Longing for a lover can inspire beautiful art. At the start of the 1900s, it compelled Proust to write his magnum opus In Search of Lost Time. By the end of that same century, it inspired Everything But the Girl to write a lovely song about how the deserts miss the rain. In reality though, missing someone can be pretty unbearable. When you’re in a long distance relationship, you realise a desert waiting for rain would feel torturous. Your entire existence would be reduced to drought. You would die of thirst. You would shit sand.
My boyfriend and I have always spent long periods apart, on and off. When we first started dating, he embarked on a six-month exchange to Hong Kong. For the past 18 months, I’ve split time between Australia and Asia for work, leaving for months at a time. More opportunities came up this year, so we finally packed up our apartment and caught planes in opposite directions. He flew to North America; I headed back to Asia. “International power couple!” my friends said merrily. I felt the opposite of that. I felt like a kid in squeaky shoes and a helicopter cap, waving sadly goodbye to his best friend at the airport again.
Still, we’re lucky to live in an era where Skype and SMS and iMessage exists. I feel fortunate that I don’t have to wait for handwritten letters delivered via the oceans, bearing hopeful news from three months ago when my partner was actually still alive. The modern problems we face aren’t harrowing, but they are strange. Living on separate continents means constantly checking timezones. We accidentally wake each other up with ill-timed SMSes and say goodnight at lunch-time. Skype might be a modern miracle, but connections are so bad in most countries that the stop-start video is like watching your partner having a stroke.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Wouldn’t it be easier if we stayed together in one spot? Or gave up altogether and called it quits? Doesn’t pursuing long-term relationships delay the inevitable romances we’ll find overseas? In any case, I had more reason to worry. My boyfriend was headed to New York, international epicentre of the handsomely bearded and tattooed. Meanwhile, I was in places like Burma, where the men wore swastika t-shirts (such was their education level) and desperately needed dental surgery for their ruined mouths.
Still, having been together for a decade though, we’ve figured we could probably weather anything. Maybe it’s a part of getting older, or maybe it’s the distance, but staying together isn’t something that frightens us anymore. It feels like something we want to protect. (Wow. As a free-thinking homosexual, I never thought I’d say that. Perhaps I should consider running as a Family First candidate in the Senate next year.)
There are benefits too. As my friend Kim recently wrote, “The best thing about a long-distance relationship is the passionate reunion.” It’s hard to disagree with that. Without getting too graphic, the force with which couples reunite after months apart is like a wrecking ball smashing into the side of a building, except your skull is the wrecking ball and the wall is your partner’s face.
And if Aung San Suu Kyi can spend years in house arrest in Burma, only to be temporarly released, find out her husband was dying of cancer in the UK and remain in Burma anyway for the sake of her people, surely Scott and I can hack a few months apart. We remind each other we’re only ever a flight away. We keep saying we’ll have the rest of our lives together.
So we live apart and bear it. There isn’t any other option anyway. And until we meet again, we do what all couples in long distance relationships do: we sleep with our phones by our sides, ask about the weather on the other side of the world and look at every calendar like it’s a countdown.