As Ellie Taylor approaches the end of the ‘long distance’ bit of her long distance relationship, she shares what she’s learned from living in a different time zone to her partner.
Illustrator: Louise Boulter
Although Ellie wouldn’t recommend long distance relationships, she and her partner have survived theirs
Two and half years ago I was living with my partner in London. We had a nice flat with exposed brickwork. We co-owned some Pyrex. We were happy. Then my boyfriend was offered a job in Russia. Many conversations followed involving phrases like “I can’t live without you!” and “No way in hell!” But that was before we heard a new phrase that trumped all others: “13% income tax”. So in a shining example of economics kicking romance in the balls, it was decided: I would stay in London, and he would go to Moscow.
The initial few weeks apart were, in a weird way, an exciting novelty. Full of soppy phone calls and text messages with stolen song lyrics; “I miss you like a left arm that’s been lost in a war” we’d write to one another – because there’s no image more tender than that of a severed limb.
Yet once the weirdly exciting unfamiliarity wore off, the reality of what lay ahead hit home. Absence. Just plain old boring absence, topped with a chunk of loneliness and healthy squirt of monotony.
Boring things had to be considered. Different time zones had to be factored into when we’d be able to talk. He worked office hours three hours ahead of me; as a standup, I was finishing gigs at 1am his time.
As our schedules became increasingly less entwined, we started to forget to tell each other things. There’d be weird conversations where we’d discover the other was somewhere completely different to where we’d assumed. Sometimes just different cities, but in one instance, my boyfriend had headed to Ukraine, a full-blown different country, and forgot to tell me. We found it funny and I got to make plenty of chicken kiev jokes, but it’s odd when your partner can fly to another nation and it not be on your radar.
Then came the hurdle of him making new friends. Names I didn’t know would crop up in conversations. Female names. Nights out ending at 6am. “You want me to have friends over here don’t you? You wouldn’t want me to sit in every night just missing you, would you?” he asked. I said of course I wouldn’t want that.
I totally wanted that.
Jealousy is hard at the best of times, let alone when your partner is living in Moscow: the epicentre of hot woman and cheap vodka. And so came the arguments. And not just any arguments. Arguments over Skype.
Overall, Skype has been a godsend – seeing each other daily, getting online viewings of his flat, his office, his new potato peeler. It all helps bridge the gap. But Skype adds a new, awful dimension to arguing: you can see yourself doing the arguing. A thumbnail-sized version of yourself gradually turning into The Hulk as you ask who Anushka is and why she appears to be SITTING ON YOUR FACE IN THE PHOTO ON YOUR TIMELINE only for him to say that sitting next to someone at a dinner party is not the same as sitting on someone’s face. “DO NOT BOTHER ME WITH DETAILS!” yells The Hulk before crushing the laptop into a ball and punching a building.
My friends always seem a little disappointed when I talk of Skype in terms of arguing. They’re hoping for tales of steamy late night sessions with bits of anatomy gyrating into webcams when the only kind of internet flesh flashing I’ve done for my boyfriend in our time apart is ending an online chat by waving him goodbye with my bingo wing.
Bringing me neatly on to keeping the spark alive.
Not wanting to blow your mind here, but intimacy requires you to be intimate. Not just in the sexy sexy smooch smooch meaning of the word, but also simply being able to interact with your partner about mundanities, make plans for tomorrow, fall asleep in the same bed with just the faintest hint of your leg grazing his. All these little things add up to your unique brand of togetherness that are hard to recreate when you are 2,000 miles apart. All of which made our real life reunions pretty odd.
Essentially, we’d spend six to eight weeks being sort of best mates who’d chat on the phone and occasionally be a bit smutty, and then suddenly, it would be time to meet up. At this point we had to immediately try and shake off the silly phone versions of ourselves and heave our ‘intimate’ lever on again. A lever that hadn’t been touched (stop it) for months, and yet suddenly it was time. It was like an alarm. You have 72 hours together in the same country. HEAVE THE LEVER. BE INTIMATE NOW. BE INTIMATE WITH THE LEVER NOW.
It was overwhelming. The first time we met up after his initial move, we’d not seen each other for two months. I was bricking it.
His knock at the hotel door triggered butterflies worthy of an unfamiliar first date, not a weekend with a man with whom I’d shared my wildest dreams and a roll-on deodorant.
When I eventually opened the door I didn’t know whether to jump his bones or shake his hand. I settled on a kiss followed by lots of looking at him and saying, ”That is your face!”
The pressure on the time that you do spend together when you are in a long distance relationship is massive. The pressure of trying not to be disappointed if the first thing he says to you when meet up is not “My God! I had forgotten the true majesty of your beauty!” but rather “Are they still serving room service? I could murder a pizza.” The pressure to cram in two months of missed love, touch, smell, laughter and also stock-up for the inevitable two month drought that lies ahead.
It gets easier the more often you do it. Our readjustment is quicker now. It still takes a day or two to get back into the swing of being a ‘we’ as opposed to an ‘I’, but it’s less pressured.
Of course it’s not all awful. There are many benefits to living apart. You don’t have to share your bed. You hardly ever have to wax things. It’s like all the best bits of being single and being in a relationship combined into one, except you get neither the thrill of casual sex nor the joy of telling your beloved that their morning breath smells like bin.
Two-and-a-half-years later, we’re still at it and doing pretty bloody well. He’s still in Moscow and I’m still in London, but the end is in sight as he’ll be back in the UK by autumn.
The relief of thinking that we are nearing the end is vast. Would I recommend doing long distance? Absolutely not. Has it harmed our relationship? Absolutely not. It’s made us more determined and certain that the future we both want is one where we are in each others lives daily. So when he finally flies home, and ‘home’ means London, my goodness we will have a lot to celebrate. I may even treat him to some bingo wing waving in person.
Ellie is a stand-up comic, actor, writer and presenter. She’s also a fan of Nutella and naps.