There are fewer conversational topics I enjoy chewing over more than other people’s love lives. When people start to talk about their long distance relationship (LDR) however, my eyes tend to glaze over.
While LDR cynics conjure a doomsday clock and preface any mention of someone else’s relationship with: ‘Are they still together?’ I find listening to tales of oceans-apart love more the equivalent of hearing about other people’s dreams: completely uninvolving. Knowing little about the absent partner, other than a name, sometimes makes it hard to believe they’re real at all.
I know from experience that this weird disconnect is no more apparent than to the long-distance couple themselves.
When it’s time to reunite after many months overseas, there is a barrier that needs to be pushed through to bring two strangers back together. It doesn’t happen at an airport gate or opposite each other at an awkward dinner, but in the bedroom.
“Clear your calendar when you meet up,” a friend currently in the airship of a long LDR says. “Get dolled up and go and meet them at the airport. Go straight back to your place.”
“You get connected again straight away,” another friend agrees. “You feel more yourself and you can express your emotions too.”
This is just first stage of getting reacquainted, she adds, but intimacy is the great leveller and afterwards, you’ll fall back into your pattern.
After six months of travel through different countries, I was about to meet up with my boyfriend of three years, in a city steeped in romance. The problem was, I was worried we would fall back into our old pattern.
Our cross-continent time apart had started with desperate late night phone calls and round-the-clock emailing, but after just two months away from each other my feelings for him began to fade. I decided to make the phone call to end it: sensitively enough, from a rowdy hostel phone with a time limit on international calls.
After shouting my heart’s reasons over the crackly phone line I sat down to check my email, only to see an email from him sent just an hour earlier – with his airplane itinerary.
He had decided join me on my trip after all.
I was younger and untravelled before we left: the more I experienced on my own I became, the more of a stranger he was.
As the meeting date crept closer I began to hope and dread our old passion would return and trick me into getting back together with him.
A good overseas reunion can be like a “bubble”, I’m told. A short burst of unrivalled good times in one partner’s exotic new world, while never establishing anything new. “You’ve got so many emotions going through you, especially on the plane ride,” another friend tells me.
“When you first see each other you get so excited but it’s quite strange for a while and you just don’t know how to act.”
When I met my sort-of LDR ex off the bus I gave him a stilted peck. We began our unhappy travels the same day, avoiding discussion of the sorry relationship hanging over us.
That evening before bed, as he gave me another sad peck goodnight, a wave of sorrow and arousal came over me and I pulled him down onto my bed.
Making love didn’t repair things but it broke the ice, back to where we had been – not happy, but open to each other and able to talk.
What we had wasn’t strong enough to sustain an LDR, but it was enough to enjoy a last hurrah together in a distant land.