This summer, while I was crying about a boy, figuratively of course, my flatmate said, “Koh, you should write a book about relationships.” I laughed, because I’m pretty sure nobody who watches American romantic comedies or who thinks Valentine’s Day is a valid holiday would want my relationship musings. (And isn’t that the main relationships-blog readership?) But with the big buy-me-things-for-love posters going up in the flower shop, I’ve gotta join the masses of relationship bloggers, because flowers make a terrible Band-Aid, you might as well know now. There’s always a new blog post out by someone in the gaga-glitter-rainbows phase of a new relationship, telling readers (i.e. their grandma and new significant other; demographics are a bitch) all the wow-shiny-new things they’re learning about being in a relationship now that they’re actually in one. It’s earth-shattering stuff. And I’m like, yeah, no duh, Sherlock. You just figured out “people are complex” and “nobody’s perfect”? Name five flaws you can actually perceive about your significant other. Right now. Just five. Five. Well, this is another blog post like that. Kinda. Sorta. There are fewer emoticons, and more cussing. (Here’s my disclaimer. I hate it when people try to tell me all relationships are the same, so please, I invite you to consume this with salt.)
I for one have learned a lot about relationships by not being in them, or by being in and out of very short ones, or by having poorly defined casual ones, or by watching other people’s fall apart. And I am sheepishly humbled to the finish on this hardwood cafe floor to say that yes, I too, am already learning about relationships by being in this–specifically long-distance–relationship. (Seriously, sheepish. It took me thirty minutes to write that intro.) I was just joking with friends, that because my significant other and I live in different states, he probably doesn’t exist. And I just go to Powell’s and buy myself books, saying “This one is mine. This one is from ‘Boyfriend.’ Hehehe.” While sometimes I do envy friends whose significant others live nearby, I’m learning a few things about relationships in general that proximity blurred in the past. Get ready. My first “chapter” in the Koh’s Book about Relationships (a.k.a. WTF Am I Doing? and Other Questions You Ask about Love).
Open communication is everything. I mean open OPEN communication. Especially when you live far away, words are all you have, so use them and be careful with them. I don’t mean you are entitled to know everything your partner does. That’s just weird, guys. So are surprise interrogations, like, “You were out with attractive people last night? Tell me all about it, but if you admit that they are attractive, I will interrogate further. P.S. No attractive friends for you, Glenn Coco.” I do mean I’ve learned that if something doesn’t work, it’s best to say, “This doesn’t work for me,” or “I have anxiety about this.” And if something does work, affirmation lets a good thing you’ve got going keep going. This requires creating a space where honesty is a safe thing. I know that’s probably a common sense area, but it’s hard, friends, especially in a culture of mistrust and jealousy. I told a friend the other day that I was hit on pretty unabashedly by an older man on my lunch break. She said, “Your boyfriend probably won’t want to hear all those stories. Keep that one to yourself.” Too late, I thought, already told him. And I told him about the cute barista who totally flirted with me in McMinnville last week, so there. It’s scary to tell people things they might not want to hear and maybe more scary to be openly affectionate. It’s also scary to be on the listening end. But we don’t get to edit our partners. Nope. In my case–a pairing of writers–we already have editors: writing groups, colleagues, our own inner-critic. It’s too late to edit our life stories. And what would be the point of that? The truth always finds its way out, whether or not that’s in words. When you say, “You made out with three people at one party? What’s the story here?” you better be ready for the story. ‘Cause it’s a good one.
We don’t own anybody. I’ll say it again: we don’t own anybody. “My man” isn’t really “my man,” unless we want to reinstate slavery or something. Which would be disgusting, so let’s not. (And please don’t call him that.) In any relationship, people do things for each other and are accountable to each other, so it’s super easy to assume that someone is putty in your hands and therefore yours to command. What a dumb idea. I have to stop myself from expecting certain “girlfriend privileges,” because–come closer; I have a secret–those privileges are not actually mine to expect, nor do I have any right to demand them. Clearly stated boundaries are important, but those are catered to us and what we need to feel secure and well loved. The kindnesses and loyalties, I think, hold more power when they are given in a space of freedom rather than obligation, just like cat hugs. (You guys, I miss my cat, okay?)
I like doing my own thing. Even when I have free evenings, I don’t have free evenings. I make stuff, like dresses and brownies, or dinner with the bffs. And my days off often look like today: errands, coffee, writing time, and phone/skype dates with my friends. The geographical space in a long-distance relationship imposes the metaphysical space it’s all too easy to omit in local relationships–really important space I need to grow and develop with the particular skills and opportunities I have right here, right now. And I like it. I like it a lot.
Time is precious. Doing my own thing sometimes includes getting to spend time with that cool guy I like. On the phone or in the same state. And when I do, that time is precious, just like having my solo time is precious. And this is protected time, much like the time I set aside with my other friends. I admit that I have trivialized time or been bad at protecting it in the past. A person I was dating could, like, just show up. That time became unintentional, sometimes smothering and overwhelming. And it doesn’t have to be that way.
Don’t neglect your other friends. Seriously, that is the dumbest, douchiest move ever. Ever. Ever. Your friends love you. They’re the ones who let you talk for hours, ad nauseam, about how you weren’t sure if you’re ready for a relationship, but this one’s really special, blah blah blah. They will encourage you and cheer you on with your special someone, because, get this, your friends want you to be happy. They are also there for you in everyday situations, like doing your taxes or cleaning out your garage. They have invested time into your life, and only an asshole would turn their back on that, even temporarily, for a good lay (or the love of your life). Anyone who thinks they get to smoosh your friendships can say hello to the curb. Was that harsh? Good.
I’m learning we don’t and shouldn’t get to take anything for granted, is what I’m saying. Even when we live nearby, we don’t have an on-demand hug dispensary. We can’t expect one person to fulfill or singlehandedly change us into a better, more complete person. We can’t expect them to know us, to anticipate our issues, if we don’t communicate them. Being consumed or owned by a relationship doesn’t close the cracks, physical or metaphysical; it only pretends to pull the pieces together. The truth is, those spaces and silences matter. The sometimes-seemlingly-daunting gaps between us matter.