I have been in a long-distance relationship with J since August 2010. Here is my reflection. It’s a rollarcoaster of emotions – the oscillation between being OK with it – the “it’s better this way, we’re both so busy we wouldn’t survive if we were physically together” – and complete dejection and despair.
It’s a relationship of exclusion. No reason to fight and no real reason to end it, other than prolonged absence. So, why not stay?
There are fleeting feelings of connection over a Skype conversation. Skype now offers a feature in which the picture of the other person stays up on the screen, even when you surf the web. So we watch online foreign movies from Spain together, his face in the corner while Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz go through the motions on the larger screen. In real life you have to look sideways at your love beside you in the movie theatre. You endure the physical lateral rotation of the neck and you gaze at him, close-up, with shadows flickering over his face, eyes glistening in the dark. He’s in 3D, more real than the flat images on the screen. You can hold hands, share popcorn. In cyber-long distance land, however, you have the privilege of seeing his face in the top right hand corner of the screen. Just a 2D image, no different from Javier.
The scheduled meetings, three times a year, involve paying air fare, packing a sample of clothing and the items that are important to you at the time: a special book, a cell phone and the earrings you like this month. You take a break from “real life” and meet the 2D image in person again. At first things are awkward. The expectations are high and reality often doesn’t deliver. In reality things are often.. .real. But reality can be nice. For a few weeks, or even a month, your lives bump up against each others’ again, you touch base, live in each other’s space, share food, have coffee, and things go back to the way they were for a while. Except one of you is always on vacation.
When it’s time to say goodbye the space you’ve created in your heart for one another remains open. You feel the sucking feeling in your chest, like a pneumothorax. Good-bye. See you in ___ months. There are promises to do a better job staying in touch. Some tears fall while you suck for air and you endure a flight home. You watch three movies and eat a frozen dinner, sitting beside a stranger. Once again, you’re alone.
The Skype resumes. And, despite the technology, it’s not easy to Skype. There are technical malfunctions and those conversations where there’s nothing to say. Life gets in the way. It’s hard to explain it all and, by explaining, you are removed from experience and things feel wooden and contrived. It’s hard to love in two dimensions. The future is so uncertain that sometimes there are attacks of frustration and the feeling of being stuck for too long. It seems that both of you are in a long, dark tunnel and there’s only forward and reverse: only two dimensions, only two options. You somehow both see a future before you, the “light” at the end of it. So you choose to go forward.
There used to be a time when long distance meant complete, unbearable absence, only bridged by well thought-out letters. Now there is the pressure of constant communication. I download “Whatsapp” so we can banter back and forth at any time of day. But, somehow, in all the slurry of telecommunication real substance rarely precipitates to the surface. It’s hard to have deep, meaningful conversations in this medium – while checking blogs, attending to emails and updating Facebook. There’s also something eerily unromantic about the faux-intimacy of gazing at his magnified nose and double chin, made grotesque by the cheap cameras, as he leans his head back against a pillow. So is the crude lack of glamour of an affair with a silver box.
And then there are the times when, between the uncertainty, absence and hollowness, remains a feeling a gratitude. You must have found someone who might be worth it. Somehow there is a cord that keeps you tethered. And it’s strong enough to bridge the distance. Despite the steep climbs and swift descents, the rollarcoaster somehow stays the tracks. And that’s all anyone can really ask for.