People frequently say things like ‘You both manage it so well’, or ‘at least it is only a short flight to see them’, or even ‘you make it look so easy’.
Well let me tell you, it is not easy. People look at my long distance relationship which has stretched across three seemingly never-ending years so far, and think that we cope perfectly. But they don’t see the amount of tears that are shed behind closed doors, the anxiety attacks that inevitably occur every time we are separated. Even the tense arguments where we each wonder why the hell we are putting ourselves through this, when it would be much easier if we just broke up.
But when you find someone who loves you in exactly the same way that you love them, who understands you perfectly, who makes you a better person every single day, you do whatever it takes to make it work.
I often joke that marriage would be a breeze for us, considering the beginning of our relationship has been full of more hurdles and obstacles than I could ever have imagined. I used to ask family members with successful marriages how they knew they had found the right person, and the answer was always the same maddening ‘When you know, you know’. Which just seemed frustratingly vague and unhelpful back then. Unfortunately for others, it is exactly what I tell people who ask me why I have willingly tied myself to someone who lives thousands of miles away, whose own situation and desires will make it very difficult for me to continue my own career in the future. It is because I know he is the one I want to spend the rest of my life with.
When we first got together, way back when we met in a Tenerife nightclub while he was on holiday, I would have said that a long distance relationship would never work for me. Not because I believed that ‘long distance never works’ per se, but because of who I was as a person back then. At that moment in time it had been a year since I had gotten out of an abusive relationship with a very manipulative man. As a result I had a lot of trust issues and my anxiety was the worst it had ever been. Needless to say, a terrible combination for any prospective relationship, never mind one spanning thousands of miles!
However, I genuinely owe the success of our relationship in those early months to Paul. He is truly the kindest, most loving and gentle man I have ever met and I soon found myself falling in love with him. Those feelings were reinforced the first time he came back to visit me in Tenerife, and when he left after two weeks, all I wanted to do was get on that plane with him.
For anyone who genuinely believes that long distance relationships don’t work, I disagree. The majority don’t, but that is usually because the people in the relationship didn’t think the other person was worth fighting for when things got hard. Because there is nothing about long distance that is easy. You will most often never be together for important holidays and anniversaries. In fact, Paul and I have still never celebrated Christmas together (Something that truly upsets me, considering Christmas is my favourite time of year). I have never been with him on my birthday and our first anniversary was spent apart. In order for relationships like this to work, then both people need to be willing to fight tooth and nail when things get tough.
I know that what we have to deal with pales in comparison to some others. I know of couples who have had to be separated for almost an entire year, due to visa restrictions. Couples who are forced into long distance because their partner is in the armed forces, who are often unable to even speak to each other for days or weeks at a time. So, in comparison to other situations, I know that we are lucky. I am lucky that we are able to Skype each other every single day. That we trust each other completely when we are apart. That we both have the same vision for the future.
But in order to have that beautiful and brilliant future together that we desire, then we must make the sacrifice to remain apart in the here and now. When I was younger, I broke up with my only other long-term boyfriend when he told me that he never wanted to move out of the country. I refused to date when I was at university. Why? Because my desire to become a killer whale trainer was so great, that I would sacrifice almost anything else in my life if it threatened to stand in my way. Even love.
When it came to Paul, that was no longer true.
I have no idea how much longer we will endure the distance, or indeed, how we will eventually come to settle in one place, but what I do know is that it is getting harder to say goodbye. Watching him pack his things and move out of my apartment after four months made my heart hurt in ways I could never have imagined. There are plenty of people who have called him selfish for not wanting to stay, but those people don’t understand him the way I do, and what sacrifices he has already made for me so that I have the time I need with the whales. In fact, I myself could be called selfish for refusing to leave here and keeping him hanging-on.
I have no doubt that we will look back on these years through rose-tinted glasses and fondly talk of the letters we wrote to one another (I mean mine were slightly more lyrical and poetic and I’m pretty sure he wrote one in felt-tip pen but it’s the thought that counts), the care packages we sent, the late-night Skype calls, the loving airport reunions… I don’t doubt that we will soon forget the frantic and tear-filled airport goodbyes, counting down the days until the next visit, and the pressure to make plan E work the way plans A,B,C and D, never did.
No one knows what the future may bring, but I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that he is mine.