Stacey Freeman reflects on how distance was the key factor in her marriage’s survival—and demise.
At 15 years old, I suddenly found myself in a long distance relationship. We met at the bar mitzvah of a family friend and, like the saying goes, the rest was history.
Of course, in high school when one-half of a would-be couple isn’t old enough to drive yet, dating someone in the next town could be considered long distance. For us, that distance spanned many towns, took an hour by car, required driving on highways, and, on the face of it, presented more of a challenge for one new driver and one not of driving age than we dared to admit when we first met.
But somehow we made it through, despite not seeing each other for the first six weeks after meeting because of record snowfalls that always seemed to come at the start of the weekend.
To compensate for the distance, we began talking on the phone, first, every few nights and, as time went on, every day. The year was 1987 and texting was still more than a decade away from transforming the dating landscape forever.
During phone conversations that sometimes lasted six hours and stretched into the wee hours of the morning—much to the irritation of our two widowed parents whose phone bills suddenly skyrocketed—we engaged in the type of intimacy that I fear has become all but obsolete with more recent technological “advances” in communication. We talked to each other.
As the years pressed on, we looked forward to a time when we would be together in the same city. Two years older than I, my boyfriend left for college first, with me promising to follow as soon as I could.
When the time came, however, I did not have the money to attend the school I wanted and, in its place, I chose a state university three hours away.
Still, our long distance relationship progressed, along with more phone calls and stolen weekends, until post-graduation when I decided on a law school just 20 minutes from my boyfriend. By that point, we had been dating exclusively for almost seven years.
The next summer my husband graduated and we got married. After our honeymoon, he began working in New York City and I returned to Boston to continue school, bringing us right back to our long-distance roots.
Once again, there were the familiar phone calls, along with regularly scheduled weekend trips to our empty apartment, left vacant by my husband as he toiled away late at night in the office. Even after I returned to New York City to complete my third year of law school the following fall, making it the first time we lived together under one roof in nine years, my husband’s hectic work schedule kept our relationship in long distance mode. Intimacy was something we had to work for, leading us to value it all the more.
When children followed and, later, a contracted two-year move to Hong Kong, those “long distance” conversations we once looked forward to (and could now have face to face), ceased, and our relationship began to deteriorate. Like a cliché, we stopped communicating. And caring. Returning to the States did little to improve our situation, and even though we were living together in the same house, we slowly began leading parallel lives.
In 2010, less than five years after we moved stateside, my husband’s firm directed him back to Hong Kong, this time with no return date in sight. I, on the other hand, directed him to find a new job. He chose not to and, eventually, went on to choose a new woman instead.
During those last years we lived apart, we frequently spoke on the phone, my husband’s long hours allowing for significant overlap in our day even with the time difference. Our conversations, however, became less and less about us and more and more about our children and the logistical issues of managing two households with 8,000 miles between them.
A little more than 24 years after our first date, we separated. On the surface, many would say it is ironic that our long distance relationship is what ultimately did us in, the same long distance relationship that first brought us together.
I credit the longevity and, for the majority of that time, the strength of our marriage to the miles (however few or many) that existed between us and our dedication to creating and maintaining intimacy any way we could, including, and especially by, talking on the phone.
Whoever says intimacy is solely a function of proximity is dead wrong. Anyone who has ever been in a bad marriage can attest to that. Absence can, indeed, make the heart grow fonder—and the bond grow stronger if both partners work at nurturing and sustaining that bond. What intimacy is a function of is interest. When your partner doesn’t show an interest in you by speaking to you, about you, and listening to what you have to say, whether that person is your spouse or someone you are dating, it is time to go—whether you’re sleeping in the same bed or living 8,000 miles apart. Sometimes the emotional distance cannot be surmounted. And so, after almost a quarter of a century, my husband and I let go of each other. We agreed, without rancor, to let the distance win.