In the movies, international love goes something like this…
Girl is travelling to “find herself” (Think Eat Pray Love.) She meets Boy, lost and lonely. There’s a spark, an instant connection and they fall in love – slowly, and then all at once. Its all consuming, wholesome, and turns you green with envy just watching the love blossom between Girl and Boy. There’s some sort of complication – a fight, a brief break-up. But Girl and Boy always end up together. In the same place. Because for movie characters, real life problems don’t really exist. True love is inevitable.
But the reality is much less picture-perfect.
You don’t see the long conversations about where they are going to live, what they are going to do when Girl’s visa expires, or she has to return home to finish her university degree. You don’t see the crying at 1am because they are worried about losing each other to differences in time, circumstance and location. So let me enlighten you.
I’ll start from the very beginning. I’m the Girl – white fluffy snow boots, black leggings, grey sweatshirt, topped off with a pink pom-pom beanie – walking into a bar in a college town around midday with my best friend. We’re swapping stories about last night’s antics and nursing decent hangovers (mimosas are the greatest cure). The friends we are meeting up with are sitting at a table in the corner with two of the guys they work with. I lock eyes with the one in a worn denim jacket. He’s cute, dark hair, brown eyes, a little shorter than me. He holds my gaze, one side of his mouth turning up into a kind of half-smile. Cue cheesy love song.
A few drinks later, we all move on to the next bar where we sit around a table laughing about my Australian accent and drinking American beers, all the while he and I are sneaking glances at one another. The two of us start talking and the next thing I know, we’re doing tequila shots at 4pm. Another hour passes, and we go our seperate ways. I’m left wondering when I will see him again. Little do I know that it will be later that same night, when I run into him at a house party. And again the coming Tuesday. And on Wednesday for Valentine’s Day. And then almost every day until I leave for home.
It kind of just… happened. Casual and carefree at first, and then falling head over heels for one another in a matter of weeks. There were roses, Valentine cards, movie dates, good morning texts, and spending almost every spare moment together. I remember calling my mum and telling her I’d met a boy, so I knew it was serious. By May, I had moved into his new share house with him after my lease ended. But I was going to be returning home at the end of July. (I had already extended my trip after a quick 5 day visit to meet my new nephew during Spring Break.) That meant we only had a little over 2 months left together.
Every time we spoke about how we were going to handle the distance, one of us would change the subject, or brush it off with a quick “Well, we’ll see what happens.” But it wasn’t that easy. It became a burden that grew bigger, darker, heavier, and eventually clouded the perfect bubble we were living in. So we had the talk.
I shared with him my ideals of romanticising the distance: letter writing, sending gifts, and the long-awaited reunion at the airport where I would run into his arms and everything would be okay again. He shared with me his insecurities about long distance, because the last time he was in this situation it ended in heartbreak. I understood his perspective, and deep down I knew it was going to be hard, but I put on my brave and positive face that lasted almost until the time I walked through the gates at Boston Logan International Airport.
Fast-forward to now, just over 2 months since I left. It feels like forever since we were driving down the backroads of town with the top of his little red VW down, his hand resting on my leg and me singing along to the radio. We were the cliche rom-com couple that everyone envied. But we quickly learned the realities of maintaining a relationship from opposite sides of the world.
It all seemed so romantic at first, the letters, roses being delivered, good morning messages and declarations of love. It was almost like starting from the beginning again. But then you go from your bubble back to everyday life, and realise you’re a 24 hour plane ride apart.
The little things start to get to you. You miss waking up next to him, cooking breakfast with him, kissing him goodnight. You start to overthink why he hasn’t written you, and what your friend said about her not being able to maintain a relationship with her ex that lives 2 hours away. You’re used to seeing him everyday and planning last minute camping adventures, not counting down the months, days and hours until his plane lands and planning dates 3 months in advance. Spontaneity is impossible. Everything is overwhelming. And it starts affecting your entire relationship.
Expressing my feelings is something I struggle with at the best of times. Communication is not his strongest point either. So add 10,000 miles and a 14-hour time difference to that equation and you get confusion, tears, anger and frustration. When smallest thing gets taken out of context, we’ve got 9 hours to stew on it before the other person wakes up and we can talk it through instead of clarifying what was said immediately.
So I’ve had to swallow my pride and lay everything on the line. I became Julia Roberts confessing her love to Hugh Grant, wanting to know where they stand, whether she would base her life in Notting Hill or Hollywood. And that’s just the reality. To make this work, one of us is eventually going to have to relocate to the other side of the world. It’s intense and scary knowing your whole world is going to change. But when you find someone that makes you feel more intensely than you’ve ever felt before, you’re going to do whatever it takes.
It all seems a little crazy, and it’s hard to explain to people – even friends and family. But I’ve gotten used to people asking what long distance is like, and what’s going to happen in the future, so I’ve had a lot of time to think about my answer:
Surreal. It’s like living in two different worlds. I have my world there, with him and my American friends. But I’m living in my other world here, on a little farm in a coastal town with my family, friends and menagerie of animals. And my worlds haven’t intersected yet.
As for what’s going to happen in the future? Well, I’m no fortune teller (although my little sister’s tarot card readings have looked pretty promising so far) but I’m hoping that Hollywood does get it right sometimes.
The ending of Notting Hill, is probably the best way to paint a picture of how I want our story to end. Eventually, we’ll find our place. Someone will ask, “How long are you intending to stay here?” And the answer is going to be “Indefinitely.”