Ever since we started dating (4 years ago? 5?), it’s been a rhythm of a few months together followed by one of us leaving the other at home while we are off on a research trip or a conference, or rarely, a solo trip for pleasure. Sometimes it’s just for a weekend, a week or two maybe, but usually, it’s at least a month apart.
It’s never easy (actually, I’ve been known to describe it like missing an arm), but it’s also a weird source of pride for us, like a badge of honour. There are plenty of couples out there dealing with more difficult circumstances than us, don’t get me wrong, but there are also plenty of couples who couldn’t handle it. People use the term ‘long distance’ in hushed tones, like it’s something to be feared, but it’s not a source of concern for us.
Which isn’t to say that’s always been the case. When my husband and I first started dating, it had only been a few weeks before I was leaving town for a month to do my thesis research, almost immediately after which he was leaving town for the summer. When autumn hit, we had been physically apart longer than we had been together. This was totally daunting for me, someone who had for many years not known how to be alone, was pretty emotionally damaged, and who had a history of bad relationships. By the time my husband and I met, I felt much more stable and had a better understanding of myself, but my emotional stability and relatively new-found independence and self-confidence was quickly put to the test in those early days, having to do the long distance thing just as we were really getting to know each other.
My husband is adding his two cents: Long distance romance is tough. Of course it is, it’s never easy being away from the person you love. For me, though, it’s the reunion that makes it all worthwhile. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and this is certainly the case for me. Perhaps it’s just because we travel separately fairly frequently, but I find it difficult to imagine taking my wife for granted when I spend a month or two out of every year pining for her. Of course, it is important to stay in contact. The thing is though, I feel like there is such a thing as too much contact. Skyping or talking on the phone frequently and at length would, I think, take away some of the specialness of it. I prefer to have frequent (but brief) text conversations, the occasional detailed e-mail to really catch up, and a phone call or something similar on a special occasion. That way, talking to my partner is guaranteed to be a treat, and never, ever a chore. That way, to my line of thinking, leads to bitterness. Bitterness at being left behind, or at feeling pressure to take extra time out of a busy schedule, or what have you. If you’re going to be apart from each other anyway, I consider it a huge perk that we are able to communicate at all – it hasn’t always been that way.
Back to me. I completely agree that there is such a thing as too much contact. This seems antithetical to the idea of good, honest, openly communicative relationship, but I think it’s important to be comfortable with not sharing every detail of your day, every day, just for the sake of keeping in touch. It’s always tougher for the one who has to stay home and keep up the regular life while the other person is off gallivanting, having the time of their lives (at least, that’s always how you imagine it as you are forcing yourself out of bed in the morning to go to work). And you hope they are! But it’s impossible not to be a little envious and to wish you were there too.
The truth is, I don’t have any real tips and tricks on how to be apart from your significant other while travelling. For us, it’s a lot of emails and occasional Skype dates. I will say that I’ve learned a few things over time. I’ve learned that it’s natural to be a little envious, just so long as it’s not resentful. I’ve learned the importance of just letting myself really miss him sometimes; it’s not always necessary to keep a stiff upper lip. I’ve also learned about the exhilaration of travelling solo and about the beauty of a quiet night at home alone with no one else to worry about. Finally, I’ve learned about being swept away by the fluttering heart and the overwhelming emotion that comes with finally being reunited after months apart.
Photos by Candace Burbella
What’s your experience with long distance relationships? Any sage advice?