I have always heard the saying “distance makes the heart grow fonder”, and it’s what we all want to think. There’s a variation of that saying though, “distance makes the fond heart wander”. And that’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
I accidentally found myself in a long distance relationship with someone 1,200 miles away. We met through one of those dating apps while I was home visiting my family. It was never supposed to be anything more than a one night stand to keep me busy while on vacation. Kinda boring, actually. But we kept in touch and realized that this was a thing. A big thing. The kind of thing that makes you say… things.
Throughout the duration of our relationship, there have been near monthly cross country flights to see one another. Aside from the increasing balance on my credit card, it’s been pretty great. And having such a large distance between us has meant that we’ve had to navigate a lot of tricky issues as they have arisen. You learn a great bit about how to communicate with your partner, when that is literally all that you have. You create rules for your relationship like “we don’t parent each other” and “we always tell each other the hard truths”, because without those rules, there’s no framework for dealing with challenges.
And it has worked out pretty well for us, insofar. But there is one challenge that seems to keep rearing its head. Intimacy. The physical stuff. That part of a relationship that should be easy. We have gone back and forth for months, trying to work around this. We have had many hard conversations about what each of us needs, physically. There have been tears and concessions and explanations.
This is what I have learned: distance makes it easier for the fond heart to “eh”. There is an incredible amount of apathy that comes with there being nearly no physical connection in a relationship. There is this ominous sense of “I don’t have it, so I don’t need it” that looms over you.
Remember that saying “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it”? That’s this. That is exactly what happens with things like your libido. Humans are hard-wired for physical contact. It’s the most primitive form of communication. A high-five or pat on the back expresses approval for a job well done. A slap in the face expresses disgust. And when you really really want to convey love, attraction, and passion— Well. So what happens when those opportunities for that expression only happen a couple of days a month, once a month or so? You’re not using it, so you’re losing it.
And that’s where I am. Sitting in a quiet space, thinking about the struggle for intimacy. Thinking about how this basic, primal need has become something that I’ve kind of almost been able to live without. Being in a relationship where physical contact isn’t a consistent option has decidedly changed the way I approach and accept intimacy. And in taking time to really think about these things, I am quickly realizing just how important it really is.
Being raised in a religious home, it is completely ingrained that in us (especially the girls) that while sex might feel good, it’s really only for making good little Christian babies. The many nuances of a healthy sex life weren’t anything that was taught. And that’s a damn shame. Because this is how it works: The act of sex does so many things. The hormones it releases creates a sense of bond between you and your partner. And if you’re in love, it strengthens that sense of love. Sex is great for alleviating stress, and come on- who isn’t stressed in today’s climate. Not only does it feel a m a z i n g, but you’re also able to give your partner that same amazing feeling.
As a woman, there is this unspoken rule that we don’t express desire. It’s what loose women do; pursuing those carnal desires. Tut! And pair that with my good, Pentecostal upbringing— I was doomed from the start. This is something that I have been learning the hard and humiliating way. In what universe is it okay to shrug off your needs? I know that I would never feel immense hunger, and then not address that, because it doesn’t matter. And sex is no different.
But it is. Sex, in the confines of a healthy, respectful, and loving relationship, is different, because it requires the consent and desire of both partners. And sometimes, it might be that one partner is pursuing it more feverishly than the other, but those roles usually go back in forth in my experience. Right now, I am learning to be more careful in my pursuit. I actively take into consideration the various things that we both have going on in our lives. And oh, boy- There’s a lot.
It takes a fair amount of empathy in general to have any kind of relationship. Romantic relationships are the same. Throw in the distance, and you develop a healthy understanding of how things should work. You learn to ask different questions and you learn to pick up on the things that aren’t being said.
And in this case, I’ve struggled to learn to not internalize the sense of rejection and shame that accompanies a rebuffed advance. I’ve learned to acknowledge and respect the effect that life can have on one’s craving of intimacy.
Do I wish that that deep, unbridled need for physical passion would just die off already? Kind of. But not as much as I wish that my partner were on the same page as I am. If that were the case, I’d hope that I wouldn’t have to spend my nights wondering why I am not adequate enough (which is such a silly thought, but). Wondering what exactly is wrong with me, so that I could fix it.
Because that’s the ugly side of rejection. Rejection makes you look at every word, every glance, every caress, and wonder. When there’s consistent rejection, you second guess every single interaction. And that’s just the internal stuff. And the hope is that your partner doesn’t realize what his/her actions are doing to you. But when the feelings associated with rejection take root in your heart and soul, it becomes hard to assume anything other than the worst.
Distance doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. I hope it doesn’t make the fond heart wander. But I am learning that it does make the fond heart falter. Distance makes it easy to deny you and your partner the opportunity for intimacy. It makes it easy for you to forget the importance of touch. Distance, well it creates more distance.
The trick is how do you reclaim that distance. How do you take ownership of your intimacy. How do you protect your relationship from those enemies within. How do you stop creating more distance. These are statements, not questions. Because I don’t think that there are any neat, simple, and tidy answers. Because nothing that is inherently complex can have a neat, simple, tidy answer.
There are a lot of nuances at play right here, right now. And it can be argued that the issue of physical intimacy is far more complex than either one of us is prepared to address. It can be argued that for right now, until the base issue of distance is addressed and changed, that this is the lot of our relationship. It can even be assumed that the anticipation of “it” is exactly what’s killing “it”. I would be foolish to fail to recognize the role that anticipation plays. That’s exactly how it works. What should come naturally doesn’t because there’s so much build up.
Right now, I’m refusing to go down without a fight. I refuse to not address my concerns and needs, even if that means that I am seen as a woman with questionable morals (hah!). I refuse to lay there hoping that it’ll get better, rather than actively working to make it better. Because at the end of the day, he and I both deserve what’s best. We deserve to hear the hard truths from one another. Because that’s how relationships (should) work. Because I can’t let distance make the fond heart falter.