Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Those three words are said too much, they're not enough

The hardest part about an LDR isn't the eight hour difference, or the absence of face time. Well, it is both of those things, but only because they're components of a greater challenge: divergent expectations.

Because I know I'm not the only one out here going through this, I feel like it's important to remain honest about the good and the bad. So, the good: most days, I do remarkably well. Even though I don't have a lot going on, which means my time management skills have gone to seed, I'm still able to keep my mind preoccupied with other issues. Politics, job hunts, online reading -- anything to stave off the reality that I'm in an 8000-mile relationship. For a majority of the time, it works. The other good, which I want to emphasize before I continue, is that I've never wondered whether our relationship is worth this. It is.

Nevertheless, as you'd expect, there's also the bad: communication is everything now, and it hasn't been great lately. Between the ridiculous hours at which we make our calls (06hrs England = 20hrs Seattle), and the workaholic tendencies we both share, things have gotten a bit rough. I've said before that I knew our biggest challenge would always be the work-life balance; neither of us wants to put our relationship second, but both of us worry about asking the other person to compromise our personal goals to keep us first. I've been given a lot of grief by people for daring to leave my spouse behind in England (my internal response: shut up, shut up, because if you haven't been there, you have no clue what you're talking about)...but it was a mutual decision: because our commitment to upholding each other's goals and dreams represents a cornerstone of our relationship, I couldn't ask him to go, and he couldn't ask me to stay.

But things get busy. We miss calls, although it's getting better. The torrent of transatlantic letters is more like a trickle. We try desperately to make our infrequent conversations normal, but how can they be? Imagine you only get to talk to your favorite person on earth two or three times per week. Do you really thing you'd remember to be as trivial and inconsequential as most of your daily conversations are? Or would you save up all of the really important things (and therefore difficult or stressful) and unload them in one conversation, not knowing when you'll next have the chance?

I'm only really beginning to understand what a bitch this is. Best intentions only take you so far. One of the hardest things for me to accept is that love isn't enough, not if it's something you just believe will always be there. You have to work, every single day, to keep that love alive, because even though it looks healthy, make one too many mistakes and suddenly it's hovering in intensive care. Simply believing in love? Not gonna get you there. Sweat and determination make up the difference, because surviving a long-term LDR means making a lot of sacrifices. Tuesday and Thursday nights are home nights, except on the rare occasion when one of us really can't make it. Friends seeing a movie? Tough. Every week, I have to remind myself to make time to write a real letter, or send a card that says more than just "I love you!" And you know something? These letters, sometimes, aren't fun. They remind you that your relationship now hinges on the few ties that can stretch across eight time zones. Those letters, those phone calls, they take on monumental significance. Say something nasty or harsh in a call -- as I do, too often, worn down by the job hunt and the frustration of feeling like I came home for nothing -- and you might not get a chance to temper it before you have to go. Words and phrases you toss out like scrap paper in the normal pattern of a relationship suddenly develop sharp edges. Slice someone too hard, and the wound sits for days until you talk next. Then again, hold back too much to spare them, and you risk reducing communication to meaningless exchanges about (in our case) international politics.

Every single action I take (or don't) holds greater significance. It's exhausting. If it weren't for my incredibly supportive friends, I don't know if I'd be okay.

On a night like tonight, when it's late and my mattress is calling, I want to shut this laptop and crawl under the sheets without undressing. I won't. I've missed too many nights already with similar excuses. I need to send an email, a photo, something to say hello. Because otherwise, all we ever get to do -- at the end of phone calls and IM conversations, in the closing notes of letters and cards -- is say goodbye.

No comments: