One of the hardest parts of moving back to the West Coast was leaving my partner behind. Each day is a day partially lived, and being around other couples feels like chewing on nails. You spend the entire time wondering what your own partner is up to, how they’re doing and whether they miss you. It's pretty excruciating. Well, it is for me at least.
When you finally get the chance to connect and they tell you about their day, it's a jumble of names (for which you have to make up faces) and places (for which you imagine landmarks). Their life, no matter how well they describe it to you, is largely a mystery.
When you need to address something sensitive, texts are more blunt than phone calls, and neither can make up for face-to-face conversation. A video call is too invasive somehow. When you haven’t seen someone for weeks or months on end, the last thing you want to do is have them staring at you through the warped lens of a laptop camera.
Then there’s the question of travel. Who sees whom when and where? Do you go to where they live for free room and board, or do you both meet somewhere and grab a place. Do you join them on a work trip if they’re heading in your general direction or going somewhere you both might holiday, or do you leave them alone to focus and get their work done even though the loneliness is driving you to distraction? The calculus is mind numbing.
Long distance relationships are not for the faint of heart or for those who seek to check the boxes of a so-called “life well lived". There are far easier ways to conduct a partnership, but once you’ve found someone worth crossing the country for and they greet you with open arms, other paths seem quaint.
Today, with mobile devices, an all but ubiquitous internet and relatively cheap plane tickets, you can string together lines of communication with far greater fidelity than previous generations ever could. That being said, there are still those empty moments that stretch on for weeks at a time, leaving you lonely and filled with doubt.
So, how does one get through it? At the most basic level, you live one day at a time. Thinking a week, a month or a year into the future will drive you mad. You can’t predict what will happen, and any prediction you make is likely to be wrong.
A layer up from that is making peace with the cost. Yes, you will be buying plane tickets instead of other things you may want. Time spent alone will be painful, and time out with friends will feel like eating a chocolate bar filled with sawdust. Your friends will date, get married, have children and get a promotion all before you have seen your partner for 365 days in aggregate.
You also learn to live with a different set of values. The picket fence, mini-van, designer dog and perfectly mid-sized home seem trite in the face of putting the puzzle pieces together for your next rendezvous. The Grand Prescription for Life starts to look worn and tattered, and the stress of work pales in comparison to the stress of missing a phone call after having not spoken to your partner for days.
You get to know yourself a lot better. You realize that what you thought you wanted is far less interesting than what you stand to find. You begin to value people over destinations when you travel. If your loved one is in The Capital City of The Middle of Nowhere, suddenly that location becomes the most fascinating place on Earth.
Most importantly, you see and feel keenly how precious time really is, and you stop taking it for granted. When you only have four days out of the month with someone you love, you want to simultaneously do the least while making the most of the time. You are constantly watching the clock tick down to the joy of reuniting or the pain of parting ways.
There are an infinite number of ways to live, and a co-located partnership, much like happiness or wealth, is not guaranteed to any of us. While I would not recommend a long-distance relationship to everyone, it is possible, though not easy, to live a long-distance life well.