There are two basic truths I’ve come to believe about long-distance relationships: 1. Eventually, somebody will have to move; and 2. It’s really going to suck until one of you does.
There’s an emotional intimacy necessary in a relationship that you just can’t imitate over the phone. Without that in-person intimacy, there’s a lot of unnecessary pressure on the times when you do see each other, and even more pressure on your ability to communicate without the intimacy, while avoiding wanting to constantly rip each other’s faces off (perhaps the one great thing about long-distance relationships is that you can’t actually rip somebody’s face off if you hardly ever have access to their face).
I’m not going to pretend that Jonathan and I have been the perfect example of making the distance work; we’ve had our share of angry hang-ups and this-is-too-hard moments where I end up crying into a bag of Reese’s Pieces and he ends up on Call of Duty for 36 straight hours with his phone on silent. (Side note to anybody who plays Call of Duty with Jonathan: thanks for teaching him the phrase “happy wife, happy life.”) Learning to communicate from however-many miles away is arguably more difficult than learning to communicate with someone who, if necessary, you can distract with your boobs.
A few months into Jonathan’s first deployment I purchased a MacBook Pro (the other love of my life), and when his mid-tour leave was ending and we decided to try to make a relationship work, we both leaned heavily on knowing we’d be able to video chat. And although it’s never been a perfect mode of communication (believe it or not, the internet connection is not always fast or reliable in a war zone), I still get a rush of adrenaline when I see the little green dot next to Jonathan’s name become available online.
Sometimes our whole video chat is 20 minutes of a blurry, pixilated figure that appears to be vaguely dressed in camo and is shouting staticy obscenities into his headset microphone, because the sound keeps cutting out. Sometimes it’s been so long since we’ve spoken that we can’t condense everything we want to say to each other into the 10 free minutes he has, so instead we just say nothing. And, don’t tell him I said this (because I’m always pissy with him for being a lousy conversationalist), but the times when we say nothing are probably my favorite ones.
When Jonathan came home from Afghanistan the first time, we told each other we’d Skype every evening to say goodnight. We’d Skype on weekends, and weekdays, and for no reason whatsoever because he was home, and it was possible, and that was reason enough. Of course, that didn’t happen. Because the third basic truth about long-distance relationships is that your lives are still very separate, and having part of your life hundreds of miles away doesn’t mean you can stop taking care of the life that is directly beneath your feet.
So although Skype became reserved for Valentine’s Days when we can’t be together, or for the night before the three weeks he’ll be out of town with no cell reception, it still contains so many of our memories of falling in love.
Jonathan and I have Skyped exactly zero times in the month he’s been gone. It seems, wherever he is, webcams are an unattainable luxury. I’m blaming budget cuts. And global warming. (Things were getting a little too republican there for a second, so I had to even it out.)
I’m not going to pretend it hasn’t been difficult, or that it won’t continue to be. If intimacy is hard to achieve over the phone, just imagine how hard it is to maintain through emails and gchats once a week, when one of you is a writer and the other only uses commas when he feels like it. The good news for us is that, even if we don’t love the distance, we’ve at least learned the distance. It’s something we can settle into with our iPods on shuffle, volume up, until it passes. And, when it does pass, we will either be completely ready to rip each other’s faces off, or we will be stronger for it. And we’ll both need new iPods. Those things have a shelf-life of, like, five days.