It’s probably not the greatest timing that only two months into my relationship, I’ve left to live in San Francisco for one month. The half-life of how long I’ve even known my guy. And while sometimes a little time apart can serve to cement in your feelings – the whole “absence makes the heart grow fonder” and “want what you can’t have” thing – you also run the risk of killing the momentum. While we’re by no means a long-distance relationship in any official terms (this is more just an extended work trip), it has me thinking about the strengths and hurdles of relationships where people do actually live in different cities and are forced to learn about each other with three thousand miles between them.
I’ve always thought long-distance relationships are like accelerated versions of regular relationships. Despite the absence, everything seems to happen on a quicker timetable – at least emotionally. Because with the information you don’t have about him, your mind simply fills in the gaps… and you’ve deduced he’s fucking perfect. Geographically mismatched perhaps but you two were destined to meet. Soul mates. There is no one in your multi-million metropolis that compares to this one.
And so you take the plunge – up your text and data plan – and get tucked in by an iPhone every night. And now rather than actually kissing, you type it instead.
You spend so much of your time talking up your next visit, escalating your need for each other to almost unbearable levels, that every time you finally do see each other, there’s not much room for it to be anything but a giant honeymoon. It’s passionate and amazing and spent almost entirely in bed, broken up only by the required amount of eating or sight-seeing. And you appreciate every single moment of it. The bad or boring stuff just doesn’t seem to fit into these 24 hours. They say cinema is life with the dull bits cut out. So too is the start of a long distance relationship. And as much as you might pride yourself that you’re getting to know each other the right way, the absence forcing you to build your emotional connection first, there’s so much you miss by not getting to know him in person. It frequently takes longer (maybe three trips and three months longer) to notice the little red flags you normally would have noticed right away. Because whenever you are together, you’re likely to be too distracted by other things – like how many times you can have sex before your vagina goes on strike. Rather than taking note of the signs you might not actually be a match made in heaven. And when you do happen to notice something you don’t like, you ignore it, pass it off. You only have four more hours left with him, you don’t to waste it focusing on the negative.
In such short bursts, you don’t have time for these little reveals to grate on you because soon you’ll be back home, missing him again.
And so the leap to LOVE comes that much quicker for the long distancers. And why shouldn’t it? You’ve partially created in your mind who they are – of course you love the figment of your imagination.
After not too long, you’re already whispering to each other the ways you can make this work. If he takes a job transfer in August or if you quit your job and move in with him. Yes, it’s soon to be discussing living together, marriage, the big L, but the swell of promises fill you with hope for your future, for the survival of your relationship.
And then a few blissful and painfully difficult months later, on some unsuspecting Sunday as he’s packing up to catch a flight back home, it happens. Your first argument. Sure, there’s been topics you’ve lightly disagreed about in the past. But this is devastating. World ending. It’s natural for a couple to fight, of course, but you’ve never really fought before. So this feels that much more epic. And while you’re still reeling, he’s flying away – metaphorically and actually – and you’re terrified, what does this mean? You don’t even know how he handles conflict because you’ve never had to handle it before. And how do you even fight with someone so far away? If you say the wrong thing, he could so simply just disappear, sliding back into his life and leaving you in your big, empty city as if none of this ever happened.
But of course he doesn’t vanish. He calls, he texts. He loves you, too. And this fight, and the fights that follow, are a good thing. It means you’re catching up to the regular relationships where bad and boring things happen – because that’s life. Shit grates on us and we get cranky and then we get over it. It’s healthy to fight. It’s how we set boundaries in what we care about.
Unfortunately, when you do stumble upon deal breakers – things you normally would have run from if you’d discovered them early on – you’re too invested now to extricate yourself so easily. So, instead, you might make concessions on things unilaterally different between your beliefs and his and hope for a middle ground to magically arise. Perhaps, it’s the reveal that one friend of mine discovered when she learned he was never really planning on moving and unless she gives up her career and goes to him, they’re doomed. Or another friend who learned six months in that he wanted to have kids after all. She couldn’t believe she was just learning this now. She thought they both agreed they were happier living childless and fancy free. And he couples that bombshell with another, telling her it’s important he marries someone with similar religious beliefs. Where was this coming from? She thought what he loved about her was their differences. And for those that find themselves in similar situations, you instinctively look to your friends for support but most of them sadly can’t understand why you’d purposefully put yourself through such misery. Why go cross-country dating when there’s an All-You-Can-Date buffet going on right here?
But the answer from everyone in it? Love. And real love is worth fighting for.
Ah, hell, who are we to argue with that? In fact, I must say, despite the drawbacks of a long distance love, many of the ones I’ve seen have worked out. They all clearly saw something in their guy that was worth holding onto despite the difficult odds and their instincts were ultimately right. Of course, not every love has a happy ending. For the one that found herself stuck in the non-negotiables where neither was willing to move to each other, they’ve been left at an impasse. They’ve both never loved anyone like they do each other and find it impossible to let go but the point of a long distance relationship is that one day, you won’t be long distance anymore. What do you do when you already know the end to your story? It’s a heart-aching thing to love someone, but it’s a million times more magnified to love someone not there.
It all has me thinking about the man I’ve left in LA. While we thankfully won’t be long distance long-term, this absence has absolutely worked to grow our fondness. And I was feeling pretty damn fond to begin with. He’s coming to visit me in a couple days and we both can’t wait. A weekend with the dull bits cut out. Maybe all relationships could benefit from a little long distance sometimes - to make you work for it a little, it hasn’t all been won and at your ready disposal – making you fully appreciate the time you do have together. Yes, it’s hard to be away but it makes the return that much better.