No one plans to get into a long-distance relationship (LDR). It can be intense and sometimes difficult and very often lonely. But sometimes you meet someone whose presence in your life transcends physical distance, who makes you feel connected despite the distance of hundreds or thousands of miles.
The first one happened by accident, of course. I’d gone on my first solo holiday, a yoga retreat in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains outside of Marrakech, followed by a week in the laid-back surf town of Essaouira.
My first impression of Hamza was that he was just so cool. An artist, musician and chef, who looked like the kind of hippy the East London hipsters modelled themselves after. We spent the first day at the beach surfing with a group of new friends. The next day he asked me to go on a date with him and we spent the rest of the week in our own little bubble.
I cried all the way home and a woman on my flight told me not to despair and talked to me about people she knew who started in a similar situation and were still together and in love.
I travelled to Morocco as often as I could, but that meant I could only make short trips, which Hamza complained to me about constantly. When I wasn’t there, I worried about him all the time; was he safe, was he happy, was he taking care of himself properly?
He video-called me a few times a week, so we could see and speak to each other, share news and drink tea and make jokes. I’d stand my phone up in the kitchen so I could talk to him while I cooked dinner, and he’d give me instructions on what seasonings to use.
We visited lots of different cities across Morocco, I’d take whichever flight was cheapest and Hamza would come there to meet me. We wandered in the souks and he’d make sure I got the best price on all the gifts I took home for my friends. We had coffee in pavement cafes and ate our meals on hidden little rooftops and drank mint tea and talked about the Universe.
We were always on holiday, and completely carefree.
Like all good things though, it had a shelf life. Hamza wanted more time with me, and a more settled situation. That would have meant one of us moving countries. We couldn’t live together unmarried in Morocco, and I knew he, who always complained of feeling cold, would have hated London’s chilly grey skies.
I knew also that he wanted to get married and have children, which I didn’t (and don’t). We talked about it and cried together about it and spent our last day together staring and memorising each other’s faces before watching the sunset on a deserted beach, which felt symbolic so I cried again.
For months after our break up, we still called each other regularly. I’d ask him for a recipe, he’d call to show me round his new apartment. It was comforting to know we still thought about and cared for each other.
Communication is the only real thing you can have in a LDR. You can’t hug each other, you can’t wander round a museum together, you can’t drink coffee in bed together, you can’t cook a meal for one another. The only thing you can share with them is regular, open and unflinchingly honest communication. Without that, in the absence of the myriad other ways couples are able to connect with each other in the real world, there is no relationship.
Any time you are able to spend together is finite, so there’s a desperation to squeeze every available second of time out of it. You don’t get a lot of sleep, the small hours are for lying together talking about the meaning of life and holding each other and trying to ingrain the warmth of their body into your memory so you have it to recall when you’re alone again.
It’s important to have something to look forward to, something to hope for. In 2020, with a distance of 10,000 miles between us and a global pandemic raging, that was very difficult to maintain with Daniel.
There was no reason for me to have imagined anything would come of it. I met Daniel late one Friday night in notorious east end pulling spot, The Dolphin. It was supposed to be a one night stand.
He was in town for a few days on his way home to Australia and had a list of three things to do whilst in London: go to The Dolphin (check), visit the Imperial War Museum and have a proper Sunday roast. On Saturday morning he asked me if I’d like to come to the museum with him. I had no other plans and I like the IWM, so I said yes.
We spent the whole of that day and the next together, kissing, giggling, drinking cocktails, swapping stories and having lots of lovely sex. Lots.
When I came back to my flat after he’d gone, it felt much emptier. I felt emptier. I missed him, this person I’d met two days before in one of the seediest (best) bars in Hackney, who took up all the space in my little kitchen and filled my belly with butterflies when he smiled at me.
After a bit of a false start, we got back in touch a few weeks later and from then on we messaged each other constantly. I woke up every morning excited to see what cute memes and voice messages he’d left for me whilst I was asleep and he was in a timezone 8 hours ahead of London.
We did video calls, we watched TV together (Netflix and FaceTime at once, not an easy combination!) Later, when the lockdown eased in Australia, he’d tell me about his weekend trips to “the bush” and about spending time with his family. We talked about when and how we might be together again, and half-made plans to meet on a tropical island.
I suppose it became much harder to hold onto the hope of a reunion when the coronavirus put a stop to international travel for the foreseeable future, or perhaps relationships with other people who were real and who were there, caused our London weekend to fade further from memory.
I don’t know what happened, but suddenly and without warning, he stopped. No sweet morning messages, no memes, no silly instagram posts. I was bereft, but I didn’t know how to talk about it to anyone. It’s hard to explain to an outsider what someone you met six months ago, and knew for two days in the real world, means to you.
That’s the danger of falling for someone and conducting your relationship online. There’s always a risk that the other person can just switch you off. It’s terrifying and it hurts every bit as much as any other break up.
Whatever the circumstances, ending a LDR is in many ways sadder than with other relationships. When the other person is on a different continent, you know you’ll never see them again. It’s so completely final.
Would I recommend LDR as a lifestyle choice? Not unless you’re a masochist. It hurts too much to be separated from your love for months at a time, with their 2D face in your smartphone the only way to see them.
But…if there’s a future to hope for, if you share the same long-term goals and you’re each committed to it (and to each other), it could just work out.