Dating in Digital Spaces

Recently, Chelsea and Angelo interviewed each other about long distance relationships - they’re both in different stages of one (not with each other), causing them to realize that Ministry in Digital Spaces doesn’t always take place just with strangers. 

God calls us to use our fluency in online presence in many situations, and developing friendships and relationships online doesn’t always look like sharing the gospel. Sometimes our everyday lives just happen in digital spaces, and Chelsea and Angelo’s experiences offer a small window into how those regular interactions can grow rewarding relationships, despite being at a distance.

How did you end up in a long distance relationship? What does it mean for you guys to be long-distance?

Chelsea: My fiancé and I had been dating for 3.5 years when I moved across the country to start medical school, so the long distance was a new part of our relationship. We didn’t get engaged until 4 months after my move. However, long distance for us is just a season since we are looking to get married by the end of the year and finally live together. Even though we’re long distance, there’s an end in sight and we have opportunities to visit each other in person. We’re also getting good experience for times later on in marriage that we might be separated (missions/work etc).
Angelo: My experience is kind of the opposite. We met at a conference last year and went through the courting stage exclusively online! We haven’t seen each other in person since that conference (though I’m taking a visit soon), though we have plenty of mutual friends (as we’re both on staff). To be honest, it came as a surprise: a friendship that I really enjoyed building turned romantic and I had to respond to that. On the other hand though, I have a lot of friendships - from my gaming friends, to friends in different states - that are long distance, so having to do everything online really isn’t so different. 

How do you interact in digital spaces? How has it been different than interacting in person?

Chelsea: We talk every day in some form - always texting or a call, and a video call at least once a week. Sometimes we watch Netflix or play videogames together too. The biggest difference for us has been needing to be very direct and honest as we communicate - because there’s no body language to read and we don’t share as much presence. So we use voice to have discussions that need clarity and we are more intentional about respecting boundaries and rules that we’ve set. We’ve also had to be more efficient about resolving conflict to respect each other’s time since we are in different time zones. 

Angelo: The working title for this blog post was, “How I built my relationship on Snapchat,” so that’s definitely my answer! We try to use video chat whenever we can, so unless one of us is traveling, we schedule in some time to talk every night. I think what Chelsea said about respecting each other’s time has been a big part - both in setting up time to call, but also in our responses. There were times when we’d have 3 conversations at the same time on Snapchat, text, and Facebook messenger - I actually loved that because we weren’t limited to how much we could articulate with our voice/words. We had time to think about our responses and had a way to branch off and take tangents while continuing a conversation.

What’s been difficult about being long distance? 

Chelsea: Showing affection! There’s no physical touch online, which is awful for high touch love language people. Showing affection has to happen through words and gestures, which aren’t as straightforward. It’s limiting but opens up room for creativity. I’ve sent my fiancé food straight to his apartment or we exchange packages and gifts. We encourage each other more verbally too.

We also have to communicate with more self-awareness. Our traits are more apparent; for example, my fiancé takes more time to process than I do but he is much more patient than I am! In short, being in a long distance relationship has taught us to grow in grace for one another. 

Angelo: Cultural differences come out more as we’ve been talking. Being direct is important as we’ve talked online, and she’s a lot better at that than I am. So, on one hand I’ve had to learn to speak my mind and share exactly how I feel, but the opposite has also happened. We’ve been able to teach each other how to be indirect - so things like using emojis, or other symbols to communicate things we don’t want to say out loud.

How has your relationship grown? How have you been learning about yourself and each other?

Chelsea: We’ve grown in our commitment to each other. We’ve had to work out conflicts and make such big decisions about the future already. Being long distance also requires us to intentionally make time for each other. We have to prioritize each other with respect to everything going on around us and being in different time zones. At the same time, we’ve been learning to be independent from each other while still remaining involved and invested. 

Angelo: This relationship would actually be really hard if we were in the same location! Partially because of where we are in life - I’m in my first year on staff, just having moved across the country and switching careers, but also because of what we’re carrying with us. The distance forces us to take everything more seriously and at a slower pace, and we’ve been able to communicate our expectations ahead of time. 

It’s actually very relaxing and freeing because we’re also building a new friendship with these qualities. I can be myself without some of the masks I put on in college and trust that she will accept that, and that and speak into it (or let me just be heard). It wouldn’t happen offline because we’d have mutual friends, or some kind of insecurity that would hinder some of that honesty. 

How do your offline lives and online communication collide? (e.g., support networks in each other’s spaces, amount of time you’ll be at a distance, etc.)

Chelsea: My fiance and I share a lot of mutual friends. It’s been very helpful that my close friends live in the same city as my fiance and can build their own relationships with him. They have wonderful insight on our relationship and can give us advice since they know both of us very well. I find it important to have good trustworthy community that is also invested in our lives and want the best for us. Without their support, it would be even more difficult to face the hardships of a long distance relationship. Of course it does help to know that there is an end to the distance timeframe and that marriage is coming soon.

Angelo: It’s similar for me - I know people on her staff team (and they know me), so we both get a different perspective of the other from our mutual friends. Unlike Chelsea though, while we acknowledge that there has to be an end to the long distance at some point - that we have to be in the same geographical location after a certain point in our relationship - that change is far enough away that it’s difficult to think about. 

Any advice for others? 

Chelsea: Be creative in how you communicate and show affection! Find new ways to love and serve each other. Most importantly, be gracious with one another. These are obviously great transferrable skills to have when you’re in the same geographic location. I have found that as my fiance and I navigate a long distance relationship, we naturally encounter challenges in our faith and in character development that brings us closer to Jesus.

Angelo: I wrote a blog about building intimacy online. Remember that this it’s a skill to be able to have a relationship with people online, romantic or not. You are fluent in it to some capacity, so name that and work on it. You have the opportunity to create a new language with that person! Know what the limits of your communication are and work around them.