How Being Apart Can Strengthen a Relationship

by Madeleine Somerville Mar 2, 2007

The phone call home

Want to test a relationship? Try traveling apart.

Two weeks into my four month trip to Australia, I was sitting in Mission Beach with some guys at my hostel talking and playing drinking games.

In between rounds were the usual questions about countries of origin and travel plans, where we were from and where we hoped to go. As the game wore on and empty bottles began outnumbering full ones, talk turned to travel sex and with it came the revelation that I hadn’t yet had any.

The men feigned shock and started heckling me (good naturedly, of course). I laughed and threw up my hands, “I can’t!” I cried in defense, “I’ve caught monogamy!”

What I thought was a pretty good excuse drew essentially the same reaction from all of them, “So?”

One even went so far as to claim that three quarters of the women he slept with while traveling had boyfriends back home. They then asked how long I’d been gone, upon hearing my answer, one shook my hand while simultaneously shaking his head “Good luck with that” he said smiling.

Doing Time Without The Ball And Chain

I know I wasn’t alone in that situation. For many people traveling is an exciting opportunity to meet someone new, for others it is the beginning of many long weeks – or months – apart from the one you’ve already found.

And while you’ve already got the easy part of the equation (being the one leaving is always easier than being left behind) it’s still a tricky road to navigate.

First of all, it’s heartbreaking to leave someone.

The airport goodbye with the heart wrenching hugs and kisses, the looks that are the last for months, and the tears are because both of you know it. This kind of chosen absence leaves a different kind of emptiness.

Keeping in touch isn’t the hard part, as internet cafes are plentiful and you probably won’t ever be far from a phone. Calling cards are cheap and there’s always the old standby of a postcard or letter – slow, but a nice touch for the romance and nostalgia of getting something in the mail.

It’s not about infidelity either. Despite what the men in Mission Beach say, if you want to stay faithful, you will. You know what you have to do. You know the lines you’ll have to draw, the tightrope you’ll have to walk.

It’ll mean a lot of saying no and carries with it the potential of awkward situations when you do. It involves listening to another’s accent, as they try to convince you that staying faithful is cheating yourself out of the real experience of the trip.

It means being predictable instead of dramatic, but if you want to do it, you’ll do it.

The Balance Between Loss And Excitement

There will always be that nagging feeling that since you’re on the trip, you should be on the trip, not standing with a sweaty telephone pressed to your ear or typing an email that strikes just the right mix of sounding like you’re having fun but also missing them terribly.

It’s important to miss someone, to reflect on what they contribute to your life and how their absence affects you- good and bad.

It’s also a great way to reconnect with someone especially if you’ve been together a long time (this is why I am a strong believer in the occasional separate vacation).

It’s important to miss someone, to reflect on what they contribute to your life and how their absence affects you- good and bad.

However, you can’t spend your entire trip crying into your filthy hostel pillow or glued to the phone. You have to find the balance between loss and excitement. And that my friends, is the difficult part, striking out on your own while still managing to keep the home fires burning.

To put it plainly, it’s just a matter of doing it.

Choosing to stand outside a bar talking to the one back home, rather than in the bar talking to the ones you’re drinking with. Realizing that the few hours when your time zones overlap and are able to talk, are always the most inconvenient times of the day but making the call anyway.

Occasionally missing out on things where you are, to be part of moments taking place thousands of miles away. And occasionally saying no to someone you love, to say yes to yourself.

Making the sacrifices and the phone calls, writing the emails and making sure that flirting doesn’t go beyond flirting. It’s the same blend of compromise and compassion that makes a relationship work when you’re together.

Madeleine Somerville is a big city girl living in small city British Columbia, where she works as a newpaper columnist. She has travelled to Thailand and Japan and most recently came back from a few months of sun and sand Down Under.

It’s likely many of you have your own stories to tell of love and loss on the road. Please share in the comments!

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