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By VALERIE SCHULTZ, Contributing columnist
The mailman was once my favorite person. This is because in the olden days, when we were apart, my boyfriend -- now husband -- and I wrote each other letters. I knew exactly how long it took for my letter to reach him, for him to pen a reply and mail it back, and for me to receive his letter, thus restarting the cycle. This was measured in days, if not weeks. We were also acutely aware of the cost of the luxury of a long-distance phone call. Time apart was time to pine.
Nowadays, my daughter in California can text her boyfriend in Chicago and receive his answer immediately. They can talk to each other for unlimited amounts of time, or email, or communicate via Facebook or other social media sites. They can also see each other live on Facetime. But I wonder if this abundance of virtual contact can really alleviate the pining.
Technology, obviously, has altered the chemistry of the long-distance relationship. I recently solicited, via email, the opinions and experiences of various friends regarding this matter: in other words, other people have written my column for me this week, thanks to their thoughtful and heartfelt responses.
A friend of my generation responded, "As a dinosaur and technophobe, I can only say that long distance dating WORKS. We met on vacation, but lived in separate cities. Thousands of dollars in phone calls, flowers, and plane tickets later, I convinced him to join me in my city . . . we celebrated our 28th anniversary last February."
Another friend described his budding long-distance relationship with his wife of over 20 years: "Our courtship preceded the Internet and utilized snail mail. She left for the Air Force, and I . . . had these handy airmail forms on which you could write your letter and fold, seal and send. I bought a bunch and wrote them. Little did I know that the Air Force system was not the most efficient and that she did not receive them until after boot camp. Poor girl thought that I had forgotten all about her. She received them all at one time. This cemented the relationship, long distance. . . It's hard to believe that we were actually able to live without social media. The rest is history."
A friend who dated her husband for eight years prior to marriage believes that distance lengthened their courtship. "I think if couples give themselves a solid two years of dating in the same town, they would know sooner whether they would marry and then create a life and move wherever together." In retrospect, she sometimes wishes they had married sooner. But, she adds, "my experience brought me so much clarity about myself. My journey had to be just how it was . . ."
Distance may not always be measured in miles. Sometimes, said one friend, in perhaps the most poignant response, "The longest distance of all is sleeping on the couch downstairs due to an argument separating a loving couple."
Two friends agreed that it isn't only a long-distance love relationship that is strengthened by the cell phone and other technology. "I have been able to communicate so much more with my sisters across country than I ever could with my parents: Long distance was too expensive," said one.
Said the other: "I can call my children and have a relaxed telephone visit with them. I always feel more connected afterward, a very satisfying feeling. Also," she continued, "it is important to take the initiative in calling and not get into a mode of waiting for the other person to call. The longer you wait, the more disconnected you feel and the harder it is to make that call and connect again." True for so many of us.
One consensus through the generations is that a relationship in which one teenager goes away to college and the other stays home is a doomed proposition. One friend saw her high school romance fade away, and watched the same thing happen to her son when he went to a university across the country. She notes, however, "I am now in a long-distance relationship, so to speak, with my son, who has joined the Peace Corps and will be in the Republic of Georgia for 27 months. This is completely different. Our bond is 24-plus years strong. We talk on the phone, email, Facebook, Skype, and write letters (well, I write) and we're as close as ever."
The adage that "true love conquers all" still applies in the digital age. In spite of our enhanced methods of communication, distance can still break or build a relationship. A young person mentioned that a physical separation can be even harder to bear when you can see your beloved on a screen. For all the relationships that crumbled long-distance, though, there are still success stories. When my sweetheart wrote, in one of those eagerly awaited letters, that it was enough to know that we were gazing at the same moon, I knew he was a keeper.