A Word on Long Distance
Jainism, an ancient Indian religion, believes that the body and soul are two separate entities. While the body remains grounded in one place, the soul (referred to by Jains as Atman) can wander freely. The only linkage between Atman and one’s physical body is a thread called the Silver Cord– a lustrous glue connecting Body and Mind to Heart and Soul. Metaphysical studies suggest the Silver Cord must stay in close proximity to the body, otherwise it will become frayed and eventually evaporate into the universe.
So what happens when distance becomes a factor? What happens when your heart resides 4,000 miles away from your body– will the cord connecting the body to the heart wear out after time? Jainism doesn’t really provide an answer for me, unfortunately.
Some days it seems impossible to walk down London’s cobblestone streets and see couples nestled together in a candlelit pub without feeling a tinge of jealousy. The jealousy can be chased down with a swig of self doubt: why am I constantly making decisions that leave me feeling so helpless, am I making a mistake being in a long distance relationship, etc. etc. Don’t be insecure, I think to myself. Both of us wanted to be in a relationship spanning across the Atlantic. We wanted this… right?
Two months before I moved from Baltimore to London, I met Jack. I’d just graduated college and was looking forward to never dating an American guy ever again. Going to a small university in the south really turned me off to the idea of men in general, actually. So when my friend Alex suggested I should meet Jack (or as she put it the human form of a golden retriever), I fervently declined. But one rainy day in July I begrudgingly accompanied Alex to a pregame on Hanover Street.
I describe that night to my friends as if it were an excerpt from a sappy rom-com because I truly don’t know how else to recount meeting him. He was magnetic. The second Jack greeted us at the door with his half smile/half laugh, I knew I wanted to be enveloped in his life– he moved through the world with a kind of effortless confidence that made everyone around him feel instantly comfortable. Many tequila shots later, we danced in the middle of the bar and then talked for several hours at his kitchen table as he offered to make me various contents from his freezer. On our first date he said something so funny I did an actual spit take in front of everyone. I was pleasantly surprised to find that he was very intelligent and genuinely curious about pretty much everything. Even if I had wanted to, I couldn't control how hard I was falling.
I was caught off guard by my feelings for him, and vice versa. Jack knew I was moving to a different country in less than two months, which became an unspoken tension as we continued to see each other almost every day for the rest of the summer. One morning as we were sipping coffee and nursing hangovers on his roof, I asked him if he thought we would have ended up dating if I stayed in America. He seemed surprised, but quickly answered yes as if it was the easiest question in the world. I just nodded. After an awkward few seconds he looked at me, squinting in the sun.
“...Do you think that too?”
I laughed, forgetting that I probably should answer my own question.
“Yeah, I definitely think so. It’s a nice idea.” I felt a lump in my throat as I shrugged and nipped the conversation in the bud. I knew we would have been together had I stayed; it just made sense. But my UK visa was being processed and my flight to London was booked. More importantly I was excited to start a new life in a different country. I was ready to dive into something unknown. The last thing I expected was to be in a committed relationship with somebody 4,000 miles away. That, to me, made no sense.
The night before I left for England was gut-wrenching. I was laughably unprepared for my move– clothes stuffed into two dilapidated duffel bags, no international SIM card for my phone, no idea how to navigate the tube, no UK currency, and any feeling of excitement was now replaced with dread. Why did I think I was capable of leaving my family and friends to move to a place where I had virtually no connections? I had no idea what I was doing.
I went over to Jack's house that evening expecting to have a normal night. I found him sitting quietly on the couch with a few candles lit, the glow from his open laptop illuminating his face. I found out that he’d spent the day and evening preparing a budget for me, deciphering different maps of London, coming up with convenient routes for me to take to/from school, and figuring out how I would set up my taxes and loans. We spent the night going over everything so I’d feel some peace of mind when I left. I couldn’t have asked for a better friend that night. I had fallen completely in love with him.
When we said goodbye the next morning I was unsure if I’d ever see him again. We weren’t dating, and had discussed staying in touch but not much more. We cried and hugged and went our separate ways. Leaving him felt like a massive weight was being pressed against my body, subsequently causing my heart to be crushed. I’d never experienced such a visceral reaction to heartbreak before. It all felt so devastating. I could no longer wake up next to him every morning, lay my head on his chest to hear his heartbeat, or throw on a T-shirt that smelled like him– my body was getting on a WOW Air flight to Heathrow while my heart was curled up under his duvet in Baltimore.
Life went on. I settled into my slightly chaotic routine in London and he continued with his busy life in Baltimore. We kept texting regularly, which turned into weekly FaceTimes, which turned into FaceTimes every other day. During my first four months in London he asked me to be his girlfriend once or twice. I just wasn’t sure if that was the logical decision… how could I actually have a boyfriend I didn’t even have plans to visit him in the foreseeable future? I was also settling into London life quite nicely. I was booking weekend trips to Switzerland and Paris and pleasantly bombarded with introductions to friends of friends of friends. He was working late every single night, splitting his weekends between going out and studying. Daunted by the 5-hour time difference and syncing up our schedules, I was unsure if he was up to the task.
On a particularly rainy January evening, I asked him where he saw "us" going. You know, the dreaded "us."
“I want to be with you and I want to commit to this, it’s just up to you,” he replied. This had been his norm: expressing that he was ready to commit without putting too much pressure on me. I was lucky.
“I’m not even sure if you’re going to visit in the next year.” I paused, letting my guard down a little. “I want to be with you too.”
Jack bought his plane ticket to London the next night, so he could be with me during Valentine’s Day.
It was his first time leaving the country.
The two of us developed a pattern. Five months apart, one week together. One month apart, 10 days together. Four months apart, two weeks together. Economy flights to and from America, extremely happy reunions, meeting each other’s parents, road trips to New York City, and extremely horrible goodbyes. It was all rather dramatic.
This part, reader, is the hardest one to talk about. According to a study done by a group of University of Denver psychologists, most long distance relationships will start to face major problems within the first 3-4 months. We started fighting much later than this, around 8 months in, but the fights were bad.
Nothing happened in particular— the distance just started to affect us. I would get lonely when he went out on the weekends if I stayed in. Or when I'd have to stay up until 1-2 a.m. on weekdays to talk to him because of his work schedule. I could feel myself getting passive aggressive; I’d been here before. Me, the control freak, losing control, and lashing out. It’s been my pattern since the 10th grade and probably my most toxic trait.
He also started picking fights more frequently. I’d get overly sensitive and argue in return. Repeat.
All of the sudden, my best friend and partner became a rival. We could both feel ourselves slipping into a rut of constant arguing, but didn’t know how to get out of it. That was, until, we reached a breaking point.
Over a FaceTime Audio call, we finally acknowledged that our two options were to change our behaviours or end things for good. Jack, always the logical thinker, suggested we talk about said problems until we boiled things down to the root issue. We found that long distance is painfully obvious when boiled down–
(a) we're fighting because we are being negatively impacted by physical distance/ time zones/ lack of communication, or
(b) we are fighting because we shouldn’t be together, distance or not.
It seemed so simple, but we let distractions and small arguments and nagging and nitpicking get in the way of the underlying problem. We were letting the concept of distance get in the way of our friendship, our mutual respect, and our fondness for each other.
So we worked it out and worked on our own individual problems, because that was the only real option for us.
Long distance never really works. It ebbs and flows, but it’s not supposed to last. It’s definitely not supposed to last for over a few months, let alone a year. Jack and I were allowing the resentment of not being together affect how we treated each other, and thankfully we caught ourselves before it was beyond repair.
If your LDR gets to this point, my only word of advice would be: decide if you’re actually with the right person for the right reasons. Then decide if you are both truly willing to make things work without becoming passive aggressive or resentful. For us that meant balancing our separate lives in Baltimore/ London with our time talking and 'being together,' aka FaceTiming. That’s all there is to it: don’t let the cord connecting the two of you become weak.
As it turns out, the Silver Cord never truly breaks. So long as Atman (the heart) stays in contact with the Real Self, the cord remains unbreakable regardless of physical distance. That’s pretty reassuring to me.