Distance makes perfect strangers

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Whether it’s empty places at the table, family members stuck on the other side of the world, grandchildren that can’t be squeezed, the constant feeling of not-here-ness is like the itch of a missing limb, writes Lisa Scott.

Lisa Scott
Lisa Scott
My first experience of long-distance love was in the weeks after I gave birth to my daughter Sophia.

Born premature, she was rushed straight from the delivery suite to the neonatal intensive care unit.

The next time I saw her, she was waving her mittened fists angrily at the world from inside an incubator - a stroppiness that has stood her in great stead.

There wasn’t a bed for me, so I was sent home, breasts leaking, arms empty. Every day until she was judged to be of a significant enough weight to be discharged, I’d walk to the hospital, backpack filled with bottles of expressed milk, to visit my child.

No surprise that when I finally took her home there was an initial period where we looked at each other a little warily. One flesh, strangers to each other.

Now Sophia lives in Perth with her partner, from where she shares photos of the house they are building. It is due to be finished in May and she’d love her family to come over and see it. We’d love that, too, having not seen her for two years, bar photographs and video calls. The ongoing effects of Covid have set hundreds of thousands, millions, of people yearning and longing - we’re all missing someone. We’ve learnt what it means to feel the pang of absence and how to carry the sad around like a shiny beetle in a matchbox. We’ve discovered that it’s a privilege to have people to love.

Whether it’s empty places at the table, family members stuck on the other side of the world, grandchildren that can’t be squeezed, the constant feeling of not-here-ness is like the itch of a missing limb - these separations show us just how deeply entwined we are.

They say a boyfriend’s not just for Christmas, but mine seems to be just for weekends at the moment. The Casanova lives in Wanaka (I know what you’re thinking but I’ve met some lovely people) and I’m based in Oamaru. We both know the Lindis Pass like the back of our hands. Every weekend has the frenetic pace of people with only two days to live cramming in as much as they can before Armageddon arrives on Monday.

Loving from a distance makes everything sweeter when you do finally see each other: holding hands, going out for breakfast, even mundane tasks take on a domestic-bliss glow. We did laundry for the first time over the Christmas holidays and became giddy with excitement folding sheets together. There’s not the gritty reality of cohabiting, no bleary morning grumpiness (well there is, but you find it endearing), no sinks full of dirty dishes, no petty bickering. You don’t have time for the luxury of both a fight and a sulk, and while one terrible fart might hint at plenty more, you’re not there long enough to find out.

While it sounds like a fabulous way to avoid boredom, long-distance relationships are hard, no couple can survive one for long - a heart emoji is a weak substitute for a hug on a bad day - however, when it comes to this love I would rather have some than none at all, even if we do have to learn each other over again every time we meet.

Wednesdays are when I feel sad, when the not-here-ness is at its peak and the whole thing seems untenable. I’m not quite walking Central Park, singin’ after dark, but I’m definitely sleepin’ all alone and hanging on the phone.

Married girlfriends have displayed a shocking lack of sympathy for the absence in the arrangement. "Lovely tidy house to yourself, weekends filled with adventure and romance... cry me a river," said one. I tried explaining things a bit better. "Oh, he comes to stay, you have fantastic sex, he cooks, fixes anything that’s broken and then goes home again? Are you actually listening to the words coming out of your mouth right now?!"

Oh God, they’re right, I thought. Who was this lovesick woman? I was a stranger to myself.


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