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Relationships and Community
Oh $deity—I’m turning into my parents. Maybe even my grandparents. I’m sitting here looking at what I’ve written, and realizing that I would have hated everything I’m saying back when I was 16 or 20—and that it might be a good thing, as my parents and grandparents are pretty smart people some times, and all of them managed to go through their lives married to only one person (that’s so far for my parents, but they’ve got over 50 years into the marriage now and are showing no signs of throwing in the towel).
I don’t think long distance relationships are a good idea. There. I’ve said it. I realize that I will probably get email from scads of people telling me about how they found the love of their lives on the net and are suffering through living thousands of miles from each other and I’m being close-minded yadda yadda yadda. I know some LDRs are successful—heck, I know that from first-hand experience. And I still don’t think they’re a good idea, although they seem to be increasingly common, partially due to the internet.
So now I’ll say something that will get even more people ticked at me—I don’t think it’s wise to let any relationship move anywhere near "SO space" without knowing each other very well in the physical world. I have several reasons for my opinion. For one, it’s just too easy to pretend to be someone you aren’t, even over an extended period of time, online. I know many people do it (some of them are my friends) and I simply hope, fervently, that they don’t get hurt. Some of them do it without even realizing they’re doing it—they aren’t malicious at all, but they are trying to be their LDR SO’s dream lover, and that’s much easier when you see each other once a month at most than when you see each other daily or even weekly.
Next reason—there’s a component of physical attraction that is purely physical, and there’s just no way to know if the chemistry will be there no matter how hot the person’s picture is or how marvelous your textual interactions might be. For all you know the person just won’t smell right, or her body language will annoy the heck out of you, or you’ll find his table manners so disgusting that you can’t stand to be in his presence while he’s eating. And if, like most people, your concept of "significant other" includes a physical component, that’s important.
So you’ve gotten all hot and heavy, written love letters, done the phone and/or cybersex thing (come on, admit it), etc.—and now you’re together in the real world at last and there are no sparks. Nada. Zip. The person you’ve just met at the airport does not, in the flesh, make your thing sing. Are you going to say, "Whoops, sorry, this was a mistake, let’s just be friends" or go through some awkward charade or what? If lack of attraction is mutual, and you’re both mature, fairly secure people, you can at least laugh at yourselves together and go on to have a fun visit—but if one person is attracted and the other isn’t, you’ve got a problem. And if one person is convinced that he or she is in love! and the other person is just trying to figure out how quickly he or she can move on to other things—you’ve got a mess. You might well have a nasty scene (I hate those), or even have a lovely recipe for unhealthy obsession.
Let’s be honest here—any significant travel for the sole purpose of meeting someone in the flesh involves some expectation of romantic—most likely sexual—interaction with the person being met. If you accept airline tickets to go see someone you consider "just a friend"—please. Are you truly that out of touch with reality? If you agree to having this "friend" come to see you, and are going to be offended if he or she is imagining scenes from Penthouse letters while you’re expecting deep philosophical conversations—hello? Hey, deep philosophical conversations are marvelous things, but unfortunately we’re living in a society that’s highly sexualized, and even if both of you have stated that there’s no expectation of sex, somebody probably does expect it if he or she has traveled more than 50 miles or spent more than $20 in setting up this meeting. Sad, but true. I speak here from unhappy experience, having had to get very physical about enforcing my non-sexual expectations due to one "just friend’s" rather insistent hopes of getting laid. Looking back, I was beyond naive and well into willful stupidity there. (Note: Even if there was significant travel involved, if the primary purpose of the trip was business or something else besides the two of you meeting in person, you’re much more likely to be able to meet as friends without anybody having other agendas. I’ve done that many times, and things have been peachy keen.)
Okay, so let’s say there is mutual attraction. In fact, you can’t keep your hands off each other. You can’t wait until your next meeting. You’re taking out a second mortgage to pay your long distance bills, you’ve gotten way too adept at one-handed typing (and probably have carpal tunnel syndrome rapidly developing in that hand) and the two of you are racking your brains trying to figure out who is going to move where so you can be together. You’ve discussed the kind of wedding you’ll have, you know what you’ll name your firstborn, and you’ve agreed that there will never be any version of Monet’s Waterlilies hanging anywhere in your home because it’s just too common.
So… what do you know about this gal’s credit rating or retirement plans? How does this guy really treat his mother? Did you have any idea that you’re Mr. Punctual and she’s likely to be late to her own funeral? How can you be sure that whichever of you moves to the other’s hometown won’t ever get resentful over all that he or she has left behind? (If you both move to a third location, it’s perfectly likely that you’ll both get resentful at some point, but at least you’ll be even.) How are you really going to handle the fact that she’s prone to stripping off her dirty work clothes in the entryway each evening when she gets home from work—and leaving them laying there, blocking the door, until you pick them up and take them to the laundry hamper? Will you get terribly pissed off when he borrows your tools to work on his car, then leaves them laying in the driveway to be run over, rained on, or carried off by the dog as a chew toy? How about the fact that she’s never met a cat she didn’t like, but apparently has no sense of smell when it comes to litterboxes—when you know as soon as the cat has used the box and absolutely cannot tolerate the aroma? Or that he apparently has a need to create some sort of psychodrama everywhere he goes, whether it be at church, at a restaurant, or in the middle of a family reunion?
Yeah, most of it seems rather minor, even petty. But those are things that you do learn when you’re in and out of each other’s homes on a daily or weekly basis. They are not things you usually learn if you only see each other once a month, even if you have three phone conversations, a dozen emails, and a non-stop text message conversation every day. And these are things that do matter when you’re talking about any kind of serious relationship that has more to it than bumping fuzzies. And if you aren’t in it for anything but sex—well, you aren’t my intended audience. The rest of you—think about it, please?