I love that TV show (The Big Bang Theory) for its geeky humor and its caricatures. I love it for Penny’s new hairdo and because every once in a while I am delivered a nugget of wisdom so stunning it makes my head spin. Whether it’s because it ties so neatly to what I’m pondering at the moment, or because it is just plain fucking wise, I don’t know. You’ve gotta love Mary Cooper for this one. Like Sheldon’s mom, I have some very definite opinions about the so-called long-distance relationship.
Say what you want about the validity of relationships – any kind of relationship – that they are defined by those who are in them, that the beauty of relationship is not in the eyes of the beholder but in the participant, and whatever other qualifier you care to insert here. Here’s what long-distance sounds like:
- Seeing each other once a month works for us, it’s like a mini-vacation (honeymoon, adventure, tryst, fill-in-the-blank)
- I really love her and neither of us can move right now. We are bi-coastal!
- We have obligations that keep us where we are but with Skype, FaceTime (or other technology flavor-of-the-month) we really are able to spend a lot of quality time together. You’d be surprised! Sometimes I just watch her sleep.
- It’s hard to be on different continents and be together only two months out of the year, but we belong together so we will hang in!
- We have been doing this for ten years so we are obviously mature enough to handle it.
These are delusional statements. They don’t describe anything that looks like a real relationship to me. Just because you’re fooling yourself by saying this stuff, don’t believe for a minute that your friends are buying it. They’re just being polite.
A few years ago I found myself in the position of considering a long distance relationship. I met a woman on a business trip. It wasn’t random. I had planned a solo vacation by attaching it to a conference in Los Angeles. I was single so I reached out through my network to see if I could have dinner with someone local. I felt really brave, modern and adventurous in doing this and, surprise! I met someone really simpatico. We hit it off – several phone calls beforehand led to some really agreeable dates over the ten days I was there: a couple of fabulous meals, a day trip through the Santa Ynez mountains and an evening boat excursion in a fishing harbor. Whirlwind, romantic, sexy as hell. Get the picture?
Within a week I needed to decide whether I was willing to increase the level of engagement.
Understand, I knew this was just a surface scan but she seemed ideal in so many ways: she met my (admittedly snobby) intellectual criteria, she was good looking, gracious, we had a great time together, she lived in a place that really appealed to me and we had chemistry. I could check off most of the boxes on my list. Good to go? No. I screeched to a halt.
I screeched to a halt before we had sex. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid of casual sex. I hadn’t planned on falling in lust, I had planned on having dinner. I had dinner, but now I liked her. A lot. Distance was the problem. We were surely interested in each other but neither of us was interested in relocating on the basis of potential. There were lots of barriers: job, family, real estate, business concerns. You know, grown-up crap.
While the idea of traveling cross-country in pursuit of romance might seem appealing in pulp fiction, in reality it is expensive, time-consuming, and not a realistic barometer for gauging the potential for success. When I engage with you, I am shameless, intense, desirous and passionate. It is distracting when you live ten miles apart; it can be downright inconvenient when you are a measly 25 miles apart. Commuting from Atlantic to Pacific? It couldn’t happen. I would miss you too much. When I engage, I want you in my life. I want access. If you want to say I’m needy, we can talk about it. Let’s do that – comment here, or write to me. I dare you. (So okay, I don’t dare you, I invite you.)
But what makes for a long – distance relationship? Is it the commute? What if I’m in New York every other month for a week? Could that not work? How far is too far?
I think that once you have to exit your life or put it on hold to be with her, even for a weekend, you are in one. If you have to travel from, say Miami where I live, to Fort Lauderdale (45-minutes with no traffic) you are in one. If you must plan for travel time, if you cannot be impromptu, and if you often talk about meeting somewhere between you, you are in one. Weeknights? If it takes planning, you are in one.
When you are in a long-distance relationship you are fooling yourself. You are in a dalliance, in a fantasy, in a part-time commitment. Whether you have chosen it, or allowed it to happen to you, you are not willing to be there, both feet in. You’re in a state of remove. You know it’s true. Unless you can see yourself moving toward being together, all the time, you are not interested.
You may disagree, but I say you are only one foot in. In a long-distance relationship when you come together, you are on a mini-vacation. You are either in your space, or hers. You are not living your lives together: you are detached from all (or most) of life’s hurdles and demands while you roll in the cocoon-like protection of warm, wet nurture and satisfaction. You don’t take out the garbage, you take out the scooter and tool blissfully around the harbor inlet. You feast on strawberries and each other’s lips rather than choke on the glut of bills you must pay before the first of next week. Dirty laundry? There’s no more of that than the pile of intermingled underwear at the foot of the bed.
The acid test of a relationship comes when your dad has a stroke and you must travel to Michigan to manage the emergency. You will be there for two weeks because there is no one else to navigate the profound change in your family’s circumstances. Your girlfriend who lives in London (or South America, or Arizona) is understandably not able to be there because she just went home from her stint with you last week. Who will see to your two small dogs? Who will be at your side and be your sounding board when your brother disagrees with your decisions yet will not commit to moving Dad in with him? Who will sit beside you when all you need is to put your head on someone’s shoulder?
How is Skype working for you today?
I have nothing against caution in commitment, or in dating, or hell, even being single. I do have to work very hard at taking seriously those people who routinely (with a straight face) tell me they have been together for eight years when they have spent only two of those years on the same continent.
But then you’d never know it. I have learned how to be very polite.