The idiom goes “absence makes the heart grow fonder” and according to my late mother the next line is” but presence makes the love grow stronger”. Another nugget of received wisdom that appears to contradict itself, but does it? To begin with is fondness and love on equal footing? With two of our GUC (Grown Up Children No. 5 and 6) in stable long distance relationships it makes me wonder.
There’s no doubt that being apart forces the mind to rely on memory to remember the absent other and in that way ease the pain of separation. The Nanci Griffith song tells us that “love in a memory never grows old” and the reason for that is largely because memory, despite what we might like to think, is both selective and subjective. Who, when suffering the absence of a loved one, wants to recall the things about them that irritate you or every time you quarreled. Nobody wants to drag up the times they let you down or even stood you up. We inevitably focus on their positive points and the good times we had. All of which is of course perfectly natural and can’t but help make the heart grow fonder.
On the other hand human beings place much more value on experience than on any other kind of knowledge or received wisdom. Aristotle told us “what we need to learn we learn by doing”. A real relationship is about learning to understand our other half and accept them for who they are, therefore a partner’s absence on a frequent basis is by its very nature the absence of experience. What presence offers us is an opportunity to understand and know our significant other – as much as any person can truly know another. It affords us the opportunity to ‘negotiate’ our relationship by being in it on a day-to-day basis and to understand where the parameters of that relationship lie. Not to mention an extremely important element of every relationship, romantic or otherwise – companionship.
Approximately 3 million people in the US are in stable long distance relationships and this has given rise to the awful term ‘commuter marriages’. Marriage, and by that I mean a long-term committed relationship and not a legal contract, is meant to be the redevelopment of two lives into a single life shared by two people. Call me old fashioned (you wouldn’t be the first) but I find that hard to imagine in a ‘commuter marriage’.
Having said all of that some people can maintain a great relationship over a vast distance and some would even credit the time apart as the secret to their success. I suppose in reality the human race didn’t become the dominant species without a huge capacity to adapt to the environment and thrive, but survival isn’t the same as living. I’ve tried a long distance relationship and it simply wasn’t working. The real crux of the matter is that this kind of relationship eventually means one or the other person has to make the sacrifice and relocate and that’s a serious commitment with serious consequences.
On the other hand Shakespeare did tell us “parting is such sweet sorrow”, but is it really sweet or just plain sad? That’s a conversation for another time I suppose.What do you think?