It takes a special kind of crazy for a person to agree to a long distance relationship (LDR). It takes a lot of strength to sustain.
While the pandemic has forced some couples physically apart, it prompted Mela Almonte and Adrian Foehl to move in together in Düsseldorf, Germany, three months ago.
“Two years is a long time to be apart. It was long overdue,” Almonte said.
Throughout their seven-year relationship, the couple would meet up twice or thrice a year for weeklong dates in different parts of the world. They would meet in countries where they both had never been to share the same experience.
But even these rare meet-ups had been upended by the pandemic. While Foehl can move around with safety restrictions in Europe, Almonte was stuck in Singapore.
“But because we were both working from home, we were actually in contact more frequently,” Almonte said.
Tying the knot
At the beginning of the pandemic, they decided to get married. Like the rest of us, they didn’t expect that the pandemic would stretch on for so long. They planned to tie the knot last year, hoping that by then, travel restrictions would have been lifted and family members would be able to fly to their chosen location.
“We had booked a venue and paid the photographers already,” she said. Almonte was already shopping for her wedding dress and choosing flowers. However, logistics and the pandemic forced them to postpone the event.
What they didn’t postpone is them living together. Almonte didn’t stop looking for a job in Germany, where Foehl is based. She got accepted as a producer for a tech company.
When it was time to move, her boss at the advertising firm in Singapore was very supportive.
But Foehl also had to relocate to the city where Almonte found her job. Thankfully, his company allows employees to work wherever they want as long as they are still in Germany. It was also his job to find an apartment where they could live.
They have yet to restart their wedding plans, but everything is finally falling into place.
Foehl and Almonte met at a party in 2012.
“He was related to a high school classmate. He’s German Filipino and he and his family sometimes went to the Philippines for Christmas,” she said. She found him to be very quiet.
They would travel together with her friends to Coron a year later. They would also travel again to Spain with another friend in 2014.
“We became an official couple on the last day of our trip,” she said. The three-year courtship was just a preview of what their relationship would be like.
Almonte said the first two years were tough. Their challenge was to learn how to communicate in that set-up. Their cultural background also came into play. It took time for Foehl to open up to people, which she said was a German thing. However, it caused a lot of miscommunication between the two of them.
Trust was also something they had to work on.
“I was very paranoid in the beginning. But in the end, it’s about commitment. Either you’re all in or don’t do it at all. It’s not easy because you have to face your insecurities. But developing trust in a situation like that is about both of you being consistent in your actions, always keeping your word, and making your partner’s feelings a priority,” she said.
Their communication consisted of phone calls and FaceTime. Almonte said it’s very rare that they don’t talk at least once a day. Thanks to technology, they are also able to send each other gifts on special occasions.
Around the world
They would spend two to three weeks together whenever they met to maximize the cost of plane fare. They’ve been to Italy, Malta, Germany, Austria, Japan, Thailand and around the Philippines. During their relationship, she lived in Manila, Bangkok and Singapore. He lived in Sydney for one semester. They also always got to visit each other when they were living abroad.
“We used to say, ‘We have to live in the same city at some point. Being together on holiday is not real life.’ But when you’re traveling, you can focus on each other. You don’t have to share your partner with work or other people,” she said.
Those trips also allowed her to learn more about Foehl and vice-versa. The stressful situations they faced together on the road led them to discover things about each other.
“In contrast, when living together, you deal with the ordinary—chores, bills, and negotiating who takes their Zoom call in the kitchen when you’re both working from home,” she said. Foehl ends up taking his calls in the kitchen because the area is too cold for Almonte.
Living together presented a different kind of stress. There was a lot of paperwork to deal with, and Almonte had to get on board her new job. But they were still able to turn the furnishing of their apartment into weekend adventures. They would scour flea markets to find items that fit their taste.
“We were just happy to finally be together after such a long time. We got to discover a new city together,” she said.
She said there were no big surprises about each other’s personalities when they moved in. Being constantly on the phone with each other helped them avoid this.
“I guess the difference is now you can’t hang up the phone when you want some space even if it’s just to read a book. Now we have to learn how to communicate that we want a little time apart,” she said. Jokingly she added, “I think Adrian would say he wants a break from speaking English all the time.”
The two are in the state of enjoying their togetherness. They go out on weekends to discover the city, grateful to be next to each other. They don’t run on schedule and they don’t have to worry that their vacation would end soon.
It’s a complete turnaround from what they had before.
“When you’ve had a bad day and you want a hug, it’s not possible. When one of you is sick, the other one’s not there physically to help. If touch is your love language, you won’t get it. You have to show care in other ways,” she said.
Almonte said there are certain things that you learn about what you can or cannot do while in an LDR. She named maturity as the most important quality to have. One can’t be clingy or intrusive on the partner’s time with friends because of insecurity.
“You can’t play the blame game because you had to give up certain things or you’re missing out on certain experiences because of your set-up. You’re the one who chose to be in that relationship,” she said.
This is something that cannot be learned overnight. It was something the couple had to learn the hard way. But over time, they learned how to cope and adjust according to each other’s needs.
But not everyone is cut out to be in an LDR, and Almonte said that it’s okay. What is important is that you have to be honest with yourself if such a set-up is worth investing time and effort in.
“I read somewhere that LDR couples should always have an end goal in sight, which I guess is to finally be together full-time at some point. But sometimes life happens and you have to negotiate and adjust your timeline,” she said.
“I moved to two different countries first before I finally moved to Germany. I also had to choose a career first because it was something I wanted to do for myself. Just do things on your terms. As long as you’re aligned with your plans, you don’t have to feel pressured by other people’s expectations. The only way it can work is if it’s a partnership.”