Introduction From The Book:
I start crying as the airplane moves away from the terminal. Wiping a tear, I recall what a wonderful time that I have just spent with my girlfriend. The picture is so vivid that I can feel her in my arms, hear her whisper in my ear, and taste her lips tenderly pressed against mine. My heart fills with the emotions that we share when we are together . . . laughing, talking, making love.
Suddenly the roar of an airplane distracts me. Realizing that my feelings are nothing more than a daydream, and that my girlfriend is on a flight traveling thousands of miles away from me, I start crying again. As her plane ascends, I am reminded that I will not see her for several weeks or even months, and that when we do meet again, it may be only for a few days. Now I feel angry, wondering why she cannot be beside me all the time. Why must I endure an emotional roller coaster every time I step into an airport? I start blaming myself for ever being in such a relationship. Then, as I watch her plane being consumed by an afternoon sunset, the vision returns of the wonderful time we have just spent together and how much we love each other. At once, everything seems worthwhile and the only thing that matters is rushing home to wait by the phone for her call. Turning to leave the terminal, I try to conceal my tears from curious strangers. I know that they do not know me but in some odd way, they understand.
Does this sound familiar? If not, substitute the word "boyfriend," "wife," or "husband" for "girlfriend." If this still doesn't sound familiar, replace the word "train" for" airplane." How's that? More familiar? If so, you are probably in a long-distance relationship. You deeply love someone, but for some reason you must be apart from them for an extended period. Maybe you chose to attend university in a different country than your partner. Perhaps they accepted a job in another city because the same opportunity did not exist in the city in which you live. What if you just want to live in another country for a year or two to expand your horizons?
You know that you love your partner and that both of you will grow more by being apart temporarily. Yet your heart feels like it is breaking and you wonder how you are ever going to survive being alone without losing your mind. I know the feeling. As I write this book, I face two more years of separation from my girlfriend, Amanda. We both love each other deeply, but because she could not find a local university that offered a graduate degree in her field of interest, we both agreed that she should study in another city--1500 miles away. This was the right choice, because I know her education will make her feel more secure and fulfilled. At the same time, I also realize that I am going to miss her terribly.
This is my third serious long-distance relationship so I know what to expect.
Despite how much I love Amanda, I can expect to feel lonely. I can expect the
only real contact I will have with her will be a daily ten or twenty minute
conversation on the phone. I also can expect that when I am down, certain people
or even my own imagination will try to sabotage my faith in my relationship.
As you might have guessed, I chose the latter. Unlike my past two long-distance relationships, I am committed to being happy while we are apart. However, I realize that commitment is only the start. If I want to be truly happy, I must anticipate the challenges in my relationship, and decide how to meet them with a positive emotional and mental spirit.
In the following pages you will find some stories that illustrate the obstacles
that I faced being apart from a loved one. You will also find several insights
describing some simple things that I did to overcome those difficulties. Please
know that they are not cure-alls for the problems in every relationship, close
or long-distance. They are simply what helps me from going completely insane
from missing Amanda. I know you don't know me personally, but please trust that
I am trying to do all that I can to be happier while being apart from her. After
all, you can try a lot of things in two years if you put your mind to it.
Copyright (c) 2005 Stephen Blake. All rights reserved.
Coping With Having to Say Goodbye Again and Again
It never fails. A week or two before Amanda goes back to university, a mysterious anxiety seems to surround our every move. We both know our time together was beautiful. We took long walks together, visited each other's family, and talked about how wonderful it will be when we are finally together- -permanently. Nevertheless, two weeks before she plans to leave, we feel tense. Unlike the beginning of her stay, we feel an invisible wall coming between us. The smallest things, like what courses she will be taking, turn into disagreements. Although we cannot control our emotions, we realize that we are wasting the precious little time that we have left together.
If you are in, or have been in a long-distance relationship, you probably know exactly what I am talking about. If you have endured countless goodbyes, you probably realize that the feelings you experience before your loved one leaves, arise from you anticipating how much it will hurt once they go. Whether I like it or not, about two weeks before Amanda departs, I cannot help thinking about how sad I am going to feel in the airport kissing her for the last time. Or how lonely I am going to feel on the weekend when I realize that our only time together will be a short phone conversation. Or how her leaving this time may mean the end of our relationship.
I don't even want to think of the time I have wasted in the past, feeling upset about a girlfriend leaving town. No matter how much I prepared for those troubling thoughts and feelings, I knew they would come. I would let my emotions consume me and spoil the time we had left. Looking back, I think I enjoyed feeling upset . . . in a warped sort of way. I felt entitled to feel bad, and would deliberately upset my girlfriend as a reward to myself for what I would have to endure in a few weeks. It's crazy what the mind and heart will do if you let them!
About a month ago, before Amanda left town we committed to make her last two
weeks just as special as her first two (though we are true believers in letting
emotions take their course). I am proud to say the experiment worked! For the
first time in my life, I experienced very little anxiety in the time before her
departure. I didn't even feel crushed at the airport. We both felt calm and
secure in her leaving, and we avoided putting any emotional walls between us to
insulate ourselves from being hurt. Sound interesting? Here's how we did it.
We, of course, knew all of this before she left. The goal in talking about our future, however, wasn't to make new plans, but to give each other the feeling that despite the time we had to be apart, we would eventually be together. After talking about how wonderful our future was going to be, a short term absence from each other seemed insignificant by comparison. All that mattered was being together again as soon as possible. How or when we would be together was not an issue. We both knew we had to make it, or the hope of being together permanently would be lost.
No matter how strong our relationship is, I eventually hear about another long-distance relationship that has failed and I wonder if we will suffer the same fate. The last time I heard one of these stories was from Amanda a few weeks before she left town. At a dinner one night, she described how a guy she knew had a girlfriend who went to Russia on an exchange program. They had gone out for several years and were planning to be married. Yet only weeks before she was to return home, she called her boyfriend and informed him that she had met someone else, she was staying away longer than anticipated, and that her plans for marrying him were over. Right out of the blue. Wham! Just when he was looking forward to picking her up from the airport in a few weeks.
Anyway, given that Amanda was leaving shortly, she and I could have used this
story as a perfect opportunity to start doubting our own relationship by asking
those dreaded "yes, but what if . . . " questions. Instead, we used the story as
an opportunity to reassure each other of what wouldn't happen in our
relationship and how much we loved each other. We used the story as an example
of what not to do, pledging never to let the same thing happen to us. We both
came to the conclusion that this couple shared problems that had nothing to do
with long-distance. They had problems such as a lack of commitment and trust
that we didn't have, and would never contemplate having. After our conversation
ended, we both felt stronger and reassured, knowing that we loved each other and
were committed to our relationship . . . no matter what. This was a tremendous
feeling of love and security to share with each other before she left town.
The result was I did not feel any different in the two weeks before her departure than I did the other four months that we were together. After all, nothing in my daily routine suggested that she was leaving. We both just went about our lives as usual, and as a result we encouraged no feelings of change or impending doom. I would not have believed it myself if someone told me just to act the same as I usually did before Amanda left. I always considered those two or three weeks as a necessary ritual in which I had to change everything and spend as much time with her as possible, trying desperately to absorb as much intimacy and physical contact as I could. I was wrong. What I never realized was that the more my routine changed, the more my feelings did as well. So instead of changing my daily patterns, I will now keep the same routine just before Amanda's departure, along with the same feelings I have for her while we are together the other 99% of the time.
It took me years to learn, but I finally realized it's better not to see a girlfriend just before she leaves town. In other words, I do not say goodbye at the airport anymore. Now before you condemn me for being an unfeeling monster, ask yourself this question: "What happens just before your lover leaves?" From experience, my guess is that you probably feel terrible. No matter what you have tried to do in the weeks leading up to your partner's departure, you just can't help feeling this is the last time you will see your loved one for who knows how long. Consequently, you both cry uncontrollably. You start holding and kissing each other like you will never see each other again. You pledge that you will always love each other, and that you will never forget to call or write. Perhaps you exchange gifts, making the moment even more emotional and intense. You both try to ignore the loud speaker announcing that your lover's plane or train leaves in ten minutes. Finally, you realize that you can be together no longer. Using all of the strength left in your body, you give each other one last kiss, then say goodbye. You both start crying again as your lover walks away. You keep waving, but soon you cannot see each other anymore. You turn and leave the airport crying. You realize that no matter how hard you try, you probably will have a bad day and get nothing done.
One can look at last minute goodbyes from a different perspective. For example, in my first serious long-distance relationship, I believed that if I really loved my girlfriend, I had to endure massive suffering every time she left the city. Not to see her at the last minute of her departure would be like cheating both of us out of the one, final emotional moment that we had left together. If I did not see her off, I risked losing this moment with her forever. Worse, she might not love me any more if I missed her at the airport. I knew I would feel terrible when she left, but compared with the risk and the guilt associated with not seeing her off, the pain of saying goodbye was worth it.
I might have maintained this perspective if farewells only occurred once in awhile, but they didn't. Saying goodbye happened every couple of months, and by the twentieth or so parting, I began to question whether seeing my girlfriend off at the airport was really worth the pain. I started to ask myself what would happen if we didn't see each other for that last hour. Would we love each other any less? Would we feel cheated? Would guilt consume us until we saw each other the next time? As it turns out, none of those things occurred the first time I avoided the airport. In fact, instead of feeling cheated or guilty, we both felt relieved that we could still love each other without having a nervous breakdown every time she left town.
I still avoid the airport in my current relationship. Instead of crying and clinging to each other while the last few minutes tick away on the terminal's clock, Amanda and I prefer to say goodbye the night before she leaves, in an intimate, stress-free environment. For example, we will usually go out for dinner and then come back home and hold each other by the fireplace before saying goodbye. The next day, she usually gets a ride to the airport from her parents instead of from me. Call me unfeeling, but I prefer to say goodbye to her alone, in front of a fireplace in the evening, than at 6:30 a.m. in a public airport, among other couples who are crying while a loud speaker announces the time when they must leave each other again. Unlike my first long-distance relationship, I now associate saying goodbye with intimate, loving evenings, instead of crying at airports and feeling miserable. What a wonderful feeling!
Stephen Blake, Author "Loving Your Long Distance Relationship". Find out more about the "Loving Your Long Distance Relationship" Series of books, or to order your own copy visit Stephen Blake's website.
Copyright (c) 2005 Stephen Blake. All rights reserved.
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