Are longdis­tance re­la­tion­ships doomed from the start?

Are long-dis­tance re­la­tion­ships doomed or worth the work?

Elle (Canada) - - #Storyboard - By Robert Wiersema

we don’t choose who we fall in love with. And in the first flight of con­nec­tion, when the mere idea of a cooler head is of­ten an un­wel­come con­cept, logic takes a back seat to pas­sion.

When Athena and I first got to­gether, we floated blithely past any warn­ings, barely reg­is­ter­ing the red flags in our path. But the fact that we were both just out of our re­spec­tive mar­riages was a rel­a­tively mi­nor con­cern when com­pared to the largest loom­ing ob­sta­cle: dis­tance—more than 3,000 kilo­me­tres, as the crow flies.

We met when I was in Toronto for the Giller Prize gala. I lived (and still do) in Vic­to­ria.

I grew up, as many did, be­ing cau­tioned about the im­pos­si­bil­ity of long-dis­tance re­la­tion­ships. One of the first girls I went out with lived a gasp-wor­thy half-hour away. That re­la­tion­ship ended af­ter a few weeks, and not well.

When I was pre­par­ing to go off to univer­sity, my then girl­friend and I de­cided to ig­nore coun­sel from fam­ily and friends and keep up our re­la­tion­ship when I moved to Vic­to­ria and she to Ed­mon­ton. That re­la­tion­ship ended af­ter a cou­ple of months. Also not well.

So ei­ther Athena and I were crazy (about each other, yes, but also just plain crazy) or the third time would be the charm. Be­sides, we weren’t alone: There were three other long-dis­tance re­la­tion­ships in our so­cial cir­cle, each with one part­ner in Toronto and the other in St. John’s, Ot­tawa or Cal­i­for­nia. Maybe it’s some­thing about Toronto. More likely, though, it’s some­thing about our cul­ture.

There have al­ways been long-dis­tance re­la­tion­ships— from the classic col­lege cleav­ing of home­town sweet­hearts to the fre­quent heart-rend­ing farewells in mil­i­tary fam­i­lies—but our re­la­tion­ship didn’t fit into any of the

tra­di­tional cat­e­gories. We were in our late 30s, en­ter­ing into a long-dis­tance re­la­tion­ship know­ingly and will­ingly.

We con­stantly hear about how the In­ter­net has made the world a “global vil­lage”; in fact, it of­ten seems like the en­tire world has be­come our dat­ing pool. It’s the new old story that our friends all seem to share: You meet some­one in a dis­tant city while trav­el­ling for work, you think it’s go­ing to be a ca­sual fling and be­fore you know it you’re fall­ing in love.

So, like our long-dis­tance peers, Athena and I cre­ated a life within the gap, a vir­tual do­mes­tic­ity that quickly be­came our rou­tine. Emails and on­line chats were con­stant com­pan­ions. And there were phone calls, of course, although they felt a lit­tle old school com­pared to the won­der of Skype and Facetime. (Thank­fully, the tech­nolo­gies that fos­ter the cre­ation of long-dis­tance re­la­tion­ships also help sup­port them.)

We got used to the three-hour time dif­fer­ence, liv­ing in two time zones si­mul­ta­ne­ously. By the time I got home from work, she’d be back from yoga or an out­ing with the girls, and we’d log on and spend the evening to­gether. A mod­er­ately early din­ner for me was a mod­er­ately late din­ner for her—hardly an im­po­si­tion for ei­ther of us. We’d catch up as we cooked, we’d hang out while we ate. We watched TV to­gether and talked about the news. We’d set up our tablets next to our com­put­ers and share our favourite songs back and forth with YouTube links: It wasn’t quite shar­ing a set of ear­buds, but it worked. Not sur­pris­ingly, Lissie’s cover of the Pre­tenders’ “2,000 Miles” be­came an an­them for us.

Fri­day nights were date nights: We’d have a cou­ple of drinks and watch a movie, care­fully sync­ing our starts and mut­ing our re­spec­tive iPad mics to avoid sound­track clashes. We lived to­gether on­line, 3,000 kilo­me­tres apart. We’d work and read. Write and run er­rands. Cook and clean. Eat and sleep. (I am still rat­tled when a video call with Athena’s rel­a­tives lasts only 10 or 15 min­utes, but I sup­pose that 73-hour Skype calls prob­a­bly aren’t the norm.)

More than any­thing, though, we’d talk. Those on­line days, we talked about ev­ery­thing: his­to­ries, fam­i­lies, hopes, fears, se­crets and re­grets. We had our first fights on Skype and learned how to make up. We got to know each other not de­spite the dis­tance but be­cause of it. And we dis­cov­ered that not only were we in love but we ac­tu­ally liked each other.

The two, so of­ten, don’t go to­gether.

One of the hitches with long-dis­tance re­la­tion­ships is that the fi­nite con­tact can per­pet­u­ate a hor­monal honeymoon phase, al­low­ing for the eva­sion of life’s re­al­i­ties. We avoided this pit­fall by build­ing an ex­is­tence to­gether in the only way we could. We shared our best and our worst: new book deals and mag­a­zine cover sto­ries, work stress and anx­i­ety at­tacks.

But that vir­tual to­geth­er­ness only goes so far. We missed ma­jor oc­ca­sions in each other’s lives be­cause we couldn’t make the lo­gis­tics work, no mat­ter how hard we tried. We missed the small in­ti­ma­cies of shared space, of touch­ing. We missed each other.

We would see each other when­ever we pos­si­bly could, sched­ul­ing long week­ends and va­ca­tions or search­ing for cheap flights and meet­ing in ran­dom cities like Port­land or St. John’s, just for a chance to be to­gether. “The dis­tance forced us to make our time to­gether count,” ex­plains one of our peers. “There wasn’t time for bull­shit or with­hold­ing games.” (Real life is like Skype, with ben­e­fits.)

We lived for those vis­its. Noth­ing ri­valled the feel­ing of walk­ing through an air­port know­ing that the per­son you loved and hadn’t seen in months was wait­ing just a few mov­ing side­walks away.

There was also noth­ing like the aware­ness that came be­fore break­fast on the last day of a visit, when our time to­gether was mea­sured in hours in­stead of days. We went to su­per­hu­man lengths to push down the pain of im­mi­nent de­par­ture, but the joy of be­ing in each other’s pres­ence was still blurred with the an­tic­i­pa­tory heart­break of part­ing. I don’t miss those last days. Athena got a job in Vic­to­ria two years ago, and we’ve lived to­gether since the mo­ment she ar­rived. It was life chang­ing but fa­mil­iar: Af­ter all, in a way, we’d been liv­ing to­gether for al­most two years al­ready. Sure, her in­nate tidi­ness chafes against my lifelong slob­bi­ness at times, but that seems a small price to pay for the bless­ing of ac­tu­ally be­ing to­gether.

I’m glad our long-dis­tance days are over, but I wouldn’t want our re­la­tion­ship to have de­vel­oped in any other way. The ben­e­fits of the life we built to­gether, 3,000 kilo­me­tres apart, make those hard­ships worth­while: We don’t take ac­tu­ally be­ing with each other for granted. Ev­ery day feels like a gift, even if morn­ings are a lit­tle rougher in per­son than they were on­line and even if, in the real world, she can’t just mute my snor­ing.

Be­sides, I still get a rush of ner­vous joy when­ever I hear a Skype call ring­ing. n

We had our first fights on Skype and learned how to make up. We got to know each other not de­spite the dis­tance but be­cause of it.

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