affection between them, John said: “Although I have many things to write you, I do not desire to do so with paper and ink, but I am hoping to come to you and to speak with you face to face.” (2 John 12) Similarly, nothing beats spending time with someone in person. It might even be practical for one of you to make a temporary move so that you can be closer to each other. This will also allow the one who moves to experience the climate and living conditions of what might become his or her new home.
How can you make the most of your time together? Do things that reveal each other’s qualities. Study God’s Word together. Observe each other participating at congregation meetings and in the ministry. Do regular household chores together, such as cleaning and shopping. Seeing how the other person behaves under the stress of a busy schedule can be very enlightening.
Time should also be spent with potential in-laws. Seek to build a good relationship with them. After all, if you two marry, they will become your family. Do you know them? Do you get along? Joanne advises: “If at all possible, it is good for both families to meet.” Tony further observes: “The way your friend treats his or her own family is the way he or she will treat you.”
Whether courting face-to-face or by phone and letter, avoid being hasty in your decisions. (Proverbs 21:5) If it becomes apparent that a marriage between the two of you simply would not work, then it would be the course of wisdom to discuss breaking off the courtship. (Proverbs 22:3) On the other hand, it may simply be that more time is needed for open, honest communication.
Long-distance courtship can be difficult, but it can also be rewarding. In any event, it is serious business. Take your time. Get to know each other. Then, if you do decide to marry, your courtship will be a time you treasure, not regret.
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