In February last year, in the middle of a fast-food restaurant, I spotted a young man engrossed in a conversation with his beloved over Skype. She was just beginning her day, an ocean away in Toronto. He was oblivious to the noise, focused solely on her.
Across them sat a couple around the same age having dinner, engaged not with one another, but with their mobile phones. “Together but apart,” I wrote in an FB post later that evening.
In the morning, I was astounded to see how my post had gone viral. Later that day, the man’s sister, who was in New York, found me on Twitter, and through her, I found him again.
The irony was that he lived just a block from me. And so Ross became my friend, and so did his girlfriend, Carmel.
They had known each other when Carmel was still in Manila. They were raised in the same province, and lived in adjacent towns. But it wasn’t until Carmel took a job as a nurse in Canada that love began to bloom.
By the time I met Ross in March 2016, they had been communicating for two years, and it had been a year and a half since their long-distance love story. It was something for me to witness such devotion. However, in my head, I wondered if it would stand the test of time.
In November 2016, Carmel came home for a two-month vacation in the Philippines. The meeting at the airport was the stuff teleserye are made of— sweet, awkward, full of emotion and kilig. The next month was spent touring the Philippines and getting to know each other better.
I met them both in December, and over dinner, asked them if anything had changed. “Yes,” they replied. “The resolve to stay together and build a future together was made even firmer.”
“The constant and steady communication really helped us,” Ross explained. “When we are online and together, there are no distractions at all, so talagang focused kami sa isa’t-isa,” Carmel shared.
“It’s going to be so much harder after she leaves,” Ross said. “I can’t wait until we can really be together.”
In the middle of January, a week before Carmel was to fly back to Canada, Ross asked her to marry him. “I had no idea, really. He just said to dress up nice because we were going fine dining,” she shared. They were half-way through dinner when the wind blew and the little box he was trying to conceal was exposed. “I pretended not to see, but naku, kumabog-kabog na iyong heart ko! And I could see the frustration in his face, so I pretended not to notice.” Before the night was over, he popped the question, and of course she said yes.
Wedding bells are expected to ring for Ross and Carmel in early 2018.
But how does one thrive and survive in a long-distance relationship (LDR) and see it through to a happy fruition? I asked Mig Baretto Garcia, a young professional based in Switzerland taking his Ph.D., who is now five years into an LDR with his girlfriend Stacy. Here are his pointers for anyone in an LDR.
Have deadlines. Long distance relationships are temporary, and couples should always have that at the back of their minds. I left in 2012 to pursue my Ph.D. abroad. We were barely six months into our relationship back then. But we promised each other that once I’m done, we will find a life together overseas. It was a promise we made to each other, one we want to fulfill. Hopefully by 2018, when I’m done with my studies and she gets deployed overseas for work, we’ll finally embark on our relationship together.
Celebrate milestones. My girlfriend and I like to celebrate monthsaries. Every year, we travel to another country for an adventure. We share passions and hobbies. We mark those moments, something we can look back on or laugh about.
Talk. My girlfriend and I like to talk about anything under the sun. They could be high-level conversations on philosophy, culture or science, or on the most mundane, funny events in everyday life.
My girlfriend is my best friend. For the five years that we’ve been apart, we’ve learned so much more about each other. We talk every day. Fortunately, the six-hour time difference between the Philippines and Switzerland allows us to talk in the evenings back home or in the afternoons in Europe. Even if it’s for an hour or so or in the chat box, every word matters. A lot of couples today, even if they’re physically present, are not really there.
Have concrete schedules. One of the bedrocks of our relationship is our Skype dates, which have a specific schedule that we stick to. Although it can be a bummer when bandwidth slows down, we appreciate the simple joy of physically seeing each other. For the past five years, we’ve never failed to set aside a part of our weekends for each other.
Miss your partner a lot. I miss my girlfriend, and that’s a good thing. I miss her every time I go back to Europe, and I miss her every time I think of her. And that happens every single day. When we say our goodnights or I love yous, it’s always a warm and fuzzy feeling knowing there’s someone on the other side of the world who misses you, too. Longing for her is not a pleasant feeling, but it is a very powerful motivating force.
It comes back full circle to why you should have deadlines, talk, set schedules and celebrate milestones. When you long for someone you love, you never get the feeling that she is gone. The long distance gives you the feeling of longing. It sure has, for me, every day, for the past five years.
Ross and Carmel. Mig and Stacy. Modern-day couples in long-distance romances that prove that love, when it is real, defies the boundaries of space and time. Apart, but very much together in every sense of the word.