“Absence makes the heart grow fonder” is an expression devoid of feeling and reality that I’d be happy to never hear again.
I chose this week’s blog to reflect on just how much long-distance relationships suck. The objective is not to be overly pessimistic, but rather, my hope is to write an honest depiction of a crappy situation that so many of us find ourselves in.
While in many ways, the day I got engaged made the idea of my and Pat’s long-distance relationship a much more feasible endeavor, as an end in sight had finally emerged. But ultimately, I’d say it’s made it much harder, and it’s something I’m really struggling with.
Pat and I have been at this for more than two years now – he working for the Obama administration in Washington and me at an international bicycle company based here in Philly. The money I’ve spent on Northeast Regional Amtrak trains could very likely pay for our wedding. Given Pat’s absurdly unpredictable work schedule and constant workload, it’s me who most often makes the trips from 30th Street to Union Station every weekend. I spend the entire week missing him and looking forward to the next opportunity to see him, and then here’s the rundown for how Fridays tend to go:
It’s 4:00 p.m. and I’m looking at the Amtrak website in despair. Why are the prices this high?! I carefully weigh my options. Well, if I take the 6:00, I could get in by 8—which is reasonable for dinner. Next train isn’t ‘til 7 but will save me $30. I usually, stupidly aim for the 6:00 train. And as 4:50 rolls around, I just need to finish this one email … And then it’s 5:05, 5:10 by the time I hop in my car. And then I’m sitting in ungodly amounts of traffic on I-95. I crawl along 676. And on the 30th Street exit ramp, I watch helplessly as my train comes and goes beneath me.
That’s one scenario. Others involve clumsily sprinting through the station with my bags flailing around me only to arrive at the top of the stairs with the word “DEPARTED” scrolling across the screen. Sometimes, traffic’s so bad I miss two trains in a row. In very rare cases, I actually make the train I purchased the ticket for. The point of this all being that the original build-up of excitement and anticipation tends to dissipate as the commute becomes more and more challenging. And by the time I arrive at Pat’s apartment at 9:00 or 10:00 at night, I’m usually in tears or mad at the world.
But I recover and quickly realize how utterly content and relieved I am to be with him. More than anything, I usually just want to cuddle up with him on the couch and watch TV. It’s the simple, ordinary things I miss most about living apart. When we were in college, we went to grocery store together, did laundry, went to the gym, ate dinner, watched Jay Leno and Conan. And it’s those things that I tend to miss the most. And they’re simply not possible apart. Phone calls, Skype sessions don’t cut it—they’re totally inadequate.
So I’m blissfully happy once I’m in his arms. It’s the weekend. It’s our time. It’s what I’ve been waiting for all week. But it’s then that I usually learn that he has to work both Saturday and Sunday. He’s never sure of exactly how long, but it’s always longer than he guesses. When he gets home, I’m thrilled to have him back and ready to spend some quality time together. Then his Blackberry blows up with emails he has to respond to.
Our Sunday nights are spent relishing the little time we have left together and are usually perfectly low-key, and then I head back to Philly early on Monday mornings feeling inevitably dejected. And the cycle begins all over again. I try to remember how lucky we are that our long distance is much shorter than others. We’re just a train ride compared to a plane. For those of you who require an airport, I admire your perseverance and deeply empathize with you.
I have a quite a few friends enduring similar long distance struggles and have actually met several people on the train making exactly the same trip as I do. The things we most often lament about are:
- Constantly being on the move, no time for rest. Traveling back and forth to an unpredictable schedule and feeling like things are out of our control. No routine.
- Friends and family not understanding why we’re constantly traveling back and forth and missing out on other obligations. Always feeling like we’re saying “no.”
- Spending a depressing amount of money on the travel.
Add to all of these challenges the fact that Pat and I are engaged, and due to the distance, I’m largely planning the wedding without him. I’ve heard people talk about brides who get carried away with the planning and don’t focus enough on what the wedding’s really about. I think and hope I’m not one of those brides. My eye is on the prize: Pat. The day is a celebration of us becoming husband and wife. And I simply can’t wait to be married to him. It what I’ve been dreaming about for a long, long time. Knowing that’s in my future makes things easier. But I also feel like this is a time we should be together, planning this celebration of us with each other.
After the presidential election and Pat was officially assured he had a job for four more years, I imagined there would be this ground-breaking moment of clarity for me: I would quit my job, move to D.C., and live in the same place as my fiancé for the first time in two years.
Yet that moment of clarity never came. Merely confusion. Do I really want to give up my job that I like and has given me so much opportunity? Am I prepared to move away from my twin sister, all of my family, and friends? Is it a good idea to make this big move before the wedding? Am I ready to look for a new job?
And here in lies what I think is possibly one of the greatest challenges of long-distance: priorities and compromise. Selflessness vs. selfishness. And I am far from figuring this out. But one thing I know for sure is that my heart is most certainly fonder, but it has nothing to do with absence.
Did I miss anything? Are there any items you’d like to add to the list of long-distance challenges? Any suggestions on how to push through?