Whenever I heard about people being in prolonged long distance relationships I was always the first person to say that would never be me. I would always vehemently insist that I would never survive being away from the person I loved for months on end. And marvel at anyone who made it through such trials and stayed together. But I suppose life wouldn’t be life if it didn’t throw a bunch of curve balls at you that you were previously convinced you would never be able to handle.
For those of you that don’t know me (although I’m guessing if you’re reading this you do :p) I recently got married to a wonderful man who just so happens to be American. Being NOT American myself, it turns out, makes moving to America (even if it is to be with the American citizen you just MARRIED) painfully difficult. And has meant that we have now been living apart for 9 months. And when I say apart – I mean on-the-other-side-of-the-world apart.
So I want to talk about what long distance has been like for me – a person who swore she’d never be able to survive it.
Well, it’s awful. Like really, incredibly, monumentally AWFUL. I have experienced some tough situations in my life so far, situations that made me not want to get out of bed in the morning, situations that had me being prescribed anti-anxiety meds, situations that had me shutting out everyone around me. By no means have I had the worst life, but I’ve been through some struggles. And I can without a doubt say that this has been my biggest struggle to date.
Here are just some the myriad of emotions I have experienced over the last few months…
Firstly, when you go from having constant access to the person you love, sharing almost everything in your life with them, every aspect of your day at work, your space, your friends, your hobbies, your trips, your accomplishments and failures, to them suddenly being on the other side of the world (yes, my melodramatic self does love to overuse this rather geographically inaccurate term) you literally have to reconfigure how your brain (and your heart) works. The way you plan out your days and weeks and months completely changes. The times you go to bed and wake up, the meals you cook, the people you hang out with, how you fill your spare time – all has to change. Being a person who certainly thrives on taking care of others, this was no easy feat for me to begin with. And having been lucky enough to find a person who makes my every day so much better with their presence, and so perfectly fit into my heart and into my world – losing that presence devastated me.
Then there’s the whole communication thing… Yes, the wonders of technology mean that communicating in some way or another is now easier than it ever was for anyone before us. But when you factor in a significant time difference which means that almost ALL the time that I am awake and free, he is asleep or at work, and vice versa, no amount of technology can really help. Plus, (and forgive me here babe, you know I adore you and think you are the sweetest, kindest, most wonderful man ever, but also that this is true) there’s the aspect of a spouse who simply is not the greatest at communication to begin with. These things lead not only to a lot of sadness and hurt but also a lot of bitterness and arguing. Something which takes A LOT of hard work to navigate and overcome.
What really doesn’t help is that I am an EXTREMELY emotional person. I will admit that I have done an exceptional amount of crying over the last few months (even for me). I often feel extremely lonely, and in those moments when I do and I can’t reach out to my husband because of the time difference or work, the weight of our seperation can become incredibly overwhelming. There are days when I cannot muster the motivation to get out of bed or the courage to socialise with people, even my closest friends. I know now to allow myself those moments. I need to completely fall apart sometimes so I can get it out of my system (for a little while at least) and then pick myself back up and try and be normal again and keep going.
There were times that I felt irreparably disconnected from him. Something as small as him saying he’d been to see a movie a few weeks back and I hadn’t known about it, would set off feelings of complete despair at how much life we were both living without the other there. This is something we really had to work at maintaining, the feeling of constant connection, and took a lot of tough conversations and creative thinking. But I think we’ve got it down pat now.
There were and are times when I feel overwhelming jealousy at the people in his life. I know in these moments that I am being irrational, but I can’t stop the feelings of resenting his friends for getting the time with him I should be getting. I want him to be happy and have fun and at the same time I almost hate when he does because it means he’s happy and having fun without me there. This is just something I know is completely nonsensical yet something I cannot avoid. I just have to own those feelings, acknowledge they are there to myself, but make sure I never actually project them onto my wonderful husband because I never want him not to be with his friends or feel guilty for being happy. (I’m sure there may have been times I’ve haven’t fully succeeded but I try my damnedest.)
Then there’s the role played by the third wheel in our relationship – my low self-esteem. Self-doubt and insecurities are something that have plagued me all my life, and which got massively heightened through bad relationships in my early twenties. Now, it is absolutely true that insecurities are not something someone else can fix, that you have to love yourself in order to truly feel love and believe in it. No one should rely solely on another person or other people to make them feel good about themselves. But while I think most people know this in theory, carrying it out in practice can be pretty difficult. I have worked hard on myself, for both my own sake and the sake of my marriage, to deal with my insecurities and not let them get out of hand. But again, this is certainly not easy. And having a supportive, affirming loved one bolstering your confidence and reassuring you of your worth and their desire to stick around because of it – does help keep the self-doubt demons at bay when they become a little too much to handle alone. But when the one person who does this for you is not physically around, cracks start to form in your resolve. When things get hard and that person fails to make you feel those things, the insecurities can simply become too much. And living through a reality without that person physically there, makes the fear of losing them for good much more tangible. As with most things dealing with this means being really prepared to explain how you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way, and to make it clear to one another what you need from them to be OK.
And of course, I can’t forget to mention how (similarly to post-break up feels) you start to hate all cheery examples of love you encounter around you. I have experienced both stages – complete annoyance and utter despair. You will see couples being all cutesy, holding hands, sitting on laps, whispering in ears, sneaking kisses and it will turn you into one of those bitter old hecklers in movies bellowing “Oh, get a room already!” from croaky, smoke-addled voice boxes. And you’ll also see the love interest in a rom-com do nothing more than place his hand on the girl’s hip and you’ll tear up like a hormonal teenager at how distraught it makes you that your own personal Ryan Reynolds could be intertwining his fingers in yours right this moment if he wasn’t ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD. It’s an emotional roller coaster that I’m ahsamed to admit I experience, but one that I simply cannot shake.
My wonderful husband and I certainly have experienced our fair share of tough days – of miscommunication, of letting each other down, of taking our frustrations toward the situation out on one another. These things are going to happen. They happen with couples who see each other every day. But it’s the way you come back from those moments – admitting your wrongs, striving to be better for one another, maintaining your resolve and commitment despite how hard it gets, that really counts.
I will not, for a second pretend this situation has its upsides that “make it all worth it” – I am neither truly that much of an optimist, nor someone trying to sugarcoat the experience for those reading. If I could have done this without being apart from him for one day I would have. But there are ways in which being apart can truly confirm the validity of your feelings for someone and your commitment to being with them.
Despite the tough days and the slip ups from us both, my wonderful husband has remained unwavering from his commitment to our journey. His willingness to put up with my meltdowns, to go along with my silly games and challenges, to spend hours and hours on the phone talking about everything and nothing – continues to reaffirm my love for him and stave off my natural tendency towards insecurity, self-doubt and general pessimism when it comes to relationships and their longevity.
The old adage goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder. And, yea, it certainly does. But, more importantly, what absence can also do is make the mind grow clearer. When you’re with someone everyday and they become part of your routine, part of your every decision, big or small, you become co-dependent and your judgement is clouded within the strengthening love-bubble engulfing you. Not being able to imagine being without them, is almost unavoidable. But if you are forced to be without them you are in turn forced to truly test that theory. You get to go day to day, living what could be an alternate path for you to choose. You get to experience life independently once again. And you gain a kind of perspective that can’t be bought.
That perspective has taught me something really important. That love – true love that will really withstand the rigours of real life – is not about dependence. It’s not about not being able to live without someone. Because that would be too easy. If I simply have no choice I could possibly make but to be with this person then I wouldn’t truly be CHOOSING them at all. Real love is being able to live without them but not wanting to. Knowing how much happier you are and will be with them in your life, and doing everything you can in your power to make that your reality. Real love is choosing that path despite how difficult it may be. Not because you have no other choice, but because it’s the one you want to choose, because they’re the one you want to choose.
Although I still have incredibly tough days – like, as recently as the day I wrote this post – there is something quite remarkably triumphant about being in a relationship that this healthy and happy and thriving despite this unbelievably difficult hardship we are going through. I feel both proud and inexplicably lucky to be part of this union. I don’t know how I managed to stumble upon such a wonderful human being – one who has been so willing to take this difficult journey with me, and one who is so worth me struggling through it for. But I am so thankful I did.