Am I too busy for a relationship or is there a solution?
October 21, 2009 3:02 PM   Subscribe

Have you been in a long-distance or otherwise limited romantic relationship that actually worked? Does this solution to my need for space make sense?

I'm female and inching toward 30. I want what most people want, which is my dream job and a happy relationship. I've only ever been close to one or the other. I really love my creative career, but it takes a lot of my time. And I'm *happy* during that time! I genuinely love working. But past boyfriends have never understood my devotion to it, and there ends up being a lot of resentment on both sides. I can't blame them. I'm just not cut out for a typical boyfriend/girlfriend thing. I'm always there for people when they really need me. But I don't usually want to stay up all night talking on the phone about nothing in particular, and there are times when I need to postpone Date Night. And a two-week-long vacation? Not relaxing to me.

But when I eschew relationships entirely in favor of my career, that gets a little lonely. I'm starting to wonder if I need to find a man who's just as busy as I am - or someone who lives far enough away that we can only maybe see each other once a month or so. Yeah, once a month is a bit extreme, but I'd rather miss someone and be happy when I see them than feel stifled or make someone else feel unloved. I find men who are incredibly ambitious and career-driven pretty sexy, actually.

Still, I wonder if this sounds great in theory but wouldn't work so well in practice. Have you ever been in a relationship like that? Where both of you were very busy and just saw each other when you could? And you were both *happy* with that?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
People do this all the time, with varying levels of success. (And, of course, traditional relationships also have varying levels of success). I know a number of people who have been happy in a long-distance, once-a-month kind of relationship. Those relationships have all been long-distance, and while I know people who see their SOs once a week, I don't know of any couples who live in the same city and only see each other once a month or so.

I don't think there's any reason this couldn't work, and I suggest you look into online dating to find someone you like who is not nearby. Good luck!
posted by kate blank at 3:10 PM on October 21, 2009

being in a long distance relationship pretty much guarantees that you will spend a lot more time on the phone, making this:

But I don't usually want to stay up all night talking on the phone about nothing in particular

an issue
posted by Think_Long at 3:11 PM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

For the record, I disagree that being in a long distance relationship guarantees you will spend a lot of time on the phone.
posted by kate blank at 3:16 PM on October 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think you need to find someone who values their work as much as you value yours. Of course, that can be a little tricky, since perhaps when other are out and about meeting people, you (and he) are in the office, or lab, or at your desk.

In my (admittedly limited) experience, online dating works well in this situation
posted by unlaced at 3:17 PM on October 21, 2009

Considered dating inside your industry? You're a creative of some stripe, there are likely lots of guys in your field who are just as hardcore about their ambitions.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:19 PM on October 21, 2009

I absolutely think this could work. A recent Savage Love column discussed a married couple with two children. They loved their pace, so they had two apartments in the same building, spent the night at "each other's" apartments occasionally and let their kids choose where to sleep if they were staying in separate apartments. They had dinner together and all that, but liked their space. This is an extreme example, but proof that it can work. Your best bet in finding someone with a similar relationship mindset is to check out organizations or forums in your career. Anyone who chooses a devoted career life and looks for love probably has similar expectations to yourself.
posted by itsonreserve at 3:21 PM on October 21, 2009

I am in a happy long-term long distance relationship. We live 180 miles apart and spend a week or so a month together. It helps that neither one of us has a 9-to-5 job, and obviously that both of us have well developed needs for personal space. We're always sad to say goodbye, and really happy to say hello. So yes, you can have the kind of relationship you want -- you just have to want it, and be willing to ignore the funny looks of those with narrow minds about what a committed relationship looks like.
posted by ottereroticist at 3:36 PM on October 21, 2009

a man who's just as busy as I am


or someone who lives far enough away that we can only maybe see each other once a month or so

No. In my experience, long distance relationships usually result in additional stressors on busy people. You're only going to see each other once a month but you're going to have to spend a fair amount of that time traveling.

I think finding someone whose attitude to work and relationships is similar to your own, and that would choose to spend less time together, is a better idea, and a bit more flexible than trying to set things up inflexibly so that spending more time together is not an option.
posted by grouse at 3:36 PM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Once a month is definitely doable and in the grand scheme of LDRs, not extreme at all, but it is definitely not for everyone. Is there something preventing you from talking to him online? Skype sounds perfect for everyday contact.
posted by june made him a gemini at 3:38 PM on October 21, 2009

Frankly, I don't think these things work. Just look at all these failed celebrity bi-coastal relationships/marriages as anecdotal evidence of their difficulty.

but I'd rather miss someone and be happy when I see them than feel stifled or make someone else feel unloved.

If you are afraid of making someone else feel *unloved*, avoiding romantic relationships would be the way to go.
posted by teg4rvn at 3:39 PM on October 21, 2009

I think there's a bigger issue here: in any relationship, you need to set boundaries. All of us — introvert, extrovert, workaholic, slacker, independent, clingy, whatever — we all sometimes have to tell our partner "Hey, back off." It sounds like you've got this fantasy that if you find a guy in another city, you'll never have to set boundaries with him because he'll be way over there. But that's not true. He'll still, sooner or later, disagree with you on something that'll require you to push back and ask for space. And when that happens, he'll still need to be mature and understanding about it and respect your needs.

So the real answer is, okay, find someone who's got boundaries that are compatible with yours. Find someone who is willing to respect your need for time. And if that person lives miles and miles away from you, that's fine too. Just don't think that the only thing you need is a guy who lives miles and miles away, because distance alone won't help as much as you seem to think.

(FWIW, I know plenty of busy, independent people who have the sort of hey-not-now-I've-got-things-to-do relationship you're looking for. Some live together. Some live on different continents. It is totally possible.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:48 PM on October 21, 2009 [6 favorites]

Frankly, I don't think these things work. Just look at all these failed celebrity bi-coastal relationships/marriages as anecdotal evidence of their difficulty.

I really don't think anyone should be looking to celebrities for evidence of anything.
posted by katillathehun at 3:59 PM on October 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't know if you're necessarily looking for a LDR or someone who as busy as you, just someone who is a creative/in your industry and will understand if you disappear into your work for days on end.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:03 PM on October 21, 2009

Something else to keep in mind is that with very rare exceptions, long distance relationships tend to be entered into with the intention, or at least hope, that they're going to become close-distance ones at some specific or indefinite point in the future. What will you do then, when your long-distance SO says hey, I think I found a cool job in your city, I should totally move there and then we won't have to do this any more?

You're an independent person who keeps busy outside a relationship, and wants one that doesnt' demand too much of your time. Is that harder to find? Sure, but less hard-to-find than someone you get along with well who's long-distance but never wants to live close to you. You like independent ambitious guys? Okay, go find one! They're definitely out there; a lot of my friends are busy rejecting them because they don't have enough time for a more conventional relationship.
posted by Tomorrowful at 4:05 PM on October 21, 2009

I strongly suspect it would not work. Not because you are immersed into work - it's great you're loving it - but because of underlying issues (to put more bluntly: emotional unavailability). Long distance, on the other hand, requires emotional investment often-times more intense than a regular (whatever it may be) relationship. The biggest challenge that you would hypothetically need to tackle in such long distance arrangement is not event the phone time; it would be a never evolving status quo, a relationship that does not grow. That is something that would require immense sacrifice on the part of a partner, and something that is, imho, unethical to request from a fellow human. Have you met guys with Asperger's syndrome? That could be a good match, seriously.
posted by Jurate at 4:57 PM on October 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

I hate to comment in relationship threads, but I am the sort of person you might be interested in. Similarly work-obsessed (but not with my "job", actually super-committed to building technical things, spend all my time working on them to great effect/results) and have experienced similar resentment from partners consistently. I dislike making people feel unloved. As a result I usually choose not to have relationships.

I have stalker(s) who know my mefi account so I can't say too much here in public. But I can offer you this: physical distance doesn't buy you anything. In fact, in those rare, alone-ly moments when you'd like to see someone, or share something with them (a drink, a bed, a breakfast), those times when you are mentally "free" from work, right after accomplishing something big, you want them to be nearby. Because distance will just make meeting them a chore, mean sacrificing more work-time in the near future and planning something that could otherwise be a spontaneous expression of affection.

It can work, but I don't think distance does it. You need to find someone as busy as you are.
posted by fake at 4:58 PM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

What about a "Friends with Benefits" type relationship? It's hard to imagine a really passionate "in love" type relationship where people only see each other once a month by choice.

Plus, long distance relationships are generally considered precursors to living together eventually, right?

On the other hand, a lot of guys would be into a "Friends with Benefits" kinda thing.
posted by delmoi at 5:21 PM on October 21, 2009

It totally depends on both people and their expectations, but there is no reason why this sort of relationship could not work.

I don't know that a long distance relationship is the answer for you -- get into a long-distance relationship with someone who doesn't share the same priorities or have enough outside interests, and he can still take up way too much of your time (phone, IM, emails, text, spontaneous visits) and/or guilt trip you. Plus, having been in a long-distance relationship, I wonder if having to drop-everything to either travel to visit someone, or open your home to being hostess to a houseguest for a whole weekend is going to grow old after awhile? What I found most annoying was that there was no way to get into a routine -- every weekend we got together it was ALL BOYFRIEND ALL THE TIME with no time to myself or to get things I needed/wanted done.

It really sounds like you just need someone with similar priorities or whose personal priorities will fit in with your expectations for a relationship. You can seek out very busy guys OR introverts who like to be left alone to do their own thing. There is no shortage of either, really.

My husband and I are a good example -- I am super busy and have lots of interests...I work full time, am a part-time grad student, and have a number of creative projects going at any given time. I need time to myself, uninterrupted. My husband is just an introvert -- he needs time to himself to read, play video games, whatever. When we do spend time together, we have lots of fun. When we need to get things done or have time alone, no one's feelings get hurt or feels ignored. is possible to find someone whose personality and relationship expectations match yours, absolutely.
posted by dumbledore69 at 5:43 PM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm in a delightful LDR and I don't spend pretty much any time on the phone. My SO is a busy person with a job and a family and I'm a reclusive hermit who also (somehow) travels a lot for work and is doing about fifty-odd other things that I like. Our deal (we live about 2.5 hours away by car and he lives near my family) where we see each other pretty much every other week, sometimes more sometimes less, works for both of us. But it does require commitment and a sort of joint understanding of what it is, exactly we're doing.

Previously I was single for a good stretch and before that I was in a relationship with someone who was physically nearby but less available (law student) and that was less good. Having someone be there but not there is much worse than having someone just plain old be not-there. I don't think I'd want to be in a long distance thing forever -- and I don't know if it's the right answer for you either -- but for right now I'm not only okay with this I feel like I chose it. I definitely have the occasional pang that fake mentions, but this happens in my universe no matter how close my SO is physically. One of the real benefits to having to schedule time to see each other is that you can pry yourself away from work occasionally. This is a net good for me, even though I love my bazillion projects. You might want to think about whether it would be a good thing for you.
posted by jessamyn at 6:06 PM on October 21, 2009

I think long-distance relationships can be fine, for the right people. In fact, my marriage has become a LDR and both of us are quite happy with it. After 14 years of living together, with the usual minor but frequent irritations, Hubby took a job in another state and moved several hundred miles away. After an initial adjustment period which honestly wasn't much fun, we realized that we're actually happier living semi-independent lives. We still love each other and enjoy each other's company for occasional visits, but it's been 2 years now and we're still quite happy apart. We talk frequently on the phone, but not for very long, and that alleviates most of the loneliness.

Of course, for this to work you need a few things in addition to an independent nature:

1. No jealousy or concerns about trust/honesty/integrity.
2. It helps to be introverted and happy alone with your own thoughts.
3. A decent local support system for emergencies (e.g., a friend who could take you to the hospital).
4. Enough money and flexibility to be able to visit your SO for a few days whenever it seems necessary, especially if they're going through a rough spot.
5. A somewhat regular schedule for phone calls - this keeps things from building up or falling through the cracks. Also, frequent calls tend to not be long marathons, which is good if you're busy or tired.

The big difference here is that I already had a long-term commitment to Hubby before he moved out, and I don't know if a relationship that was long-distance from the get-go would work the same way. But I don't see any reason not to give it a try - it's not like "local" relationships are guaranteed to work out, so what have you got to lose? Good luck!
posted by Quietgal at 6:27 PM on October 21, 2009

I'm doing it.
My SO and I both travel a lot for work- sometimes we're on the road for 9 out of every 12 months. For the first two years of our relationship we worked, lived, and traveled together on the same jobs. I ultimately found this exhausting and stressful on all levels.

I settled down a bit, shifted career paths, and got an apartment; he still travels. Sometimes I drop in on him if he's working someplace interesting. Sometimes he gets a week free to pay me a visit. Sometimes we both take time off and meet up someplace interesting. Skype, text messages, and the occasional surprise by mail keep us feeling connected in between face to face visits, which can range up to 2 months apart. We were initially really worried about the change, but love it now.

We can both be unabashedly focused on work goals in the short term, while both realizing that the hours we're putting in now will lead us to times we can spend together. Having access to an ebb and flow in both work and relationships helps keep both fresh for us. For people like us (and maybe like you) it's a perfect solution.
posted by alight at 6:44 PM on October 21, 2009

Or, how about finding a man who goes to sea for months at a time? Wish I'd found one. Didn't and went for years for the friends with benefits option. Maybe it's my age group, but most men around my age seem to need/want/expect/demand a certain level on on-going attention or they're not happy. It's difficult to find someone who has the same level of commitment to work and will not expect his other half to pick up a good portion of his responsibilites. Have you tried one of those services that matches busy people? I normally wouldn't recommend that, but, if you're very busy, it's difficult to meet anyone and to find out whether they are who/what they say they are. I would expect services do some kind of vetting of their clients.
posted by x46 at 8:11 PM on October 21, 2009

I would expect services do some kind of vetting of their clients.

posted by grouse at 8:29 PM on October 21, 2009

I'm you, only older. I agree with the commenters who say that distance can be both good and bad. Good because the distance makes it "normal" that you wouldn't be hanging out a lot, and bad because when you do visit, you both might feel like you have to spend every minute together and then get heartily sick of each other.

Traveling to see a long-distance buddy is more disruptive to your everyday life, and canceling a trip that's been planned for weeks because something came up in your work seems worse than simply postponing Date Night.
posted by PatoPata at 8:35 PM on October 21, 2009

Noooo! Not a LDR. That is a total time sink and the time that you spend is mostly not constructive. All that travelling! All that preparing to travel! Having to clean up your place cause you haven't had time to wash clothes in two months and so there are clothes literally to the point where you can't see the floor! Plus it's expensive. And many people in LDRs want to talk on the phone all the time which really ends up eating way more of your time than actually being there in person cause it's less satisfying. You will NOT be able to figure out before starting the relationship whether the person is going to want to spend a lot of time on the phone. You just never know.

You want a person who is needful of as much attention and time as you want to give. An LDR will not help you find that person.

I would say, hook up with someone who travels a lot for work. I recommend management or IT consultants. Those fools are busy as hell and basically fall into bed at the end of their 15-hour days in their ritzy hotel rooms. Then you get all the benefits of a long distance relationship, but with someone who's too exhausted to try and make time for you.
posted by crinklebat at 10:38 PM on October 21, 2009

I was in a LDR for two years -- one of us in the US, one in Europe. During that time, I mostly worked 50- to 60-hour weeks and took two week-long vacations per year. My partner did not work and did not take vacations. The relationship worked and we were both happy; then the stars aligned, I moved, and we've been living in the same for the last year and spending time together daily. So we made the transition.

That was my second LDR. The other was LDR for a year. My experience has led me to believe that it depends on a) what you want most from the relationship, b) the distance and your finances, and c) the people involved.

a) If you want physical intimacy, date nights out, someone to grocery shop with, then obviously you're not going to get it (or at least not very often). If you are content with having someone to talk to, you'll get plenty of that. But you can compromise; my partner and I used to watch movies and TV shows "together" by starting them at the same time and being connected on Skype or Teamspeak during them. (And by the way, there's really no reason to spend a lot of money on long-distance phone calls if you have a computer and a decent Internet connection.)

b) There are LDRs and there are LDRs. My LDR #1 was about a two-hour plane ride away, but we were young and poor and had no hope of buying plane tickets except maybe once per year. LDR #2 was a ten-hour plane ride away, and although I had enough income to buy plane tickets every few months, I didn't have the time to travel. There's a difference between being able to see someone once per month and being able to see them once per year. Which one you can live with is a personal decision.

c) I think the people who are involved matters the most. Some people can do LDRs, some people think they're torture. I'm not sure you'll ever know if you're an LDR-capable person or not unless you are in a few.
posted by transporter accident amy at 1:42 AM on October 22, 2009

Get a pet.
posted by bunny hugger at 6:02 AM on October 22, 2009

A long distance relationship isn't what you want. A long distance relationship is a pain in the ass, even when both people aren't particularly busy. You have to travel to see each other. You still need to communicate. And most people put up with them because there is the hope they'll come to an end. You want someone understands your work schedule, and what sacrifices need to be made for a relationship with you to work. So that might mean someone as busy as you, though I would imagine too super busy people hanging out on occasion wouldn't make for much of a relationship.

Maybe at this point in your life you aren't in a position to have a serious relationship. A relationship will take some level of sacrifice, from you and your partner.
posted by chunking express at 9:44 AM on October 22, 2009

I will second fake: in general I don't think an LDR is the best bet, but dating another workaholic would be. Because that person would understand. Sounds better to me than someone that you will probably have to spend phone time/Quality Time with, not to mention that you're choosing to date someone because they can't be in your face 24-7 and they may want to move to be with you, and that person might not be a workaholic.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:16 PM on October 22, 2009

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