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There Is No “Oui” Without You And I: Defending Long Distance Relationships

I was scurrying out of the Airbnb that I had rented right next to the main square in Belgrade. It was mid November, so it felt bitterly cold, particularly since I had just arrived from the Middle East. What you don’t realize while living in the desert is that every temperature is going to be uncomfortable for the rest of your life: you’re going to sweat like a pregnant nun while in the desert and freeze your willy off once you enter any ecosystem below 20 C. Thus, I looked like a man readying himself for some polar exploration. I was indeed going north, however I was off to Budapest. Equally glamorous in my mind but admittedly less ambitious than the North Pole.

At that moment, I was feeling remarkably daring and ambitious. The day before I had tried to get a direct daytime ticket to Budapest but they were sold out. Instead, I was going to have to catch a bus to the northern Serbian city of Subotica then pray that tickets from there would be available to Budapest. Sure, this doesn’t seem overly complex but despite the amazing amount of traveling I’m always convinced something horrible will always happen. Due to some sort of obsession with having to have everything organized, this appeared rather daring in my mind.

Luckily for my overzealous need to be timely, I got down to the bus station way too prematurely and was an hour early for the bus. I needed to eat so I stepped into the café and managed to get some vegetarian food through using my broken Russian, which is a sort of linguistic cousin to Serbian. I quickly placed on my headphones and put on the newest Jeremih record. The entire album is a rather debauched listen with a lot of soft falsetto whispers telling women the amazing pleasure that he’ll bring them. A man of my modest charisma and looks would never try such shit. The man has to be a pervert or horribly desperate to try those lines out, unless he happens to have millions of social media subscribers. The ladies working at the counter, who had decorated it with Orthodox icons of Christ, would have had some choice words if they knew the perversion I was enjoying in their midst.

Throughout this bombast of sensual pleasure, there was one track that entirely broke from that pattern. The track Oui had that sort of lyrical genius that only a very daft man or poetic genius could manage: “There is no “Oui” without you and I.” It was so elementary and basic in its character. Life ceases to hold that unlimited possibility once that other is gone. All else feels void when apart from that person. What amounts to nothing more than an English grammar pun expresses that emotion that drives us to be our best and worst person. I am a sucker for culture that’s not exactly high minded and it might not be exactly William Blake class but I don’t think you’re going to find wiser words about love in this decade of excess.

I was feeling weirdly amorous but also bittersweet while listening to this song. I had been spending my entire time in Belgrade with a beautiful accountant who was fond of jazz but I knew that it would go nowhere in the long run. I also knew that I’d certainly end up hooking up with a girl in Budapest, as was my habit whenever I traveled alone.

Feeling amiss, I listened to this track over and over while reflecting upon travel and romance. Never at any point in time is it easier to meet people, hook up, and constantly find that boost to your ego. For a while, it is cool and you feel like you’re that person. What the majority learns sooner than later though is that although it’s fun for a short time, it is ultimately empty. The basic foundations that we all assumed from the start were true. Only expressing a mélange of care and honesty to that person/s while committing to being your best person is the only chance for real happiness. This certainly doesn’t apply for all, but a good majority of us will find this to be true.

The natural reaction to all these emotions is a change in lifestyle, to find someone, and give them a chance. But like all simple answers, circumstance manages to problematize that. I am like many others, in that my professional and lifestyle choices mean that I’m rarely in the same place for a sustained period of time. Cultivating any sort of relationship is amazingly difficult when the only commitment that you’ll positively be able to keep up is not losing your passport while on a night out in Ethiopia. That doesn’t imply inherently that you must sleep around and have aimless relationships. If you’re feeling in love and brave then, just maybe, a long distance relationship might be for you.

Placing the words “long distance relationships” in that particular order rarely garners a pleasant reaction. Relationships of the long distance variety are viewed as emotionally taxing, highly prone to collapse, and a horrible investment of the prime years of our lives. Any list of The Ten Solutions To Making A Long Distance Relationship Work are void of any substance and just serve to remind you of the complete absurdity of it all. There is little denying that long distance relationships deserve much more than that. With all these considerations, I’m still not one to discount cuddling the absurd.

The dreadfully wonderful aspect of life is that while traveling there is a probable chance that you’ll meet someone that will change your life. In many ways, love and travel are logical partners. They are both one of the few areas that allow us to feel idealistic about ourselves. The joy that we gather from the places we travel to and the people we fall for deserve our best, and in keeping with that promise we push ourselves to a higher station. More functionally, travel enables us to break from the confinements of life and find people that we don’t simply live close to, but have a substantial connection with. You don’t meet someone traveling that you ‘settle’ with. You meet people you actually adore.

The moment you meet that special person will be nothing less than an abrupt and sudden break from the past, because you made the decision to love. Prior concerns will be reduced to white noise that acted to mask what was the real priority: that one whose ability to make love is disrupted by fits of laughter when revealing how awkward it is to listen to Meu Glorioso São Cristóvão while naked; that one with whom you share a notepad of countries that must be visited by year’s end just to make excuses to see each other; and the one that just smiles when you return to the hotel loaded after watching Spurs lose, saying “it is okay to take advantage of me”, just before drunkenly passing out on the bed because she knows that you’ll sleep more still thus being able to hold you throughout the night.

The calculus that rendered all the monotonous details of your life as just had an extra variable added. Sadly, while traveling, that means there is a very good chance that person is going to be far, far away and you’re going to know that without them the entire logic of life will be warped and unfulfilling. You’ll be in love, and you’ll be fucked.

Once the realization becomes apparent that no emotional wealth is worth going without that person’s presence then you’ll make the painfully discomforting decision to plunge yourself into a long distance relationship. It would be cheap at this point to suggest a long line of tips and ideas to make it easier. It will be nothing less than dreadful. It never gets easy but there are comforts to take. If we understand love to be not just an emotion but a process, then we can see it as an ongoing series of complex interactions involving people who care for one another. Barthes articulates this idea more eloquently in his frequently quoted statement from A Lover’s Discourse,

“Am I in love? –yes, since I am waiting. The other one never waits. Sometimes I want to play the part of the one who doesn’t wait; I try to busy myself elsewhere, to arrive late; but I always lose at this game. Whatever I do, I find myself there, with nothing to do, punctual, even ahead of time. The lover’s fatal identity is precisely this: I am the one who waits.”

That waiting which Barthes speaks about is the anxiety that comes from the lack of any affirmation. In relation to distance, it would seem to just exasperate that anxiety: Is that person with someone else? Will it ever come to an end? However, if we think of waiting in a slightly different way then a certain comfort can come about.

I believe a certain bittersweet joy can come out of a long distance relationship that is distinctively beautiful in a way that a normal relationship is incapable of. You will wait. You will wait for a response for a Whatsapp message. You will wait in airports. You will wait for people to feel like themselves again so that they can make this relationship work. With that waiting, you will certainly pause not to focus on the micro details of a relationship that diminishes the luster of it. You will have the space and ability to focus on the broader issue that this isn’t just someone that lucked their way into your life. You will speak for hours through every medium of conversation that will allow you to appreciate the depths of their personality.

You will have that space to be idealistic about this person and not allow silly shit like who used the last bit of the toothpaste to drag down a relationship. You’ll be reminded periodically that this person doesn’t present a massive crescendo in your life but the one whose existence makes those small moments of life bearable.

Despite the distance and all that pain, you know life becomes far more possible with them. I don’t doubt that eventually you’ll want to live closer together but there is something almost refreshing and compelling about having this space apart with someone you really feel like you have something special with. Take a twisted pleasure in missing that person, knowing that your love hasn’t been made dull by monotony. You will be with them because they’re not just someone who is a convenience but a person that you adore, love, and want to create something special with. So please, don’t just see the negativity of long distance relationships but see them as a chance.

Don’t believe what you’ve heard
‘Faithful’s’ not a bad word
Oh, won’t you save these bachelor kisses now
They’re for your brow
Oh, won’t you save these bachelor kisses now
They’re for your brow