My husband proposed beneath a statue of Our Lady on our college campus the summer after I graduated, on the cusp of his starting grad school and my beginning a mission year, five hours apart from each other. 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, we concluded it would be both impractical and imprudent for us get married any sooner. Though in many ways, we would have preferred a shorter engagement, the fact remained that there were responsibilities we’d committed to--and moreover, looked forward to. Over the course of the following year, we’d see each other roughly halfway between our new cities, at one of our families' houses every few weeks.
It’s no surprise that adjusting to dating from a distance for the first time, along with planning our wedding and preparing for marriage, often felt overwhelming. When I recall that year of engagement, the hardest aspects were the mounting panic that our wedding was fast approaching with little time to plan, the heightened temptations against chastity that accompanied infrequent visits, balancing time as a couple with family and friend time, and a general sense of impatience. If you're currently engaged long-distance and have similarly experienced at least one of these anxieties, here, four pieces of advice I wish I could go back and tell myself:
Don't fall into believing the two of you are in this alone.
It sounds obvious, yet I bought into this lie over and over, the one that made me think if I didn't control every part of wedding plans and cultivating our relationship across the miles, everything would fall apart. 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. At some point, my husband-to-be reminded me of the grace that resides in the saints’ intercession; throughout our dating relationship, we’d developed our own personal litany, yet I usually only prayed to these men and women at the end of my Rosary, not habitually throughout the day. Though I, in my inadvertent pride, took a while to develop the habit of calling on their prayers, I truly found peace there. If you haven't already, choose a few patrons for your engagement and pray to them often.
Seek out spiritual time together--especially time away from wedding planning.
Since most of our engagement was spent apart, it was sometimes necessary to condense parts of wedding planning into much shorter periods than we might have had time for otherwise. In my experience, avoiding overemphasis on planning and preparations during rare visits brings about greater peace of heart, and, surprisingly, greater productivity.
When your time is limited, it's tempting to fill every second with managing your to-do list, yet we quickly noticed how much more relaxed and content we felt when we consciously prioritized leisure and quality time. Carving out time for prayer and enjoying being with each other, which for us usually meant getting coffee or playing music together, generally made us feel like there was more time for wedding-related matters than we’d initially perceived.
What’s more, my husband and I were given 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 wedding project 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 expect perfection, but don't stop pursuing it.
Love really can be a battlefield, both before marriage, when chastity sets a standard of abstinence (though I don't personally consider chastity and abstinence the same thing), and continues to call us on 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.
No matter how close or far the two of you are living relative to each other before your wedding, it can be seriously hard to discipline the good and beautiful desire to physically express your love. Add infrequent time together into the mix that accompanies long-distance dating, and things get even harder.
While I fully view sexual sin as serious business, a matter in which to set and strive for high standards in your thoughts, words, and actions, I also view it as 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; of who we are as spouses. For those called to marriage, that expression is physical, so it’s natural that those desires are right at the surface during engagement.
It's true that God is just. It's also true that he is infinitely 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, and go to confession as often as you need to.
Make this time intentional.
On so many occasions, I wanted to fast forward through engagement and just get to the altar already. Normal as that might have been, 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. 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. A sense of sweetness can lie in the waiting, if you actively choose to develop it. It inspires a determination to not make engagement wasted time in your friendships, work, spiritual life, and overall sense of presence.
Are you currently engaged long-distance? We welcome the opportunity to pray for you in your journey and offer practical advice--we invite you to share your own tips and intentions in the comments and on our social media!