What Makes Love Work: Distance?

Sometimes, I like to interrogate random pairs of strangers about their love lives.

This is because I, of course, find it completely fascinating–and kind of miraculous–that two people ever successfully function in a relationship.

I mean, two people who are mutually attracted to one another physically, have things to talk about, share similar values and are both seeking companionship at the same time? I’m sorry, but it seems pretty incredible to me that such a thing ever happens.

And when it happens with real, evident success–aka passion–I am that much more amazed.

Which I was by two people sitting at a table to my immediate right at a local bar here in Albuquerque a couple of months ago. They were middle-aged, moderately, ruddily attractive, and unbelievably smitten with one another. Their hands were intertwined, their footsy game threatened to knock down both our tables, they were smiling and giddy about seemingly nothing besides the mere fact of being together.

And they seemed friendly.

“How long have you guys been together?” I asked.

It turns out that not everyone, even those who are amiable and smitten, likes to be probed by strange young women without any preface. They looked at each other and then at me with expressions that seemed to say “what did we do to give this idiot girl the right to get personal?” (To which I might have responded, “nearly collapsing my table with your lovesick feet.”)

But I didn’t have to. After humoring my question with answers that ranged from “ten years” to “two weeks” (the truth appeared to lie somewhere in between), they warmed up.

And eventually, after a good forty minutes or so of delicate questioning, the male half of the couple announced that he was going to let me in on their secret.

“Okay, I’ll tell you what it is,” he declared, causing me to lean in and be filled with the sudden hope that I too might someday find love. “Monday through Friday.”

While his companion smirked, nodded and continued stroking his open-faced palm, I looked at both of them, perplexed.

“We’re only allowed to spend the night together on the weekends,” he explained. “During the week, we can go out, but I’ve gotta take her home.”

He then went on to describe, with varying degrees of appropriateness, enthusiasm and tact, the amount of excitement that he accumulates throughout the workweek about spending nights with his lady friend on Saturdays and Sundays. Let’s just say: it’s a lot.

I’d been waiting for an excuse to blog about them since, and came upon it yesterday in the form of Oprah magazine. (They have it at the gym, okay? And there is actually some good writing). The issue contained a series of profiles of (successfully) married couples and how they make things work.

For one couple, the answer was living separately. Not because they have to–not because work or family requires that they be geographically apart. They simply live in different houses because they like their independence and trust one another enough to lead lives that are basically separate but overlap when they want.

Which, as someone who grew up with parents who do basically everything together and who idealizes the notion of a long-distance relationship, is highly intriguing.

Living apart from someone you’re committed to for life is pretty extreme–not to mention impractical if and when kids enter the picture. And personally, I think that I do prefer partnership to be regular and intimate and occur throughout the week.

But I understand the appeal, and the function, of limiting contact. I mean, I don’t think that truism about wanting what you can’t have goes away as soon as you get settled, and if enforcing distance is what it takes to maintain desire, why the hell not.

The level of intimacy I truly want and need in a relationship is something I’m still wrestling with: in theory, I like the notion of doing my own thing and having a good amount of space–even when that means a couple states’ worth. But my behavior in past relationships indicates otherwise: that in practice, I actually want something more like the kind of close, constant intensity that my parents have.

I’m guessing, and hoping, that the answer lies somewhere in between.

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2 Comments

Filed under Love Life

2 responses to “What Makes Love Work: Distance?

  1. davkow

    I was at a book reading last night in a cafe in Seattle sitting right next to a a couple that were very affectionate. I thought back to this blog post and was super tempted to start asking them questions! (They looked super happy… so into each other…). But I held back and didn’t say anything.

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