My Mid-Distance Relationship Is Just As Difficult As A Long-Distance One

Photographed by Meg O'Donnell
Long-distance relationships are nothing new but what about mid-distance relationships? Also known as 'wanderlove', mid-distance dating comes with a similar set of challenges to the long-distance version.
So what is mid-distance dating? While there’s no dictionary definition, it’s usually dating someone who doesn’t live in the same city as you or who lives on the opposite side of the city you live in. You’re close enough to see each other semi-regularly but it takes planning, time, coordination and effort to do so. 
As someone who’s mid-distance dating, it’s definitely not for everyone. Meeting someone from a different city has meant each of us driving an hour to meet up for our first date, a million FaceTime calls and two-hour trips to see one another. Coordinating your lives in separate locations isn't always easy.
It’s great to have met someone I’ve clicked with and who I enjoy spending time with; it would be even better if that time were more frequent and at less of a distance. 
Our time together can be pretty short and snatched and usually ends with one of us hopping in the car at 6am to get to work on time. There’s no watching a film on the couch together at the last minute, or nipping around after work to cook dinner together and talk about our day (unless it’s over the phone).
Unlike long-distance love, there are no tearful airport reunions. Just a slightly stressed arrival in a different city that looks a lot like yours, usually after the journey has taken an hour longer than expected because of traffic. In theory, you can travel to see your partner whenever you want; in practice, you can’t really do it in a day and spend a decent amount of time together. It’s just inconvenient enough that swinging by during the week isn’t really an option.
Trust can be an issue too, especially if someone is an unreliable communicator. You might get the sense that they’re dating other people or that there might be an ex in the background somewhere. There’s also the worry that one day it might all get too much and your partner might decide that absence doesn’t actually make the heart grow fonder and they’d prefer to date someone a little more local.
Mid-distance dating means that discussions about the future can feel like they’re on fast-forward too, as the reality is that at some point it’s pretty likely that you’re going to want to live together. When that happens, the big question is: where do you settle down? 
There’s a huge compromise involved in the decision to uproot your life and move to an unfamiliar place, especially if you have commitments and connections to where you live right now. You might not know anyone other than your partner, and might not have met their family and friends properly on account of that pesky distance.
Dating coach Hayley Quinn shares her insights on mid-distance dating: "Increasing the distance you're prepared to travel for love has some benefits but there's also challenges associated with this style of dating too. 
"These types of relationships require more work to get started. Historically we've coupled up with people who live close by, and a part of that has been convenience. People may also use distance as a reason not to commit so like any form of dating, be wary of entering into vague situationships, unless that’s what you want.
"That being said, if you do meet someone who lives a couple of hours away from you and you both invest in building the relationship, that's a pretty good indicator that they're prepared to make the effort to sustain a relationship."
Despite the difficulties, more people seem to be open to dating at a distance. Whether it’s the post-lockdown effect where people are feeling more adventurous, remote working means more moving around or just the fact that dating apps make it easier than ever to swipe right on someone in a different location, more people seem to be willing to travel for love.
The good news is that plenty of couples are making mid-distance work, in spite of the challenges.
Emma, 32, met her boyfriend, Matt, 30, on holiday, but they live over 400km away from each other. It's a 10-hour round trip, which one of them has made every week since they met in July last year. 
Emma says: "We’re spending a fortune on fuel but it’s worth it to spend our weekends together. I miss him during the week but we stay in touch all the time and have done ever since we met. It’s just never been an option that we wouldn’t see each other.
"He flew home from the holiday before me and ended up driving up to see me as soon as I was home. That’s just what we’ve carried on doing since then. Ultimately one of us is going to end up moving and I’m looking at ways to make my work more flexible so we can split our time a bit better until then."
For others, mid-distance dating has been a little less rosy.
Twenty-six-year-old Charlotte had been seeing her ex-girlfriend, who lived over 150km away, for six months when she decided that mid-distance wasn’t for her.
"Going between [our cities] all the time was pretty tiring and as life got busier, we were just seeing each other less and less," she says. "I went from working remotely to having to be back in the office two or three days a week as well, which wasn’t ideal. It got to a point where it just felt like we weren’t really in a relationship and that neither of us was really making time for each other.
"I kept missing out on stuff with friends and family as I was always in her city or tired from going back and forwards. Then at the opposite end, I was spending the rest of my time feeling a bit lonely even though I was in a relationship. Messages and video chats are cool but they’re not the same as the real thing, and they weren’t really enough for me."
Dating and relationships coach Kate Mansfield says that mid-distance isn’t for everyone and can come with some key considerations.
"Mid-distance relationships certainly have their challenges, especially in the dating phase. My advice for clients who are ultimately seeking a long-term partnership is to focus as much as possible on making local connections and multi-dating for a lot longer than they usually would. 
"Dating this way can be a hassle, time-consuming and expensive with fuel and travel costs in the mix. If you meet someone who you feel is your ideal match, then it might be worth the effort but it really isn’t for everyone. 
"The benefit of a bit of distance is that you have to commit and make plans in advance, and this often reveals the interest and investment level naturally quite quickly. Your tolerance level for flakiness or vagueness can be flagged pretty quickly. Distance also gives you the chance to get to know each other non-physically and can really bring forward the most important aspects of dating, such as having time and space to ask questions around shared visions, values and lifestyle."
Mansfield suggests four tips for managing dating at a distance, to help avoid wasting time and to move the relationship forward. They are:
1. Be clear from the start about your vision and intentions. A casual fling is probably not worth the time and expense of travelling a lot.
2. Listen to the other person's intentions and make sure to have open and honest communication. Asking good questions about what they are looking for and what they are willing to invest in is such an underrated tool in dating. It will save you so much time and heartbreak, too.
3. Be willing to put in the extra time and investment, and accept that this is the reality. It's no use getting involved and then constantly moaning or complaining to your partner about how difficult it is. 
4. Make sure that you have the most difficult conversations as soon as possible, about who could or would move if things got serious. If this is an impossibility then you are really setting yourself and them up for failure.
Distance can work and can even be beneficial, especially if you enjoy space in your love life. But it’s worth remembering that eventually, most couples will want to deepen the bond and develop things further. Making sure that this is possible and realistic is key before jumping into dating at a distance.
Want more? Get Refinery29 Australia’s best stories delivered to your inbox each week. Sign up here!

More from Relationships