Long distance love destined to fail
Fitter, Happier ...
This is a scenario common to all people in all walks of life but it is especially poignant for college students. Okay, only repressed college males who love music from REM's middle period.
Anyway, listen in on one side of this telephone conversation between a couple let's call the male "Joey" and the female "Debbie." Joey is enrolled at a big state college and Debbie attends a small, obscure liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest. These two are testing the waters of a long distance relationship they have been suffering for four months.
This is Joey's part: "Hello, Debbie ... What do you mean I sound `different?'... No, I'm fine ... Of course I'm happy to hear from you ... No, really ... Honey, don't ... No, I don't hate you ..." and then five hours and 67 games of free cell later "Aw, I love you too. Call me tomorrow."
Lord, have mercy on the roommates of long distance lovers if for no other reason than for having to overhear such drivel on a nightly basis. There is something unnatural about long distance relationships, but I can't quite unravel the strange mystery oh yeah, the mystery is it's hard to stay intimate with a significant other when there is no physical contact.
Easy one after all. Eventually no matter how much love there is in the long distance relationship each participant becomes nothing more than a disembodied, static-riddled voice on the phone.
Don't get me wrong, some long distance couples have the right characteristics true love or mostly an overwhelming fear of being alone to make it back home. But the odds are not good. I could throw out a made-up statistic about the rate that long distance mates actually succeed but I won't.
Instead I have determined to make a rigorous inquiry into the types of long distance relationships and the various reasons they fail. Not unlike Aristotle, I will attempt to persuade you with a barrage of complex reasoning and with any luck I'll remedy this plague.
What, you ask, is the plague? Why, the plague of long distance recidivism, my friend. In the face of insurmountable failure in the form of dejected roomies, downtrodden friends, hysterical TA's, etc. the long distance lover climbs on. What so diseases the mind, causes this blindness? Why do these masochists continue their mad journey?
Let us begin with high school sweethearts, those gentle and kind loves that fall apart like rickety windmills in the slightest breeze. Commonly, they have been together for a year and a half and they decide to stay together after senior year, the prom, graduation I know you've met these poor fools.
They go to different schools and inevitably one of three main failure scenarios manifests itself: the "I can get the same thing, only right next door, though not literally because we have same-sex dorms" pretext, which is self-explanatory; the "I was so drunk and I cheated on you at a party" pretext, also obvious and the abstract-yet-popular "I need my freedom to explore" pretext.
If something like any of these takes place head to Defcon Four or at minimum prepare for a bloody revolution. These scenarios wipe out most fledgling long distance affairs; the survivors branch out into any number of joyless or tedious cause/effect chains.
For instance the "I am going to hold this guilt over your head until you fall to your knees at my feet" chain or the "I'll blackmail you with nude pictures" routine. There is also the classic "I hate your guts and want to break up with you, but I will make you hate my guts and break up with me" bit.
Of course all of these scenarios are destined to fail also leaving the long distance lover to wait for the unexpected, inevitable morning of the "What the hell am I doing?" self-interrogation and maybe an extra long, pensive shower. Most people learn their lesson after one experience but some remain inflicted for years to come.
Now where, you ask, is the joyous, uplifting "term in quotes" for the long distance couple that makes it through the minefield that is college and settles into a terminal, melting Wagnerian bliss?
I don't know. It's not that I cannot conceive of such an event I just don't trust myself to describe it in words.
So, for those of you who, with Ahab-esque resolve, pursue the white whale of long distance success, I have some prescriptive advice.
Always do what you want to do, never change for the other person. Put yourself in the grimy hands of fate, because you can't force love. Don't sweat too much about giving your boyfriend or girlfriend continuous streaming updates of your feelings about the relationship.
If you develop finger calluses from Instant Messenger, if you get a case of the dread "telephone ear," if you actually use all of your stamps before they raise the price again, you might be communicating too much. Don't ignore the voice in your head unless it's saying naughty things about former first lady Hillary Clinton.
Let things run their course. Most importantly, never take on a job in the dining hall to pay your absurdly high phone bill. You will regret it, even if you do end up with the person for whom you made such a scarring sacrifice.
Please keep in mind that some long distance relationships do work about 1.3 percent, according to the latest poll that I just made up.
Eric Long is a PLS major and his column appears every other Wednesday.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Wednesday, February 28, 2001