Tag Archives: love

Long-Distance Love Can Work

We met under the most unlikely of circumstances: in front of the food tent at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, introduced by mutual friends. Dan was from the Philly area, but I was living in Ithaca, NY, and scheduled to relocate to Ohio within two weeks. Unlikely as it may seem, we fell in love.

Not right away, you understand. It took us at least the two weeks that intervened before I moved. I invited Dan to a house party in Ithaca. He drove all the way there to see me despite having spent only the long weekend of the Festival with me. At the party we were inseparable. By the time I left for Ohio, we were in love.

No one figured that we had a chance to make it work. Long-distance relationships never succeed, especially those that start with such a brief acquaintance. But no one had considered the stubbornness of either him or me.

At first, things went about as you’d expect. I rented a four-room apartment in a small house in Ohio and Dan continued to live with his parents and work at a nearby hospital. We resolved to keep in touch.

This was in the days before texting, IMs, and the Internet existed, so we kept in touch via actual physical letters. In those letters we opened up to each other, getting to know each other’s most personal feelings the way we never could have just by dating. I typed my letters on my brand-new portable electric typewriter. Dan wrote his longhand in the breakroom at his job. Since he worked third shift, his letters often became long, funny, surrealistic, stream-of-consciousness rambles created in the wee hours of the morning. There’s nothing like stream-of-consciousness for getting inside someone’s head and learning all about him.

Neither one of us had much money for phone calls or visits, but we managed to work in some of each. And in the February after our August meeting, I was startled to receive flowers, the first Valentine’s Day bouquet that anyone had ever sent me. I took a Polaroid picture of them, which I still have.

As the months went on and our letters became more infused with growing love, we began to talk about the possibility of actually living in the same state. I went back to college and settled in to wait. I figured Dan would eventually get tired of living with his parents and make the move.

And so he did, arriving in an orange Pontiac Ventura with a U-Haul trailer of his belongings. He found a small apartment just down the street and around the corner from mine, and we began getting to know each other in person and seriously planning our lives together. At last he proposed and I said yes.

It wasn’t all smooth and steady, of course. We were both young and had problems we hadn’t worked out. Some of mine involved the bad relationship I was in when we met. Some of his involved his family, who didn’t want to see their son settle so far from the family home as his brother had. Both of us had emotional baggage that seemed as though it might drive us apart.

That’s where the stubbornness came in. After all the time apart, the soul-baring letters, and then the luxury of living within walking distance of each other, we were determined to make this relationship work. We worked on our problems, separately and together, until we achieved liveable compromises with our pasts.

Now, 35+ years later, we are still together. Not that we have been solidly joined and happy the entire time. I remember at least once when I called around looking for an apartment that would take a woman with two cats. He once worked on a budget to see if he could live on just his own salary. We fought. We sought counseling. We made it through.

I can’t advise that anyone begin a long-distance relationship. More often than not, they don’t work. But when they do, it’s magical.

Valentine’s Day. Bleah.

I have very few happy memories associated with Valentine’s Day. The only one I can think of offhand is the one when my long-distance boyfriend actually sent me flowers. I took a Polaroid picture of them and married him. (Not directly because of that, but it sure helped.)

I would post the picture of the flowers, but scanning a Polaroid from a hundred or so years ago seldom produces anything but a colorful blob. I suppose I could pass it off as a scanned Polaroid of an Impressionist painting.

But I digress. (I do that a lot.)

Valentine’s Day came to my attention, as it does to most of us, in grade school, where it was shown to be a meaningless exercise. I do not think that making “mailboxes” out of brown paper lunch bags had any actual educational value. And, after the teachers figured out that letting the kids decide whom to give valentines to was a way of separating winners from losers, valentines for every classmate became mandatory. The only technique left to express your true feelings was to decide which valentines you thought were the crappiest and give them to the people you liked least. So perhaps it was an exercise in passive-aggressive behavior, which is an important thing to know and recognize.

Then there were homemade valentines, usually reserved for relatives. These did teach me an important lesson. I would make my paper heart, ask my mother how to spell “valentine,” sign my name, seal the envelope, and continue on to the next. (Lather. Rinse. Repeat.) After about the fifth round of this game, my mother suggested that I write all my cards before I sealed them up, thus having a model for the spelling of “valentine.” It seemed to work.

But again, I digress.

The funny thing (to me) about Valentine’s Day, other than the commercials that equate romantic love with nearly anything you can purchase, is that it reverses the usual ways holidays come to be.

For many (or most) holidays, pagan peoples had a series of holidays celebrating natural events – planting, harvest, astronomical events – and important concepts – fertility, remembering ancestors – throughout the year. The Christian churches did not like to encourage pagan celebrations, but they couldn’t actually say, “Don’t celebrate.” Back then that was about the only fun to be had.

So the various churches took the various pagan holidays and grafted Christian meanings onto them, the most notable being Christmas. I’m not knocking Christmas or saying you shouldn’t believe in it or shouldn’t spend gobs of money on presents. But certain related pagan customs have survived. The Christmas tree was a Druid practice, for example.

(Other graftings did not take as well, so now we have fertility symbols including bunnies and eggs somehow associated with the birth of the Savior.)

However, Valentine’s Day is exactly the opposite sort of holiday. It started out religious and has been so altered that the connection is nearly invisible. St. Valentine was a Christian. He never gave flowers or chocolates or diamonds to anyone. This post that’s been floating around the Internet puts it nicely:

Valentine

(Image from Ethika Politika)

No, what Valentine did was send encouraging notes to other Christians and sign them “Your Valentine” while awaiting execution.

Kind of sucks the romance out of the whole thing, doesn’t it?

I do, however, celebrate Feb. 15, Discount Chocolate Day.

P.S. Don’t get me started on what happens when the government tries to mess with holidays.