Rory and I met in Seattle. I was spending my summer break from university working in a hostel there, and he was on a research trip for his imminent PhD. We spent two evenings and one day together, seeing the sights, sharing bottles of wine and getting to know each other.
We parted ways at the train station -- he was traveling back to Canada for grad school, and I was going back to Ireland to finish my degree and find a job. We said a cheerful goodbye, and I told him to look me up if he was ever in Europe.
Flash forward four years: He's just about done with his PhD and we live together in Ontario, Canada. Yes, that's right – we're one of the rare long distance success stories, and I'm writing this to warn you off entering one.
Don't get me wrong – I love my boyfriend very much, and we have a great relationship, but if I could go back, I'm not sure I would have answered that first email he sent me the day after we said goodbye.
Because as fulfilling as the last four years have been, they’ve also been punctuated with periods of intense frustration, loneliness and doubt, particularly in the first two years when we were living in different continents. In short: Being long distance lovers just plain sucked.
We’re now at the point where we’ve spent two years living in different countries and two years living together, so I feel like I’m finally in the place to be somewhat of an expert on the subject, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that long distance isn’t a good idea most of the time, for most people.
Of course, I’m coming at this argument from the point of view of beginning a relationship long distance (apart from those few days in Seattle). I’m sure it’s much different for fully-established couples who get driven apart by work, school or family commitments, because you already have a solid basis for your relationship.
But being separated from someone you’ve just fallen in love with is soul crushingly hard, especially when you’re still in the first flushes of being crazy about them. It’s so hard to not to be able to touch them and kiss them whenever you want. It’s hard to not be able to get to know their friends and invite them to your parties. And crucially, it’s damn near impossible to get to know them through a computer.
The first couple of months of a relationship is when you learn all about your partner’s quirks. You learn when to encourage, when to joke and when to listen. You figure out what puts them in a bad mood, and how to get them out of it. From spending time around their friends, you see what kind of person they are outside of the intimate setting of just-you-two.
All of this is lost in a virtual relationship, where all you see is their personality through the filter of the Internet. You don’t develop those vital communication skills that become so important down the road, and it makes for a tough journey.
The best case scenario is that your long distance love affair is interspersed with a stolen week or two together, here and there. Rory and I met up three times in the two years we were apart: once in Ireland, once in Canada and once in Germany.
If you’re lucky enough to meet up for vacations while living apart, you see them at their best, and most relaxed. Even at the time, you can tell it’s not really them.
There’s also an expectation during this time that you’re going to spend every minute together. It’s hard not to over-plan these trips (“I know you’re jetlagged but we must go for a drink after dinner because I need to show you my favourite bar!”) At the end of each of these trips, we were both exhausted and, if truth be told, a little sick of being in each other’s faces 24/7.
Every article I’ve read on long distance relationships emphasises that you need an end date -- that special date when you’ll be reunited with your lover, the date that you focus on during the long, lonely months when you’re apart, the date you have circled 20 times on your calendar.
The problem is, when you’re so focused on that end date, it’s difficult to live your life to the full during all the in-between bits. In the year between finishing university and moving to Canada, I felt so removed from reality, my days bookended by the trans-timezone Skype. Bedtime for me, dinner time for him. Lunchtime for me, morning for him. Rinse. Repeat.
It’s easy to feel incredibly lonely even while surrounded by lots of friends when you’re doing long distance, because it feels like nobody understands what you’re going through. Although my friends were incredibly supportive, I often felt that they all thought I was crazy to keep my holiday romance going for so long.
Part of my mind was always on my relationship, one eye always on Skype, and my heart was never truly in any conversation or night out with friends. I was constantly agonising about my relationship, and whether I was making the right decision in moving to a different country, away from a job and friends and family, to be with someone I had spent less than a month’s worth of accumulated time with.
In every relationship, there’s an element of sunk cost. It’s hard not to think of the weeks, months or years that you’ve devoted to this person. This is particularly present in long distance relationships, because you’ve devoted all this time and still haven’t given the coupling a “real” chance, with both of you living in the same place.
Amid all the excitement of moving to Canada, there was a small part of me that was really disappointed in myself for moving to a different continent for a man. And although I shouted from the rooftops “I’m not moving for him! I just totally wanted to move to Canada anyway!”, I knew deep down it was a lie. I was moving for one reason, and that terrified me. What if I got there, we realised we were different people than we thought and promptly broke up? All that stress about visas and flights and saving money, all down the drain.
Luckily, it all worked out for me and Rory, and four years after that first chance meeting in Seattle we’re happily living in the same city. Adjusting to being in the same place had it’s ups and downs, and our relationship has changed a lot, but that’s another story.
I'd love to say I've discovered the secret to make long distance relationships work, but in reality there's no magic formula, and most of the time it doesn't end well. If I could go back to the night I met Rory, would I do it all over again? Yes, albeit with more hesitance. Was it worth the miserable two years we were apart? Yes.
Would I recommend it to a friend? No way. Run away screaming, girl.