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Absence Couldn’t Make This Heart Grow Fonder

My eyes are still a little red and puffy a whole 16 hours later. My head is aching and I am pretty sure that making it through my last class today will require at least 37 chocolate-covered espresso beans. It sounds so cliché, but it actually hurts to breathe right now. I want to be in bed with the covers over my head listening to a melodramatic Jewel song. I want Ben and Jerry to stop by my apartment with a pint of their renowned Half-Baked concoction.

Last night I broke up with my boyfriend.

To make matters even worse, it was a six-month long distance relationship that ended last night for me. Talk about an emotional meltdown. It was actually the longest amount of time that I’ve ever liked someone. And I really did like him.

It’s always unpleasant to think back and try to figure out why, when and how things went wrong in a relationship. Most people cite closure as the goal for all of their painful musings. Normally though, the contemplations are based purely out of a desperation to blame someone or something other than ourselves for the break-up. I know where and when it started for me – that moment when I realized that the long distance relationship I was in couldn’t possibly work out.

The moment happened around the fifth month of the romance. I was facing a school crisis: a senior thesis. I couldn’t imagine just writing about any old thing for 20 pages, so I chose something that I had a vested interest in. The title of my paper read: Communication Differences and Challenges Associated with Long Distance Relationships. I figured that if there was any topic in the world I wouldn’t mind knowing more about, it was this one.

Part of my research led me to an interview with Dr. Tom Terrell, the director of my university’s counseling program. As I sat on the couch in his office, smelling the sweet smell of the pipe he was smoking, I started to cry. There I was, trying to conduct a professional interview, and my falling tears were smearing every word I was trying to record. Everything that he was saying made so much sense to me at that moment. That moment certainly changed everything.

Dr. Terrell said that long distance relationships that last are “the exception rather than the norm.” He said that individuals in long distance relationships need to learn to “be wanty, but not needy.” He said that the hardest thing about long distance relationships might be that, “You not only need to see the words, you need to see the eyes.”

I need to see eyes, I thought, I really need to see his eyes.

That realization was the moment for me. It was the moment that I knew things would never be the same. The next few weeks seemed like a blur. It wasn’t just the fact that I missed him terribly. It wasn’t that I was acting like a baby about the situation. In fact, it may have been the first time in my dating history that I was actually thinking maturely and realistically.

I was feeling like he was good for me, but not best for me. I was feeling like he was supportive, but not enthusiastic. I was feeling selfish, but like I had every right to be. I was feeling like I was the only one who could ultimately decide on the matter, but the last one in the world who wanted to.

It kind of felt like the thoughts in my head were coming and going at the rate songs do when the radio is on scan. There were so many different feelings, but I couldn’t focus on one long enough to figure out any sort of resolution.

After days of debate and thousands of tears, I finally organized all of my emotions and judgments into three categories.

1. My perception could very well not be reality.

It was great the way my boyfriend and I met (at a friend’s wedding). Our phone conversations at the end of each day were peaceful reminders that it was true – that someone really did care about my day, my new haircut or the next trip my family was taking – that someone cared about me.

But the alarming truth was that I really didn’t KNOW him. We never had more than a few days at a time to spend together, and those brief periods were sans real life (work, school, stress, etc.). Unlike most couples in long distance relationships, we had never lived in the same city, or even the same time zone! We weren’t trying to maintain a relationship; we were trying to build one.

So occasionally I thought that we would get along great if I moved to Atlanta to be with him or if he moved to New Orleans to be with me, but the reality is that not even that was a certainty.

2. Everything new is exciting … at least for a while.

Continuing my thesis research led me to this realization.

I read in one journal article that between 25% and 40% of all romantic relationships among college students are long distance ones.

I found solace in a classmate. Erin was also in a long distance relationship, and a new one at that. She was in the stage of enthusiasm where her eyes sparkled at the mention of Oklahoma (that’s where her boyfriend was). She couldn’t understand my frustration with my reality because it wasn’t yet hers. “Just call him”, she’d tell me when she could see I was irritated with the situation. “I just know that things will work out.”

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Obviously, things just didn’t work out. I’ve realized that the enthusiasm associated with a new relationship situation can’t last forever, and that it’s not always strong enough to fight against tough circumstances and decisions.

3. My mom’s advice has never steered me wrong.

My Internet-savvy mother loves to read. Since I don’t live at home, I get to read all the things that she loves to read thanks to the amazing technological advance we refer to as e-mail. One day she sent me a quote by Comte de Bussy-Rabutin that read, “Absence is to love as wind is to fire; it extinguishes the small and enkindles the great.”

And I knew. I knew that my mom had too much time on her hands, and I knew that I didn’t have a healthy relationship on mine. I knew that much more character had to be formed in my life before I was ready to consider moving closer to him, much less moving closer to marriage. I knew that my mom was right. She didn’t force her feelings on me, but her forward that day did remind me that she is one of those few people who will always be there to offer advice, or at least a really honest quote.

So we broke up. And I know that tonight he won’t call at 9 when the cell phone minutes become free, and a part of me so wishes that he would. It’s hard.

Then there’s that voice that gently reminds me that this is not the end of the world. It reminds me that there is a promise of someone else, and even now, that someone is somewhere waiting for me. So it’s not too hard. My heart will certainly heal and my life, along with my cell phone bill, will soon return to their pre-relationship normality. But I am left wiser, and the lessons I’ve learned will be appreciated forever.

[Monique Michel is currently addicted to peanut butter and was eating it when she wrote this article. She hopes that her home state of Louisiana will soon be known for something other than Britney Spears.]

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