Long distance relationships get a pretty bad press. The image of the besotted couple willing to criss-cross the country (or the world!) in a quest to keep their love alive was once part of a nothing-can-keep-us-apart romantic idyll. But the rise in cheap airfares and work-related jet-setting has meant that more of us have had the opportunity to witness first hand that the reality of long distance loving is often far away from its fantasy ideal.
One of the great problems, of course, is that physical separation can lead to emotional separation as well. It might seem glamorous to rendezvous weekly, fortnightly or monthly at airports or train stations, but for the couple forced to do so, it often takes its toll.
Getting it on
For most of us, after the initial flush of romance during which we're happy to shut ourselves off in a romantic cocoon, making a relationship successful involves integrating ourselves into one another's lives. We get to know one another's friends, learn about the nuances of each other's everyday activities, find pleasure in the small things, whether that's doing the weekly shop together or slumping, knackered, in front of the TV.
Seeing a partner infrequently means that easy intimacy is harder to find – you quite simply don't spend enough time together for it to evolve naturally. Your lives inevitably become compartmentalised into the day-to-day and the romantic. Spending weeks at a time as a virtual singleton and then putting that life on hold to make time for one another again is a test for even the most independent of couples.
I know some of this from cold, hard experience. Last year my husband took a job in Italy and, because my work as a freelance writer meant it was easier for me to go to him, I spent the best part of six months criss-crossing the skies between London and Treviso, feeling at times as if I was spending longer in transit than with him.
Making the adjustment
Before my husband accepted the job I had received lots of advice from friends in similar situations. Almost all of them were full of doom – the eternal pressure of a life in flux coupled with the pressure of making sure that the time you do spend together is of the quality kind would, they all warned, inevitably lead to tears before bedtime.
At first, I would say this was true. We ticked every box on the list of long-distance clichés. There were long, heartfelt phone calls every night and a general frustration at not fully understanding or being involved in one another's lives. Our first visit was so charged by our mutual desire to get it right that the surplus energy could have lit up the London Eye. A simple question over a long-planned lunch revisiting our favourite restaurant in nearby Venice reduced me to salty tears (that it was once the pinnacle of a much-loved romantic holiday made our current situation seem even more poignantly impossible).
It was an over-reaction that was only matched by the intensity of our make-up and, a few days later, our overwrought goodbyes. We'd been married for almost 12 years, for God's sake; such emotional seesawing was supposed to have long since been resolved!
A new perspective
As the weeks evolved into months, our visits – and our relationship overall – began to take on a new shape. Like any couple who've been together a long time, we had unwittingly come to take aspects of our partnership and each other for granted; being apart highlighted the mutual dependence on one another that we'd naturally fallen in to over time. Of course we still missed one another like lovelorn puppies, but that time apart was also a good opportunity to re-establish ourselves as individuals. Our imposed separation forced us both to develop a fulfilling life outside our twosome and brought a new perspective – and appreciation – to what we shared.
I'm not suggesting that all couples should do the same. What I am saying is that any relationship has both good and bad to recommend it, and while long distance loving is far from easy, it can bring positive change to the way a couple perceive themselves and their life together. The opportunities for people to see and be seen outside the boxes they've co-created for one another are rare; approached correctly, a long-distance relationship offers the chance to explore new (or long-forgotten) aspects of yourself while taking a perhaps long overdue crash course in appreciating your other half.
Have you ever been in a long distance relationship? Or do you have any advice for someone in a long distance relationship? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org