I was finishing college when I met my husband, Jason*, a carefree, polite Australian with dreamy blue eyes and shaggy brown hair who was on an extended working holiday. The attraction to his laissez faire personality and quirky accent was arguably a naive American girl’s knee-jerk reaction to a breakup with a controlling and insecure Brit. Yet, it is undeniable that our romance was of Hollywood screenwriting caliber. Set in the picturesque town of St. Andrews, Scotland — ironically at the same time and place where Prince William courted Duchess Catherine — I allowed this delicious Aussie, four years my senior, to sweep me off my feet. We strolled hand-in-hand through ruins on the beaches that lined the North Sea, snuck kisses in-between pints at our favourite pubs on Sunday afternoons, and celebrated my graduation from St. Andrews University in the company of my entire family, who embraced him immediately. I knew he was a keeper when he broke into the Royal and Ancient Golf Club where he worked to show me the grandiose dining room, which had banned women patrons centuries ago.
Nonetheless, reality always finds a way to spoil the fairytale. Soon after graduation, I returned to my parents’ house in Connecticut and Jason returned to his native Australia. While most flings abroad are retired, Jason and I couldn’t shake the feeling that we might be soul mates. We agreed to take a stab at our fledging union and if it didn’t work, we would walk away with dignity and respect knowing that we tried our best. Thus began a journey that far outweighed the rarity of our early beginnings as Jason and B.B. Truly, what was most unforeseen was not the juggling of the typical long-distance relationship, but where this brand of relationship took us and the questions we inevitably had to answer.
Despite the average person’s aversion towards long-distance relationships, managing one isn’t particularly complicated. In an era of online overexposure, most kindergartners can operate email, Skype, iPhones, iPads, texting, and tweeting — meaning even those with the humblest of technological prowess can reach their honey whenever and wherever they desire. If you’re old-school, phone cards aren’t extinct, and if you’re new-school, the imagination can lead into all sorts of naughty hi-tech territory. Likewise, distance isn’t necessarily detrimental if one has a passion for travel. When Jason and I parted, we were separated for nine months until he relocated to Connecticut to be with me. In the meantime, I hoarded my vacation and sick days at my first job and travelled to Australia twice on vacation. Exploring tropical rainforests, feeding kangaroos, and unwinding on beach getaways together was reminiscent of our beginnings in St. Andrews.
Nonetheless, two fantastic holidays did not alleviate the tedium of waiting nine sluggish months to reunite. Although the majority of modern couples experience a long-distance phase (think: the first boyfriend or girlfriend who moved away for college, taking a solo Eat, Pray, Love-esque gap year, or work commitments out of state), it is fair to say that most do not possess the tenacity to see it through. Whether it is relationship ADHD or trust issues exacerbated by the glaring, obvious fact that you aren’t together, long-distance relationships can be doomed to fail from the onset. I don’t care how much one believes in Prince Charming, fate, and other icons of happily ever after; ultimately, a basic requirement for any couple is to be physically together for an extended period of time. Should one overcome this hurdle, the complexity of the relationship encounters a satirical shift from no longer concentrating on the focal point of distance, but rather grappling with a surfeit of transcontinental issues.
For instance, it is tempting to be dazzled by my international marriage, but the most pressing question that remains unanswered is where we will eventually live. Jason spent over three years away from family and friends to live in Connecticut, only for us to uproot our homely existence and return to square one in Australia last year. In a perfect universe, the stars would align and we could afford two houses in both countries and fall into perfect careers that allowed us to split our time between our homelands, favourably trading frigid East Coast winters for sunny Australia like retirees that migrate to Florida. It’s not uncommon for Jason and I to daydream over a bottle of wine about immigrating somewhere completely foreign (Paris, anyone?). Until we learn French, we are destined to play continental hopscotch until we decide where to call home geographically.
Jetsetting between countries is far from glamorous. Rather, it is a myth perpetuated by L.A. supermodels and Brangelina. Lugging my furniture, Jason’s 1965 Ford Mustang, and boxes of wedding presents from Connecticut to Australia via overpriced freight forwarders was not only pricey, but the paperwork was relentless (and I am mega-type A when it comes to paperwork). Don’t even get my started on the process of moving our two rat terriers with us. I still twitch and search for a drink when I hear the words, “quarantine” or “import materials.” If one is content becoming an expat, life should return to normal after the initial move — that is if cultural differences and homesickness are kept at bay. However, if the big move may not be the last, it is hard to make marital decisions that should be routine, such as how to progress in a career, when to purchase a home, and when to have children and where to raise them. I am even hesitant to buy electrical appliances because I am not certain where I will be in three years and an Australian George Forman Grill requires an adapter in the United States. Most importantly, I qualify for dual-citizenship because I am married to an Australian. If you are not the marrying kind, I recommend that you find a highly-qualified immigration lawyer or brace yourself for the visa process from hell, which is super lengthy for every country and masochistic in the sense that it involves much hair-pulling and self-inflicted torture. It is one thing to travel to foreign countries, but a totally different can of worms to live in one.
Lastly, the long-distance relationship checklist should include a box entitled, “Do you actually love each other when you’re together?” I have two friends who were involved in long-distance relationships for years and moved to Australia before I did to pursue The One, only to wind up single six months later. The bottom line is long-distance relationships allow us to romanticize about our partners. We are not present to witness a slew of behaviours or personality traits that don’t agree with us. Your sweetie won’t stop leaving his dirty boxers on the floor or visiting his mom every other day just because you’re finally in town for the long haul. This should not come as a shock horror to any intelligent individual, but often it does.
Before you post a slew comments disagreeing with me, remember I am a product of a successful long-distance love affair and global marriage. I have met countless Australians married to Irish, South African, or Canadian spouses who have made long-distance and the emigrant lifestyle work for them. I despise clichés but I do believe in following your heart and trusting your instinct, even if it’s bipolar like mine and takes you on a world tour. You and your significant other are the only guides on your life adventure, and you must decide what is best for you. Just don’t expect it to be smooth sailing. I would be dishonest if I said that I didn’t miss my childhood friends and family, the endless choices available for the American consumer, and a fat, starchy bagel with cream cheese on a Saturday morning. Jason and I believe that we will return to the United States permanently — we’re just not sure when.
Fairytales can indeed coexist with reality. They are just of a different nature when long-distance is involved.
Image via iStockphoto