I always said that I would never have a long distance relationship, yet there I was crying my eyes out at an airport for the third time in 6 months after having spent 5 glorious weeks with my wonderful partner.
We met in Madrid in September last year. I had just come out of a relationship and was decidedly NOT looking for another. We talked about our plans for the following year; Yoann was moving to Thailand in March, and I already had my ticket to Honduras booked. Yoann says he loved how independent I seemed, and I couldn’t get enough of his dark sense of humour and incredible emotional honesty. I could tell from the second or third date that he was a sweetheart, and we became an item on October 14th 2012.
The first time he left was awful. On March 3rd, 5 months or so into our relationship, he packed his bags and went to Thailand. He had his return flight booked for 90 days after his departure (because of visa requirements) but he was interviewing for jobs as a French teacher and was committed to making a life for himself there. We didn’t know when we would be able to see each other face to face again, but I was fully prepared to visit him during the summer holidays, to test the water and see if I could be happy living there too. However, as I place importance on being able to speak the local language in the country you live in, I would generally like to live in countries where world lingua francas are spoken (like Spanish and Mandarin Chinese) as I would be more motivated to learn them. I would love to visit Thailand, but I wasn’t sure if living there was right for me. I assumed that learning Thai would be a lot trickier than learning Spanish and French, and I didn’t want to live in a country where I wasn’t at least in the process of learning the local lingo.
In the end, he decided not to take any of the jobs he was offered, reasoning that he wanted to be with me and that returning to work his regular summer job (as a manager for a language learning camp for adolescents) was a better option than working in a remote village in Thailand. After 3 months apart we saw each other for 7 blissful days in May (in Madrid) before he went off again (to work in Ireland). I was upset at the airport, but this time was different because we knew exactly when we were going to see each other again, which made all the difference.
2 months later, I arrived in France to spend 5 weeks with Yoann in his parents’ house in Brittany, and now I’m off on my 5 month trip, which consists of:
2 months in Milwaukee
1.5 months in Honduras
3 weeks in Costa Rica
1 week in San Francisco
1 week in Wales
In the weeks leading up to leaving France, I was dreading the goodbye at the airport. You count the days, and then the hours, then the minutes that you have left together, and then you are desperate for one more kiss, one last touch of their skin. It’s horrific. I’ve done it 3 times now and although it doesn’t get any easier, you do get to know “what to expect”, like how you will feel terrible on the actual day that you leave so it is much better to pack and do errands at leisure the week before your departure date so you have more free time to say goodbye “properly” to your partner.
Previously, it had been Yoann leaving me, but this time it was the other way around. It was a terrible feeling to be leaving him, but I knew that I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I hadn’t gone through with this trip that I had had planned for so long. I’m not sure if I’m a feminist, but I do believe that it is important for both parties in a romantic relationship to have their own lives and dreams which are separate from their partner’s. I think it’s healthy that your partner is not “your life”, but a bonus, like the icing on the top of a cake.
There are a lot of benefits to travelling solo. It teaches me about myself, and to listen to what I want and need. My relationship with myself is the most important one for me; it colours how I feel about every other thing (both big and small) that happens in my life. Also, having this kind of relationship with a partner has helped me to learn how to let go and live in the present, enjoying the moment, instead of getting caught up in “planning” future events, which is often just worrying in disguise. Our plans have changed many times, but our objective (to be together in a place where we can both thrive) is the same.
By the time that Yoann and I see each other again in February 2014, we will have been in a monogamous relationship for 16 months, 10 of those spent as a “long distance” couple, and 8 of those months will have been spent on different continents. I recently read an excellent book on polyamory and open relationships called the “Ethical Slut”, which has opened my eyes to what I really want. Although I’ve decided that polyamory is not for me, I considered the ethos of the book to be “love yourself before you love others”, and I can really get on board with that.
I want to use this time away from everyone and everything that I know to focus on my relationship with myself, and work out what my are my aspirations (based on my core values). It’s something that I want to do before I move in with my partner, before I enter the dangerous phase where “I” becomes “we”. I want us to be a solid partnership, and I think that my personal development is an important element to that. Hopefully this experience will make our relationship (which is long term and serious) stronger, giving us the time and space to both work out who we are as individuals. If what we have together is strong enough to survive this separation, then surely it’s strong enough to survive anything!