Remembering to talk about the birds

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Just before Doug and the Illusion crew left the boatyard, we discovered Google Talk. Skype had been letting us down, and we’d been relying on WhatsApp messages. While that’s great for speedy interactions and sharing photos*, nothing beats a (free!) voice call, or even better a video call. It didn’t always work, but if he went to just the right spot in the yard, and managed to time it so the lawnmower or some other engine wasn’t running, and nobody was stopping to talk to him, we could just about manage a proper conversation. Yay!

On one of our very few calls, right before I had a total sense of humour failure (about how I couldn’t do my taxes without him and it wasn’t fair that he wasn’t here to help me and other equally useful complaints), I heard birdsong. Not just a bird, but loads of different birds, loud, close to him.

“What’s all that noise?”

“Just the birds”

“What do you mean, just the birds. You didn’t tell me there were birds.”

“Yeah, there are lots. I don’t know what any of them are, but they’re everywhere.”

And I think it was that that prompted the meltdown, not really the taxes! That he’d been there all that time and hadn’t even mentioned all the birdsong he was hearing every day. Not deliberately keeping it a secret, it just didn’t make it into a messaging dialogue. Mostly we’d been using our phone time to catch up on events from our days – there’s only so much typing you can do, so you start to edit your day, depending on what you’re most focused on, most need advice on, or just what you think the other person ought to know.

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That’s the rubbish thing about being in a long-distance relationship.

You forget sometimes that the ‘important’ things, the necessary things, don’t give the whole picture. So you have these big moments and none of the little ones that normally make up a day. You kind of fill in the gaps, imagining what the rest looks like, but there can be a feeling of disconnect when you realize you’ve got it wrong, that there was this whole other thing going on, and you had no idea.

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“There are basically two things to know if you are trying to have a successful long-distance relationship”, said my friend Olga in the bar a couple of weeks ago when I asked her what her top tips would be. “1)Talk all the time, and 2) don’t bother getting jealous.” Funny because they are the same two pieces of advice I would give. Keep talking, even when you’re not in the mood or you’re too busy. Especially when you’re not in the mood or you’re too busy. And don’t doubt that you are in their heart, even when their focus is elsewhere. Especially when their focus is elsewhere. Not that anyone asks for advice, when they’re doing the long-distance thing, because they’re too busy taking photos to send to their loved one or frantically rushing home for a computer date or sitting smiling dreamily at apparently nothing or checking out cheap flights or sobbing into their beer as the clocks change and make things just that little bit harder again….

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It’s a weird thing to be in two time zones, to always have in mind how long you have to wait until it would be an alright moment to message or call. To be keeping on top of two daily routines. It’s strange how you end up leaving parties early to get back to your computer or worse, spend half your own party on Skype, dragging your friends in to say hi to your distant partner (yes, I’ve been  known to do that. Blush. Sorry everyone who came to our General Orgaz parties that year in Madrid).

Doug and I are fairly used to not being in the same country. Most of the first year of our relationship we lived with a nine hour time difference, and the last two Summers I’ve spent a month or so in England while he’s been in Vancouver. But now we are also used to living together: we cycle together, run together, go out for dinner and walks together, hang out with friends together, watch movies together, go to parties together. We do a lot of everything, together. Not in a co-dependent, can’t cope without each other way – but we like each other’s company and life is, on the whole, more fun when we share it.

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When we’re apart it’s kind of fun to remember that I can do all that on my own. And I make myself go out and interact, even though (and this always surprises people) of the two of us, he is the sociable one and mostly I want to hide in the house and read. But the thing I can never get used to when he’s not around is the lack of conversation. When we’re together we spend hours a day talking and sharing and analysing our lives and everything in them.  I often think through my ideas, about my work, about relationships, about politics, about social issues, about other people, by talking with him. So this lack of daily conversation is odd. And it’s about to get odder as they set out to sea with even less internet access. But it’s ok – I feel lucky to have someone who wants to know what I’m doing each day and how I feel, even if I can’t tell him immediately. We’ll do the best we can to keep the conversation going, trying to remember to share the little things, happy that, whether our adventures are shared or separate, there’s always plenty to talk about.

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*Seriously, WhatsApp is amazing for this. These are all pictures I sent Doug using it. Quick, easy, and free (at least for the first year), it’s a great way to feel connected, creating a shared visual record of our months apart.

Are you also a long-distance relationship ‘expert’?! Got any good tips? Would be interested to hear how you make it work….

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