Photo: Chris Blanchette

Going the distance: The ups and downs of a long-distance relationship

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By Chris Blanchette

I had just stepped off a plane in New Brunswick — at Sussex airport, to be precise. The flight had been pleasant enough. Trying to distract myself from my anxiety, I’d started the hour-and-a-half flight staring at the Toronto skyline and feeling overwhelmingly small — once the clouds had swallowed our plane, I tried striking up a conversation with the older gentleman beside me.

“Is this your first time flying to New Brunswick?” I asked him. He was articulate with his words and soft spoken; he explained that he is from New Brunswick, and travels to Toronto periodically to visit family. He asked what my reason was for leaving Ontario.

I’d been waiting for a month to see my girlfriend, who’s now attending university approximately 1,466 k.m. away in St. John. Though 30 days is a relatively short absence as far as separation goes in our relationship, the visit feels long overdue.

The plane touches down and I breathe out my impatience. I wish the gentleman well as we depart in separate directions. Through the window that separates the airport from the tarmac, I see my girlfriend waiting in the main area of the airport.

Her presence is best described as a mirage — something surreal. I hope she doesn’t dissipate when I reach out to hug her; thankfully she doesn’t. I spin her around obnoxiously because it is 1 a.m. and I’ve been sitting for too long.

Let me end this scene by saying that it is a luxury to feel a sense of home in a person. And if you are so lucky to find that, grip it tight until your knuckles turn white. This is our homecoming.

These homecomings are the foundations of long distance relationships. At some point, while you’re waiting for a phone call, a text or the occasional letter, you remember that all the trivial motions that accompany distance are building up to days like these.

I tried not to think in that moment. I wanted to devote my entire being to embracing the person I love, and etching the memory in my mind because the next time I was going to be in that airport, I would be facing the reality that departure was necessary.

And that’s the rest of the relationship.

Waiting.

As sad as it sounds, long-distance relationships are about waiting. They are about learning how to deal with waiting and figuring out how to acknowledge that you will be waiting, without allowing it to control you.

I spend a large portion of my day checking my phone for text messages, for updates and for signs that my girlfriend is trying to talk to me. Often it’s a blank screen because we are both busy people. Hell, we’re university students with part-time jobs.

Once in a while the waiting will get to you. Once in a while you will count out the days that are left until you’re reunited because you know you’ll feel upset, and you’ll accelerate the time it takes to feel sorry for yourself.

Most days I feel conflicted. I don’t want these words I write down to romanticize the anxiety that these relationships make me feel. But on the other hand, the tribulations become far easier to deal with when they feel beautiful, or significant.

So my girlfriend and I talk about what our future will look like, while remaining rooted to the present. Our conversations are anchored by escapism and what will be, rather than what is — because we want to be there for one another but we can only be to an extent.

I want to be there in the morning waking up beside her, so that the first thing she hears is the sound of a voice that cares. Instead, all I can send is an iMessage with an emoji that is supposed to represent something that is taking me a thousand words to explain in this article. Technology allows us contact. We can instantly communicate our feelings and sentiments through a variety of characters and symbols, which is wonderful and convenient. But I would trade our well-thought out prose at a moment’s notice for five minutes of conversation, where I could watch my girlfriend look at me through my pupils and not through pixels.

And despite all of this: the distance and the waiting and the anxiety and talking yourself into sadness, is worth it.

I promise you it is worth it.

Just as you’re about to pull the comforter over your head and drift off to sleep she turns to you and says, “We can do this.”

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