"The Long Way" is a midtempo countryballad with influences of pop music. The song is "a look into what I want to find in love," according to a press release from Eldredge. Lyrically, the song describes how a lover can get to know their partner on a deeper level by exploring their history and their hometown. "The Long Way" was written at a time where Eldredge was looking for true love and his cowriter, Matt Rogers, was soon to be married, which inspired the romantic lyrics. Certain details were inspired by the writers' upbringings while others were generalized.
Cillea Houghton of Sounds Like Nashville wrote that "The Long Way" is a "standout track" on the album that "allows his voice to shine," and is a "real charmer."Top Country also labelled the song as a highlight of the album, writing, "the emotional melodies intertwine with the lyrics to make the story come to life, like any perfect country song." Taylor Weatherby of Billboard included "The Long Way" on a list of Eldredge's 10 best songs and wrote, "this love song from his latest record proves that he has quite the range -- while also giving further proof that he’s a king at writing lyrics that make you melt."
"The Long Way" debuted at number 41 on the BillboardHot Country Songs chart dated June 3, 2017. The song sold 11,000 copies in its first week, debuting at number 14 on the Country Digital Song Sales component chart. The song re-entered the chart at number 38 for the week of August 26, 2017 and has since reached a peak position of 23. "The Long Way" debuted at number 56 on the Country Airplay chart dated September 9, 2017. The song has sold 137,000 copies in the United States as of March 2018.