Until She suggested that we both write, from our different angles, how we’ve survived these past months of, er, intercontinental dating, I probably hadn’t taken time to view the subject in such a summary sense. I nodded outside and sighed within. I scanned the varied experiences of the past 12 weeks plus, plus the adjustments we have had to make to sustain what we have. Perhaps more than I ever consciously realized, I had to admit quite the journey it has been in such short time; moreover, you probably don’t know the true import of a thing until you have to reflect and express it in words. Written words, especially.
For simplicity, and a shorter read,—I don’t want you TL;DR-ing this one—I’ve collapsed these thoughts under two not-too-similar umbrellas: The two potential challenges we, as do, I think, most long-distance relationships, grapple with. Then a few thoughts on what I, and We, did to navigate those obstacles. This is, as Bae suggested, a narration; hence, for me, as much as this is a telling, it’s not necessarily a prescribing. Our respective realities are perhaps as varied as there are relationships out there.
I. THE TWIN CHALLENGES
A Physical Gap
She could hold my hand and not say a word; the message, whatever it was, would be passed. There was the power of a hug that dissolved her immediate concerns or an innocuous stare that got her bursting out laughing only for me to ask what’s up and be told “It’s because you are laughing” and then the guffaw snowballs to a mutual level, bouncing off the floor, rippling through the walls and out the door. I mean, there are tiny spots of silly affection that make more serious life discussions not just possible but easier, and these tiny sillinesses seem more fluid, organic, with physical proximity. Atop the typical issues that come with not being in the same location as your significant other, timezone differences was an add-on for Us and all that comes with. Even for folks like Us who didn’t trivialize the time of physical availability, one’ll still miss the days when one’s soul mate was metres away from one’s face. (By the way, if one of your love languages is physical touch and you’re now miles apart from your partner, eeyah ehn).
B. Communication Gap
I recall the early days when it was easier for Babe and I to misinterpret what the other meant or was passing across. While way less frequent these days, there are still instances where extra effort has to be deployed to ensure clarity, even with the guarantee that there is no deliberate miscomprehension. With virtual communication being the only option, this has become especially critical. To me, the anatomy of any disagreement is difference: Fundamentally, differences in perception of what was said/meant/intended. With few exceptions, many things are easier communicated in person, but when that opportunity becomes an unaffordable luxury, you make do.
A perfect but ill-timed joke could fall as flat as though no thought was put into its making, and all the nuances of communication could be amplified amid silence or lost in textspeak.
So, how did we navigate these potential landmines of LDR? Come with me.
II. OUR STORY: THROUGH MY EYES
For starters, it has been nothing ground-shattering, you’ll see; only small but consistent efforts, most of which are so tiny and subconscious they don’t seem like a big deal: The acts and practices that make us who we are, all upon the underlying mindset that this must work, and that we cannot wish it into being; we can only work it into existence.
Pre-Imagining, Predicting, Prepping For Eventualities
One of the things Sunshine and I do—call it one of the ‘follow-come’ perks of dating an imaginative lady—is dream up hypothetical scenarios, and talk out how we would handle the change or challenge such would present. So, long before graduate school admission clicked, it had been a protracted, slow adjustment. It might not do all the trick to make the eventual reality of departure angst-free, but attempted previews can help mirror reality. May I also add we plan(ned) together, short-term, long-term, extensively, so the financial, emotional and other implications of the move were cushioned ahead, as much as we could manage?
Her having to leave for the States, and making preps for same, happened within literal days. It would have flung us into dire confusion if we had not entertained the realities of what we would be getting into far ahead (I remember strongly hoping a negative COVID-19 result would be it, or she would not be allowed to board on the final day/window to resume on campus. Have you read her COVID-19 tale, by the way? Rousing stuff. (Wait wait, finish this piece before you read that. Don’t you have loyalty?)
Since this Girl came into my life, one of the major adjustments I have had to make is learn to take pictures. I am visually savvy, appreciative of nature and plenty things that tickle the retina, but pulling out a phone to snap myself wouldn’t be the first or next thing on the agenda. Thanks to the work (read: bullying) (Eunice: I do not bully people!) she’s done on me whilst within physical reach, it’s increasingly easy to remember to take selfies: Even if for her alone (well, yes, who else am I taking them for, duh?), and stockpile each other’s galleries. An unspoken habit is to dignify each picture sent with a detailed analysis (read: humorous remark). We have always been good consumers of wholesome social content, so critiquing one Instagram post or some Twitter thread or fact-sieving a political commentary, or reestablishing our coordinates amidst a viral but unedifying trend has not been a strange ideal to Us. So we only just keep up the tempo. (Eunice: It’s usually interesting how we sometimes bring up the same social media comment at the same time.)
Prodding Interest that isn’t Nosy
More than before, I now make deliberate effort to be involved in Bae’s day and vice versa, since there is no more date night at WokCity eatery, Chicken Republic outlet or Royal Mandarin restaurant, to hear it over, over a serving of spicy chicken and chips or a greedy scoop of multiflavored ice-cream. “What are you doing?” is a recurrent question and she is understanding enough to know it is not a policing or meddling. That recognition of a genuine interest in her current activity and well-being, I trust, makes her open to spill all without having to repress. I think, as a human dynamic, when the recipient of your attention reckons that your gestures are well-intentioned, it’s usually smooth-sailing conversation therefrom. To her credit as well, she does not hold back, like I said. (I should mention this has been a guiding light for Us way before now: No subject is off-topic for discussion, inconvenient or ill-timed as it might come across.). So, every other day, I get a fill of how a virtual class went or an in-class tutorial panned out or how well, or not, a thesis is going. I live for those updates. Conversely, I also know not to over-flog what may be perceived as a silence, e.g. in our WhatsApp room: It could be busyness; I especially bear in mind that, depending on her schedule, there are times I would be the one who seemed unavailable for a few hours of her day. Assuming the other person’s standpoint has helped me here and in life to see things in clearer, unbiased ways.
Honoring Proven Pillars
The spiritual disciplines that got us started in the relationship, and sustained us during the times of geographical proximity, it’s a no-brainer to keep up the pace with those. There are programs we join, a number of which are to the favor of my time zone, but she makes the sacrifice—Sacrifices. That’s another big fat one we constantly make, and not with calabash at a 4-way junction at midnight, but we’ll explore that in another post, if the Queen says so—to stay up and join up. There isn’t much to say here because an automobile that runs only on a certain fuel has no two ways about it: It needs to be fueled up to function. The mechanism is only intuitive. So, we hold certain constants dear, and He occupies that space. Accountability systems that maintain the sanity of what we share.
And, I mean, if He was indispensable during the rain, what wisdom is there ditching Him in the drought? (Wait, or could ‘GOD’ be ‘God Over Distance’? Pardon my faux-deep; a dying man clutches at straws). (Eunice: #PalmtoFace, Lord help us). But seriously, we strive to maintain the two-way, inviolable street of mutual and vertical answerability, neat and straight.
Thankful for technology—I do not envy our ancestors—but the closest you get to being physically present, I think, is a video call. Intuitively, we leverage this a lot. No big deal, probably because Eu’ and I have been chat buddies for a considerable length of our lives together and we’re especially speedy type-rs, keeping in constant contact hasn’t been an issue. Between video call times, whatever comprehension gaps there might be in chat, we resolve via voice notes. Plus, she says, and I totally agree, it’s soothing hearing the other person’s voice. It collapses the distance. We both feel near(er).
Much as I owe her updates from my day, I also do not want to sound like I’m dumping info on Eunice. By the way, a secondary effect of her being in a developed clime is that certain realities are no longer shared:
For instance, while she was here, Sweetheart and I had a tiny tradition of giving power supply/outage updates, teasing each other when one person had electricity and the other didn’t. Now, that has become one less subject of mutual relevance to discuss; and while it was once a cute update, to expect it would remain so may be me being oblivious it may have outgrown its cuteness and aged into a rant. For me, it’s been, on the whole, striking a balance between expressing myself and feelings freely but without allowing it take up the whole space we have to do so, just so we can devote some time to explore areas and topics that are important to her as well. Moreover, I find listening more rewarding. Talking drains me. (Eunice: He is a great listener.)
There is also this practice that grew on Us over time—I wouldn’t recall who began it—that I have found to be strategic. It has been conversation starter and icebreaker, encouragement and vulnerability trigger. The resulting responses, from either her or me, have many times taken us to lengths and depths of our inner selves that have left us undeniably refreshed and rewarded. No, it’s nothing serious, but it is something I—recall that I only speak for myself and Us here—have found more endearing than ‘Have you eaten?’ (because the predictable next inquiry would be ‘What was it?’, but I digress). It is a question, not an answer. A question that spawns answers and questions, sometimes surface but mostly introspective. It has almost seemed like an unspoken wand we deploy to prod the recesses of each other and bring out raw responses, trivial and profound. When I had what I could consider a major setback lately, it was one of the avenues she got to me by. (Believe me, few things are as defeating as a partner you can’t reach.) Again, trust me, it is nothing fantastic; it might not float your boat, but I have found it to be a four-word, love language of a wonder, when Bae asks me:
“What’s on your mind?”
In a bid to be deliberate about contact time and specifically with a view to measurable growth, we have come up with a mini-timetable for activities during our week. No, no, this isn’t some military-grade, inflexible agenda that’s micromanaged to the millisecond. Who would we be deceiving if I told you it was?—not when she is, may I remind you, into full-time graduate studies and I work 6 days a week and some. We only run the conceptual engine of the relationship on the principle that if you don’t establish structure, progress might be hard to track, and you can only add flesh to a skeleton that first of all exists. So, loosely—yes, I’m giving you an insider peek, you’re welcome—
We have pantomime/charade Fridays. (To be modest, I outshine her silly on this guess-game nights; probably to the same extent she whoops my behind on 4-Dead-4-Injured: It’s so embarrassing it’s near-emasculating. So, there you go, Babe, your trophy, because I know you’d claim it one way or the other. KMT)(Eunice: I’m not even being proud or anything. You’re welcome.); there is book review Saturdays (this piece you’re reading is actually intended to be an evaluation of how well we have done these past 3-4 months on our love languages [but Bae has not opened the text yet in weeks; see what I’m going through?] Well, seriously, April was super busy for her, exams and all, and—wait, have you seen her Facebook piece on how she smashed those 4 first-semester courses? Reading this piece is the only thing you shouldn’t put on hold before dashing off to read it here, okay?], and then there is MEu’vie KnighT on Sundays; yes, we Netflixing it all the way baby.
My worst weeks have never survived the glee and rest these movie nights have been and brought. By the way, the day she had to prepone MEu’vie KnighT to a Saturday because of a virtual hangout she had with friends, I wasn’t cool with it—not because I felt she needed to be with her friends at the expense of me, no, but because my weekends are sacred, and the only true time I have a bit of a space to myself; so, I felt if anything would change in our schedule it may need to be communicated in good time, especially these days that even Sundays have become a workday for me. It’s while researching a way to watch movies together and be able to pause and review, comment, laugh and whatnot that I discovered third-party apps for hosting a Netflix watch (Teleparty, Scener. We stick to the latter. No royalties received for their mention here though): Babe and I sit, real-time, and we take turns reacting to what we’re watching. On days when her school Wi-Fi or my internet access here chooses to be uncooperative, we pass virtual remotes to the person with the better signal. Although her play-speed sometimes, always actually, finds a way to zoom past mine eventually; unfair third-world country discrimination.
We’ve settled fights on MEu’vie KnighTs; the transparency we strive to run the relationship on wouldn’t allow Us sit together (albeit across continents) and see a movie while either or both of Us were nursing a grudge. That night, after pausing the screen before the film began, we—I first— opened up about how the whole change in plans without prior heads-up made me feel, and how I didn’t consider it wise or helpful to jump into the movie, while we had unresolved miffs. (Turned out she had hinted at the potential change in plans much earlier but I missed the cue). That night, thanks to that pre-movie reconciliation, things went so good we ended up seeing 2 two-and-a-half hour movies despite that I had a heap of deliverables from work. (Well, relationship is work too, bite me.) One of those, by the way, was Malcolm & Marie, a movie that’s heavy on conflict and emotional tension and is essentially a two-hour, two-cast screen time of thick, layered dialogue by a pair of complex characters, a married couple. Imagine seeing that with your lover while pretending all is well. You sef reason am na. I guess my entire point is that we strive to have a sacrosanct time for strictly-Us activities. So long a family member ain’t dying, my roof isn’t on fire, or a Chinese rocket isn’t headed my geographical co-ordinate, everything else can wait. Building routines that cannot be infringed upon, methinks, is one healthy way we have built protective walls around this EuKnighTed edifice. (Eunice: That night, I was reminded once again that staying at loggerheads with your Significant Other really does not help either of you and being honest is the best way. Keep learning that one.)
Just now, I recalled one of the relics in my apartment is a makeshift movie pedestal on which we place the laptop, mine or hers, and enjoy screen time. That carton of a pedestal, she named and labelled it, in correcting ink: “EuKnight Movie Platform”). In all, with the exception of few new tweaks and adjustments, I have found that much of what we currently spend time together doing, are a continuity, not a commencement. Nothing too novel, only ingenious ways of sustaining or improving an existing framework. If a couple’s time together wasn’t good, their time apart might be even less promising. It is usually an extension of what you had going, worthwhile or otherwise, that would keep up or worsen, given the distance.
A Dose of Understanding
I try to respect reality: That my sincerest effort doesn’t eliminate challenges; it only mitigates them. Heck, there are still days I return from work too knackered to give Bae any update other than that I’m home, before I drift off to la-la land, clothes still on. There are memories of days, even up to a week ago, when I would wake up, near dawn, to an unfinished chat or video call, without a recollection of ever even dozing. (Eunice: Sometimes, I follow and sleep off too. Other times, I watch him sleep. And other times, I just end the call and get down to work. He does these things too when I sleep mid-interaction) Yes, life may get in the way, it always does, but pick up your love chat where you left off. Normal, you’d say? But when the ingredient of distance is already in the mix, it’s easy for the recipe of misunderstanding to be formed, what with the yeast of emotional yearnings for your partner, which are nevertheless born from a good place. I guess it’s the concept of nines and sixes, where one person is seeing a six on their end and the other is seeing a nine. What I find most interesting there is both are right in their own, no pun intended, right. It is a pullback plug when you’re halfway into jumping on a pet peeve and concluding the other person is, over the distance, fiddling with your feelings or, worse, ghosting you. We have long come to terms with it that we are on the same side, fighting a common enemy: Distance. Plain and simple. I have found this viewpoint incredibly helpful whenever I am tempted to think she is doing something for a selfish reason or being unavailable for no just cause or that we are, at any time, working at cross-purposes. A constant sense of mutual presence counts, even when, say, chat responses are tardy. Or isn’t a six-hour time difference enough imbalance in personal schedule and circadian rhythm, to say the least?
IT IS WHAT IT IS
As time remains, I believe distance will only do what it does best: Sustain the gap. My duty is to bridge it. It holds no respect for the closeness you desire, but nurtured intimacy is an investment that yields returns that the miles of distance can’t measure up to. To its credit, however, I can tell distance is a test of commitment, loyalty, diligence and sacrifice. It can toughen or break, exposing the relationship for what it truly is, or helping it live up to the potentials of what it can. I like to also think long-distance relationships amplify what was there all along which locational closeness masked. Adversity, a form of which you could regard distance as, is not just a renderer; it is also a revealer.
To think, from where I sit and type this, there are items I have left in situ since her last visit—perhaps a subconscious attempt to not erase her most recent touch on things around here. I look around my crib and sniff the figurative scent of her: the box gift over there containing a pullover she b(r)ought me, the coolest kind; in my kitchen, the yam tuber she last cooked that’s sprouted, floor to window; the strawberry jam in my refrigerator I’ve left untouched, expiry date be damned; the ketchup jar we used to eat her exquisite fried potato chips with, left in a corner like some idol; the handmade card she got me on my last birthday; that beautiful-boxed customized chain she made me, weeks before leaving, that I love so much I see no point wearing when she’s not here; those sticky note-sized love notes she sneakily dropped on my work desk while I was not looking…a thousand souvenirs of nostalgia. (Cortana, play me Aaron Neville’s Grand Tour already).
Perhaps it’s my way of telling myself that while I couldn’t possibly turn back the hands of time, I could at least preserve the memories of a phase gone by.
I wouldn’t say it’s akin to loss, but neither would I deny that loss and distance tend to share a small denominator: Physical absence. And this bit is what, I guess, I daily contend with: That I can replicate the quality of what we had when barely inches apart; that the times of presence are a prep for the incidental times of hiatus; that with true depth of affection, distance is but an illusion, even when it isn’t.
I believe it also reminds Us that if what we have built transcends a physical space, then distance’s got nothing on Us. Looking back, it hasn’t seemed too long, but it’s been deeper, I should stress. And as riveting as putting all these to paper, or page, has been, I don’t wish to write a sequel.
On God, I want my Knightess.
Eunice: If you have gotten to this point, (without skipping any part) and have fully digested the import of these words, you probably have some emotions and thoughts going on right now. Thank you for coming along with Us with these writeups. Truth is, this is a level of sharing We have never tried before and it is some kind of vulnerability most couples are wary of. But, Our belief is that there are blessings and lessons and pointers necessary for some people out there. And, God is in this.
So, We would be reading your comments, replying and taking note of your questions. Thank you!