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Starting An Online Long-Distance Relationship? Here’s What You Should Consider Beforehand

By Karen Tietjen
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Technology makes it possible to meet people from all over the world, and when it comes to dating, apps and websites certainly make it possible to cast a wider net. But if you meet someone online that you're interested in, should you start a long-distance relationship with someone you met online — especially when long-distance relationships are notoriously challenging in and of themselves?

The short answer is that it depends on your needs, limitations, and what it takes to feel fulfilled in a romantic relationship. "'Success' in a relationship is not necessarily defined by a particular duration of time or a particular end result (e.g., co-habitating, marriage)," Dr. Stefani Threadgill, a sexologist, PhD, LMFT, and founder of The Sex Therapy Institute explains. "I define a successful relationship as one that creates pleasure and happiness for both people in the couple, for as long as the relationship lasts."

That said, if you decide to give it a go, Dr. Sue Varma (@doctorsuevarma on social media), a couples and sex therapist and sex educator, says that the first step is to clarify your intentions. "I’m big on people being clear and up-front about [their intensions], in their own mind and for the other," she says, adding, "If you are looking for a long-term, committed relationship, you may be willing to make the extra effort [of dating long-distance]."

There are also some other questions to ask yourself as you go forward with a far-away romance. Ahead, some things to consider before taking that digital step.

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What Do You Need From Relationships?

In any case, before falling for the romance, both parties should be aware of their emotional needs. (Need help de-mystifying? Take a quiz to discover your love languages). "If you are someone who needs physical touch and/or quality time activities together to build a relationship and be happy with your level of connection, you'll be setting yourself up for more heartbreak and disappointment," warns Jennifer Gunsaullus, PhD, sociologist & intimacy coach, and author of the forthcoming book From Madness to Mindfulness: Reinventing Sex for Women. But on the flip side, those who respond best to words of affirmation and gift giving/receiving may be perfectly content with virtual conversations and special surprises sent by mail. Further, "People who already have very busy and full lives, and also people who are independent or content living alone (if they don't have a roommate), may appreciate the flexibility and lowered expectations of a long-distance relationship," she says.

How Far & How Often Are You Willing To Travel?

Another aspect to consider is how far a distance you'd be willing to travel, and how often, in order to see your partner. For instance, would you be okay with making a four-hour drive to spend the weekend together, or flying halfway across the world two times a year? Or, would you consider a two-hour train ride a huge inconvenience, given your need to be with your beau? "How much distance you're willing to deal with depends on how busy you already are, and how much physical touch matters and being able to do activities together," says Dr. Gunsaullus. "It also matters how much time and money you have to be able to travel and vice versa, because a long-distance relationship, where you're traveling quite a bit, means that your friends and work could be negatively impacted, as well as your wallet." Of course, the commute may be more tolerable if one of you is willing to relocate, should things get serious.

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Do You Trust This Person?

And last but certainly not least is the matter of trusting someone's authenticity when you haven't actually — you know — met. (After all, you've seen Catfish, right?)."While it's amazing to be able to meet people to potentially date from around the world, there are bigger issues to think about before diving into a long-distance relationship that doesn't begin by first spending time together in person," Dr. Gunsaullus says. "The fact that you've never spent actual time in the same physical space together has two primary concerns: First, the other person may not be who they present themselves to be online or from a distance, so they could be leading you on. Also, it's hard to assess sexual chemistry if you haven't spent time together."

Red Flags

Still, there are some red flags you can look out for through your correspondence. Dr. Varma says that flakiness, unreliability, canceling potential meet-ups, and telling stories that don't add up should raise your suspicious. And in general, she advises, you should always trust your gut. For example, "if they are only interested in phone sex, sending sexually provocative images or messages early on, you will know their intentions, so don’t be fooled," she says. Also, Dr. Threadgill notes, it can be easy to experience a false sense of security after just a few days of continuous messaging — and that's not always a good thing. "Faux intimacy can be a consequence of relationships initiated through apps/online dating or texting," she explains. "It is the sense one ‘knows’ another person, yet in reality, they have never met; it is a hazard of dating in the digital age."

But with all this in mind, the experts agree that starting a long-distance relationship with someone you met online isn't automatically a bad idea. In fact, it can be incredibly fulfilling for those who proceed with caution and are willing to make some sacrifices. Dr. Gunsaullus shares her final thoughts: "If you have a connection with someone that feels particularly special, unique, and supportive in a way you haven't been able to find in your home area, then maybe you want to give it a shot."