I’ve had a long-distance friendship with Christine, who lives in London, for close to 50 years. I learned how to stay in close touch before texting and emails and Skype existed and when long-distance phone calls cost a fortune. I learned to appreciate how short but intense visits, living in each other’s homes and traveling together could create an intimacy that no amount of shared dinners can equal. I understand the emotional connection forged by sharing the little, everyday moments. This bond can withstand both time and distance.
Now I have the same kind of long-distance relationship with my daughter, Sarah, who lives in LA. Like with Christine, our relationship is one of the extremes – extreme distance punctuated by periods of intense togetherness. For most of the year, we communicate via text and phone. Then, for periods of ten days to three weeks, we live together and spend all our time together. My daughter and I have learned to enjoy different types of sharing and appreciate our own combination of relationship modalities.
Thanks to modern technology, Sarah and I can share the major and minor events of the day with both words and photos. I can tell her if a dress she’s trying on looks good and she can help me decide which outfit to wear tonight. We text our reactions to TV shows we both watch and I can also give her hourly reports when her sister-in-law was having surgery.
My daughter hates the phone so we don’t talk that often, but once we’re on the phone, we have long, rambling conversations hopping from one topic to another. To me, it’s almost as good as sitting together with a cup of tea.
Then she comes to visit. She’d been going to UCLA for the past two years to get a certification in Interior Design, so she’s been able to come east at least twice a year for two to three weeks at a time between semesters. What a joy! We are together 24/7 and do everything together. She comes to the supermarket with me and I take her dress shopping. We watch TV, play with the dogs, visit with friends and family, hang out with Tom, play gin and double solitaire and laugh a lot.
Sarah loves to tackle major projects when she’s home, like the hoard of photos and papers that were sitting in boxes in the attic. Now everything is organized and labeled in plastic, mouse-proof containers. That project took two visits to complete. This holiday season, her project was to create 14 photomontages (on a special photoshop program) representing different phases of our family history from my grandparents’ youths to the present. She had to go through all my photo albums and search through all the photos I have on the computer. Then she had to see which photo-combinations worked well together in the montage. The result is amazing!
There is something about this kind of mundane sharing that creates and/or reinforces strong bonds. In fact, I probably spend more hours a year physically with my daughter in LA than with my son who lives one and a half hours away. This is similar to the difference I see between my local and my long-distance friends. The intense time I spent with Christine, in our homes and traveling together, with and without our children through the years, forged a strong and different kind of bond than the ones I have with my local friends.
With local friends, we go to dinner and hang out at each other’s homes, but we never share the day to day details of life. We never wake up and see each other before coffee and brushing teeth and hair. We don’t see each other’s daily routines. It’s like the difference between dating someone and living with them. NOTE: My local friends have changed over the years, with people moving in and out of my life regularly. But my friend in Germany has been in my life for 35 years, one friend in London for 35 years and the other for 50. I do have US friends for that long, but it’s a small percentage.
So I’ve learned to accept and appreciate different kinds of relationships. I would definitely prefer to have my daughter live closer so I could see her more frequently. But I can also see the benefit of our intense periods of togetherness. I know we can maintain our incredible closeness over time this way, so I can be grateful for that. This is the silver lining of our cross country existence.
Sarah, Tom and I have planned a trip to London in April of 2020 and we’ll be staying with Christine for five days. It’ll be like old times! I’ll get to live with my long-distance friend and my long-distance daughter at the same time. I can’t wait!