Can long distance love really work?
Can long distance relationships really be a road to happiness or are there too many potholes? In poetry, theatre and romantic novels, we’ve long heard flowery tales of lovers parted by distance, sighing away for each other like noisy boilers. 'Parting is such sweet sorrow,' we hear them drone. But lets get down to the bare, stained mattress of love and find out how separation and long distance really affects lovers of today. Perhaps our lover should always be convenient, like a tin of beans, always there ready to be enjoyed? Or is long distance love not only a viable option but also one with many worthwhile and rather nice advantages? I recently met Melinda, a former croupier in her early thirties, who moved to live nearer her long distance lover a month ago. Naturally, the woman is the more flexible! "We met on an Internet dating site, he lived 150 miles away. We just didn't consider distance at all, at first. It was great, for a while, it really gave us a high just being together when we could, you know stolen moments," Melinda told me. "But after four months of commuting to see each other, we got so tired of all the frequent long journeys, the traffic, the motorways, we realised we either had to chuck the towel in, which we didn't want to do, or one of us had to move, so I did as it was easier for me."
So it seems the joys of long distance love, can heighten new love but it's only ever a temporary solution. At some point one of the pair will have to up sticks. But for Suzy, it's not so easy. "Luke was posted to Iraq for a six month tour of duty," Suzy explains, "which is hard on me. Being an army wife is never easy anyway but very hard when he's posted abroad," she stirs her coffee sadly. Are there any benefits for their marriage? Suzy almost chokes as she splutters, "Benefits! Not really, not having your husband there for you can never be beneficial!" So how does it affect her marriage? "Well," Suzy sighs, "I miss him all the time, when I see the news from Iraq, I shake or cry. I know he's in constant danger and I can't bear the fact that he may never make it home, except in a body bag," Suzy's voice cracks with emotion as she breaks down and sobs for a few minutes. Valiantly pulling herself together, she continues, "I stay with my mum when he's away sometimes which helps a bit but nothing can replace having Luke with me. I'd give anything to have him come home today, anything. Luke often says he wishes I could post myself in an envelope and be with him too!"
Suzy's sentiments are akin to Edward Thomas', the First World War poet: 'The simple lack of her is more to me than others' presence.'
What is it like when Luke comes home? "Oh! Wonderful, better than Christmas day when you were a kid," Suzy smiles, a tear welling in her eyes again, "I don't like to let go of him, Luke jokes he has to prize me off to go to the bathroom," she laughs, still tearful. "The thing is,” Suzy goes onto explain, "your relationship doesn't progress when you're apart, it can't. You don't continue to grow together in the same way as when you are living together. You feel all you have to feel, but you can't share the experiences that bond you on a daily basis normally. We both miss out on a lot." Suzy seems to be agreeing with what Thomas Fuller, the 17th century poet said, 'Absence sharpens love, presence strengthens it.'
Chrissie also has a long distance lover she met on an Internet dating site, "It's worth the effort and time it takes, you get so much more pleasure from being together," she enthuses. But we have had some hiccups, even though I'm naturally confident and Peter is too, it made us both feel more insecure at times. You just don't know what's going on while you're not with them, you can start to imagine all sorts of things. "How did Chrissie cope with this? "Simple really, though it didn't seem it at first, our insecurities made Peter pull away a few times, he'd work himself up, worrying I'd leave him and I’d worry too, it was causing us problems. So a friend advised me to deal with it before it caused us to split up. She recommended a friend of hers who was a psychic. She did psychic readings for me, which made me feel better, temporarily, you know the kind of thing, yes Peter did love me, and no he wasn't being unfaithful. But the reassurance wasn't enough for long, I knew there was a girl in Peter's office that liked him too much, so I found a witch on the net and paid for a love spell to keep things on an even keel between us. Since when, Peter proposed and we're getting married in a few months, "Chrissie says delightedly shoving her hand at me, it glitters with her pride and pleasure, a sapphire engagement ring. "We're very happy, " she adds unnecessarily.
It seems the biggest pitfall in these relationships is that whining, midnight voice that whispers our insecurities into lifelike nightmares. It seems imperative that we bung our ears full of cotton wool and tell that voice to 'go take a hike.' Long distance lovers must learn to trust and remember their partners would hardly bother to make the effort, if they had other fish to fry. How do Chrissie and Peter maintain their relationship when apart? "Peter is very inventive and very romantic. He does all sorts of lovely little things for me, that keep him in my thoughts, not that he's ever far from them. Like he'll suggest a good film on TV and tell me that he'll be watching with me, though apart. And he'll say things like, at 12.00pm at work today I'll be thinking of you, think of me too. Of course he phones me every day and he often sends me thoughtful little gifts. In fact a week ago he sent me his pillowcase so we could lay our heads on the same pillow and he asked for mine. He keeps in touch on and off all day, when he can. I also know it's very important to see each other as often as you possibly can, two weeks is almost too long to wait." Imagination it seems is very helpful in keeping the wheels of long distance love oiled. So how about those separated by oceans and national borders I ask Chrissie? "I'd think that would be almost nigh impossible, you just couldn't keep it going," she says.
But I do know of another couple who prove that even this severest of tests can be got past. Vicky, a linguist, 31 explains, "I got a job in Strasbourg and Toby being based in London wasn't too happy about that, you can imagine. But I wasn't too happy with our relationship at the time, it was going nowhere, very, very slowly. Now I fly home for the weekend once a month. On Friday nights he meets me at the airport, we go straight to a hotel, and Toby hangs the 'do not disturb sign' on our door until it's time to leave on Sunday night. Being apart has really got his kindling smoking!" It certainly has, Vicky and Toby are newly engaged, "It's sort of what I was hoping for," Vicky confides, " it's why I took the job. Absence has made the heart grow fonder for Toby and at last he's stopped taking me for granted."
Vicky looks out of the areoplane window dreaming of seeing Toby soon
Eliza, a friend of mine, a graphic artist in her twenties, lives 60 miles from her boyfriend of five months, Nick. I meet then in a cafe on a Saturday afternoon, I see them seated at the back of the cafe, feeding each other slices of carrot cake. Eliza explains how distance has affected their relationship: "We see each other at weekends, he drives down to stay with me, and each time he leaves it's painful, bittersweet, because we know we'll see each other soon, and when we do, the pleasure is redoubled. You can't get complacent about someone who is not there whenever you want them; their presence becomes more special. When Nick and I see each other again we get excited each time, like a couple of 16 year olds, my mum says," Eliza explains, grinning at Nick, who grins back at her with adoring eyes.
How does Eliza think the distance has changed her relationship? "In lots of ways, but all good. I think it's added intensity to our feelings, sharpened them really. Seeing each other is always a special event. I always make an effort when Nick's coming over and we both do a lot of longing! I'd say really it's like putting your relationship in a greenhouse; it brings the love on quicker. Yeah, perversely we've enjoyed it a lot." So you think distance has benefited your relationship? "Yes," Eliza and Nick intone together," I think so, for sure, " Eliza continues, "it kind of energises your feelings, they feed off the distance, the longing, the missing, you know, it's not always easy missing the one you love but it heightens everything you do together. And I think Nick appreciates me more because I'm not there most of the time!" Eliza winks at him.
Are there any other advantages? "For me, certainly," Eliza says, "I have more time to concentrate on my career during the week, having said that though, I can't easily get my mind off missing Nick! So it helps with compartmentalising your life, you can be a driven career girl all week, work longer hours and concentrate on being all loved up together every weekend." Nick nods in agreement.
And what are the drawbacks I ask Eliza? "Well, it can cause little problems, Nick gets insecure about me sometimes and I think you've got to be aware of the fact that on occasion, your lover needs more reassurance than they otherwise might. Nick doesn't know what I do when we're apart, except for what I tell him. And err, this can worry him sometimes, trust becomes of paramount importance, you know like he wonders where am I, who am I with, what am I doing, if I don't answer the phone at night, you know I've probably just missed my train and my evening is in chaos but 1001 fears go through Nick's head and he can get overly concerned." Nick nods ascent, "I think you've got to reassure each other more, yeah, more 'I love yous,'" he says.
"Yeah, so true," Eliza joins in, "which is all the nicer." Eliza and Nick remind me of what the Victorian novelist George Eliot said: "What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined... to strengthen each other... to be at one with each other in silent unspeakable memories.' It seems evident that long distance love is a soaring flight of emotion, heightening already existing feeling and tying couples' love more tightly around them than proximity ever can. It certainly seems to have enflamed passions for Eliza and Nick. And for those who wish to enjoy the strongest intensities of feeling, along with the stirring poignancy of repeated partings, it seems that long distance is no distance to love. But we have to know when to stop, when to close that distance and end the separation by moving to a more convenient location to one another. Eliza agrees, "We're thinking of changing our arrangements," she smiles almost coyly. Nick beams happily, "We're selling our homes and going to buy a flat together, near Eliza, " Nick announces, " it'll be great." "Yeah, it sure will," agrees Eliza, "I'll save so much in petrol money!" They laugh and I leave them to their precious Saturday afternoon together, every minute together is extra special for long distance lovers.