Wrong place; wrong time. So often we call distance the death knell of a relationship. After seeing mine span several states before compressing into one city, I don’t think it’s the miles that matter at all.
In high school, he was a friend of a friend. We started talking as our senior year came to an end, tumbling into spending day after day together all of that last summer at home. We didn’t call it anything until our impending departure to universities separated by a twelve-hour road trip demanded more than a modicum of commitment.
So we committed, and it turned out we were good at being a long distance couple. For two and a half years we wrote letters, watched movies together over Facetime, and traveled to visit one another for formals, big games and on long weekends. Even once I transferred out of my school in southern Ohio and to Wisconsin (which, incidentally, brought us to less than a five hour drive), we could still only spend an average of two days a month together in person.
When those two and a half years had passed, we found ourselves almost inexplicably hurtling down the same path. Independently, we each chose to study abroad in London for the spring semester of our junior years. I had hesitated; I was afraid to follow, or be seen as doing so. The fact, however, was that London was it for me, and had been as long as I could remember.
I was learning to live abroad and learning to date at proximity simultaneously — it was a bit of an unusual situation, to put it lightly. The idea of being able to see a boyfriend after class or internship was foreign. Apparently, when you’re in a relationship in the same city you don’t have to plan every moment together several weeks ahead of time.
A full-fledged roadtrip to see him shrank down to a Tube ride from my student hall in Marylebone to his on the edge of Hackney. Carefully planned weekend visits turned into lazy hours at museums and days as wandering tourists; we shopped for groceries and made dinners together, watched films side-by-side instead of over jumpy Facetime connections.
Dating while studying abroad meant that instead of a nice dinner, we went to Stockholm for Valentine’s Day weekend. We watched the sunset together over icy water and I learned that he could keep a cool head as I panicked over hiccups in travel plans. It meant that my Christmas gift was a trip to Paris, taking the train under the English Channel and arriving at one of the most dumbfounding cities I’ve ever visited. We closed down the Louvre while visiting on a night with free entry for under-26s, staying until the security guards had to repeatedly and firmly request that we go somewhere else. There were so many moments to smile about.
Phone calls became train trips to Dover and late night pub talks over his whiskey and my cider. Slowly, the simple novelty of time together wore off, even in the midst of our new chapters. What did we talk about all those hours? What did we have in common without the sweet impossibility of distance coloring it all warm and noble and golden?
In April he returned to Minnesota and left me at security crying hard enough to don my sunglasses for the walk back through Heathrow and the whole Tube ride back to Marylebone. Three months, we said. We’d made it that long before.
Three months is much longer with an ocean in between. And it would be there the whole time, because I’d decided to stay in Europe for the summer as an au pair in northern Italy. He had a dream internship waiting at home, and I wasn’t ready to stop exploring.
A six hour time difference and busy schedules left us talking for an hour or so each week. The space between us stretched further and further. The things left to say dwindled; the remainders were heavy.
Something unspoken hung in the air between us when we met again in August. It remained there. We limped along for nearly two more months; being states apart allows for that.
Our relationship was never “normal.” But when long distance shrank to a single city new to both of us, he loved every moment. We had embarked on an adventure together, after all. Yet sinking feelings said that perhaps distance and the thrill of travel were both disguises, that love and affection were the majority of our common ground. We were physically together more than we had ever been and yet our lives grew more and more separate.
It was the distance first and the adventure later that might have just delayed our entropy. Maybe time and changes would have brought us back to the same city, together again. But then again, if the miles were never the problem, they couldn’t pretend to be a solution either.
Things were never the same after we said three months at security in Heathrow. In the end, I sat cross-legged on my bed, phone to my ear, incredulous as he told me London had made him realize he didn’t want long distance any more or ever again.