Love in the time of change

Mambaonline | 28 February 2013

Fate has an unhealthy predilection for making us eat our words. Like a toddler trying to assert his authority over his younger brother, Fate has to prove that he knows best and what he says goes. Especially if it’s against your wishes.

The world is full of married people who swore they would never get married, parents who swore they would never have kids and people working jobs they never dreamed of working.

The particular set of words that have been unceremoniously shoved down my throat, in a way which is less like a precocious toddler and more like a bear in a BDSM dungeon, is that I would never do a long distance relationship.

They’re stupid and unsustainable, I would say. Making a relationship work is hard enough without geographical barriers, without the misunderstandings and misgivings of hardly seeing one another and leading entirely separate lives.

Long distance relationships are expensive (in both travel and communication), inconvenient and fundamentally unsatisfying. Not only do they stop us from living in the present (what would the Dalai Lama say?) but they hollow out common reference points and strip the relationship of its body language, quality time and most of its sex. Long distance relationships are for mugs.

Well, I’m now in one.

To a backdrop of Fate’s smug dancing, I must confess it is much easier to be dismissive of long distance relationships when they are happening to other people. When the person you love moves to Jozi, it changes everything.

All of a sudden you’re telling yourself how good it will be to have time to finish writing that book. You’re thinking of the all the perks of weekends in Gauteng and meeting new friends, and listening to tales from your current friends of people who have survived long distance and lived Happily Ever After™.

It has been alarmingly easy to find people who are going through the same thing. Within my immediate circle of friends, couples are being uprooted left, right and centre. And, as soon as I start to speak about it at parties, I discover that the problem is bigger than I knew. There is a full-scale pandemic at the moment.

Now I work in marketing, so I understand that my group of friends and the people they happen to bring up in conversation or introduce me to are not a representative sample of anything. In fact, if a researcher presented a trend to me based on such anecdotal evidence I would be forced to demand my money back.

But this isn’t a research presentation, and I’m not trying to tell anyone where they should invest for a new product or service (although disclaimers aside, if you run an airline or work in hospitality, this pandemic screams pink weekend package deals. This advice is for free).

It really does feel like people are on the move this year. The Mayans may have been right about the end of the world after all, if you look at it with a little creative interpretation. Everyone’s boyfriends are moving to Johannesburg.

Perhaps this is just the reality of our country. With all of the jobs, money and opportunity in Gauteng, it was only a matter of time before people succumbed to its dark charms. And technology has certainly made things easier – where before couples may have broken up or relocated their lives when one of them moved away, now there is Skype to make them feel a little closer.

As we hurtle into a future of national and international careers and ever-improving technology, perhaps long distance relationships will become the norm.

They’re so commonplace in the UK, for example, that a British friend had the cheek to refer to mine as a ‘medium-distance relationship’ in an email the other day. We’re in the same time zone and the same country, he reminded me, so it’s nothing to get worked up about. I was tempted to tell him that I consider Atlantic Seaboard to Southern Suburbs a long-distance relationship, but he wouldn’t have understood the reference.

I suppose if we are to survive this pandemic it’s important to remain positive. There will be days where it irritates me beyond measure that he’s so far away. There will be times when all I want is a hug, or to cook a meal together and fall asleep on his chest. But if we keep the communication open and honest, we’ll be able to work through that.

In a strange way, although it’s technically the opposite of moving in together, long distance relationships are a similarly beautiful commitment. They mean you love and value your partner enough to let him do what he needs to do to fulfil his career dreams. It means you’re giving each other space without giving each other up – and that is probably a lesson in trust that all couples eventually need to learn. It’s a make or break situation, but I think it’s worth the gamble.

I know I’m in for a year or two of hard work. The work is in keeping the intimacy alive from hundreds of kilometres away. But there will always be dirty weekends away together, romantic surprises and Skype sex for the brave.

And when it all gets too hard sometimes, when I can’t bear the thought of another night lost to Whatsapp, there is good old-fashioned drinking. I know I will find others to drown their sorrows with me. It’s the one great feature of pandemics.

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