Relocating for love
Would you consider relocating for romance? Should you?
By Marion Fernández-Cueto
Falling in love isn’t always geographically convenient. What happens when a state boundary (or two) separates you and your potential soul mate? Award-winning writer Marion Fernández-Cueto explored this dating dilemma in the summer 2010 issue of Tobias.
It’s been five days since Missouri native Erica Ledwon left her family, friends and job and moved to Des Moines, Iowa, to be near her boyfriend. Mostly, she feels elated: After the agonizing holding pattern of a long-distance relationship, getting to see Vince every day is fabulous. Her new nursing job at the local hospital seems to be going well. Her apartment was a find.
But this afternoon, Ledwon’s decision to relocate for love is beginning to take its toll. Jostled by the relationship’s sudden new dynamics, exhausted from her meticulously planned move, and struggling with a surge of homesickness, the 26-year-old is close to tears. “I’m anxious,” she said.
It’s no wonder. Love is complicated enough, but moving across the country for love can stir up a whirlwind of daunting logistics and taunting second-thoughts. Factor in the glum job market and some inevitable parental warnings, and leaving everything behind for a chance at happily-ever-after begins to look like risky business.
Some members of the online dating service CatholicMatch.com seem to agree. Data from the website shows that 13 percent of members selected the option “I can’t relocate” on their user profile when asked if they would consider moving for a relationship, and another 30 percent expressed resistance to the idea, choosing the option “prefer my current area.”
If singles are serious about finding love, however, they shouldn’t automatically reject the possibility of relocation, cautions Anastasia Northrop, founder of the National Catholic Singles Conference and president of the Theology of the Body International Alliance. Moves can be difficult to arrange, she said, but people who have discerned a vocation to marriage have to be willing to put a serious relationship above logistics and convenience. “Ultimately, if you really love someone with the total, self-giving love which is necessary for marriage, then you’d want to be with them wherever that might be,” she said.
Jake McKean of Peoria, Ill., would agree. After meeting his out-of-town girlfriend, Susan, at the 2007 National Singles Conference in Chicago, the 26-year-old architect followed her to San Antonio when she moved there six months later. “I realized the relationship really couldn’t advance any further without day-to-day interaction,” he said. “I knew I had to give it a chance.”
The decision to relocate was frightening (“we’re a rooted family,” he explained, “and the idea of picking up and moving is very foreign to me”), but McKean said he’s enormously glad he took the plunge. Despite having to “start from scratch,” in San Antonio, he found an ideal job and apartment within just two weeks of moving. “Everything just worked out beautifully,” he said. “I have no regrets – not a single regret.”
Risks and rewards
McKean notes that he would have rejected an out-of-state match like Susan had he met her online and said his experience shows that excluding online matches on the basis of geography can “close doors” to potential marriage partners. “It kind of makes you say, ‘What’s the point in refusing to even get to know people, because you can never tell what is going to happen down the road,’” he said. “It’s like...if I told you that you’d inherited a million bucks but that you’d have to go to all the way to Paris or wherever to pick it up, would you go? The answer is, of course you would go.”
Ledwon and her boyfriend, 29-year-old Vince Ries, reached a similar conclusion after a friend introduced them through Facebook. Following months of daily phone calls and frequent visits, they realized one of them needed to move if the relationship were to progress, “We always knew that something at some point was going to have to give,” Ries said.
The couple began lengthy job hunts in each other’s towns. Ries’ search in Missouri failed to gain traction, and when Ledwon landed a coveted pediatric nursing position in Des Moines, they decided she should be the one to move. “I thought, this is finally working out after six months, and I have to take it or leave it,” Ledwon said. “Somewhere down the line, I would have wondered ‘what if?’ and I wasn’t comfortable with that.”
But the decision to have Ledwon relocate introduced new challenges to the relationship and raised some eyebrows as well. The youngest of four siblings, Ledwon said her close-knit family was less than thrilled to hear she was leaving town for Ries. “They thought he should be moving for me, which I guess is a little more traditional,” she said.
Ledwon’s parents were direct about those concerns, Ries added. “She’s giving up her life, her friends and her job for you,” they told him. “What are you giving up in Des Moines?”
There’s pressure in having someone uproot their life for you, Ries said. “I’m excited to really start our life together... [but] also to get past the initial time period when I know her friends and family in St. Louis will still be kind of judging and watching. They hope it works, with what she has at stake. I guess I just want to prove to them that I’m worthy of their daughter and we will be OK.”
For her part, Ledwon says she took care to find a fulfilling job and comfortable apartment before moving to Des Moines and that she is anxious to develop a larger support system of friends and hobbies apart from her relationship with Ries. “I didn’t want to ever resent him for my choices,” she said. “I wanted to make sure I was happy in what I was choosing.”
Ledwon said she hopes to marry Vince one day. “I think he feels the same; I think if he didn’t, he wouldn’t have let me move for him.” But she doesn’t have a specific timeline in mind. “I don’t expect anything in the near future,” she said. “I want to see where our relationship takes us.”
'A bad plan'
Other Catholics wait for a formal engagement to make a move, but a wedding date isn't a guarantee of success. Just ask Charles Schumacher (not his real name), a 29-year-old Houston native who has taken the risk twice – and lost both times. The first move was for his fiancée Lucy, who had pursued a teaching job in California while the two were just dating. During their long-distance engagement, Schumacher, also a teacher, was thrilled to find a job at Lucy’s same school, and he joined her in California. Wedding plans ensued.
Yet simmering problems in the relationship boiled over within weeks of his arrival, Schumacher said. Alarmed by their severity, he called off the wedding. “When you’re in a long distance relationship with someone, the problems that are there – it can be very easy to miss them, mask them, not see them,” he said. “There’s something about being with the person physically in the same place that makes those problems come out into the light.”
His moving arrangements, which had once seemed ideal, backfired as the relationship collapsed: Stuck at work with Lucy and surrounded by her local friends, Schumacher’s daily schedule soon entailed a gantlet of excruciatingly awkward encounters. After enduring the situation for a year, he became desperate for an excuse to leave town.
When Schumacher met a young woman from New Jersey through CatholicMatch.com, he braved another move for love. If his first relocation had been wisely calculated, this second, he admits, was done on an infatuated whim. When his new girlfriend dumped him for someone else on the very day of his move, Schumacher found himself in locational limbo, having failed to line up a job or apartment beforehand. “That,” he acknowledged, “was a bad plan.”
Yet Schumacher remains an optimist who says he’d move for a relationship again. “I absolutely would,” he said. “I just hope next time it’s the right one.” That faith in love really comes from his faith in God, Schumacher said. “It’s amazing to see that despite the choices and serious mistakes I’ve made, how amazing God has been, and how faithful He’s been to always making things work out the way they’re supposed to.”
Still, Schumacher has some advice for people who plan to relocate for love. “Make sure you really know the person,” he said. “Make sure you’ve spent a fair amount of time with them before you pick up and leave everything for them.” Logistics should be carefully worked out as well, and it can be smart to consult a third-party, such as a spiritual director, who can objectively evaluate the relationship beforehand, Schumacher said. If everything confirms the decision to move, that’s often a sign of God’s will, he noted.
Ultimately, relocating for love demands a combination of prudence, courage and faith. “I would emphasize the aspect of prayer and discernment in your life, but also... being willing to take that risk for your vocation, for whatever God is calling you to do,” Northrop said.
McKean, who relocated to San Antonio, said people considering a move should remember that “fear is not a reason not to do something.” Concerns about prudence are valid, he said, “but if it’s just because you’re afraid, that’s not a reason. It’s not even close to a reason. I was absolutely terrified coming down here, and it worked out.”
Even the best plans and relationships can fall apart, Schumacher said, but God remains faithful, able to transform any failure into more hopeful beginnings. “One of the things I’ve realized is that wherever I’ve gone, God has brought me there for a reason.”
Before You Move For Love
1. Pray for guidance
St. Rafael, who guided Tobias on his difficult journey to his wife Sarah, has always been the go-to patron saint of Catholics singles. But he’s not the only one! Don’t forget St. Benedict Joseph Labre, patron saint of single men, or St. Agatha, patron saint of single women. St. Valentine and the lesser-known St. Dwynwyn have also long been venerated as patron saints of lovers. Ask them to help you discern or fulfill a vocation to marriage, and remember these words from Psalm 37:4-5: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desire of your heart. Commit your ways to the Lord, trust in him, and he will act.”
2. Do a reality check
Moving for someone involves a significant emotional and financial commitment. Before you uproot for the love of your life, make sure you’ve spent a significant amount of time in each other’s company first, and that both of you are enthusiastic about taking the relationship to the next level. Confiding in a trusted friend, family member or spiritual director can help clarify your decision and ensure you’ve thought it through.
3. Line up the logistics
You’ll need a job, apartment, and transportation in your new town, but you may also have to adjust to a new standard of living. If you’re moving from an urban setting to a rural one, or vice versa, will you be content in your new town long-term? If you’re used to a mountain vista in Colorado, will New York City feel claustrophobic? Will the downtown bakery in Fargo be able to stand in for your favorite L.A. nightclub? Consider cost-of-living and climate changes as well: If you’re moving south, you may need air-conditioning in your car and apartment year-round. If you’re moving north, shoveling sidewalks and scraping the windshield might be common winter chores.
4. Set up a support system
The first few months after a move can be exciting – and isolating. You’ve left behind family, friends, colleagues and local activities, and your boyfriend/girlfriend simply can’t replace them all. Setting up a social network in your new town can help ease the transition, take unfair pressure off your relationship, and create a safety net in case in case you and your sweetie part ways. Some ideas: Ask around for a church with a vibrant young adult group; read library and coffee shop bulletins to find local bands, book clubs, or volunteer activities; grab lunch with new coworkers; or throw a housewarming party and invite everyone you’ve met after a month.
CatholicMatch.com members are asked in their profiles whether they’re willing to relocate. Here’s how they responded:
Get to know me first – 3 percent
I can’t relocate – 13 percent
I’m open to live anywhere – 36 percent
Near family (either) – 6 percent
Near family (mine) – 6 percent
Prefer a specific location/area – 6 percent
Prefer my current location/area – 30 percent
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