Many years ago, in another life, long before the Queen, I met a woman during a business conference. She was blessed with black hair and hazel eyes that would bring a good man to his knees. Introduced through a mutual colleague, we got to know each other between breakout sessions and cocktail hours.
We stayed in touch and what started as two professional thirty something’s enjoying time as schedules permitted grew into a 300-mile long-distance relationship. Ignited by those first days in Memphis, our relationship was now fueled on long phone calls and short weekend visits. From the beginning, things felt right. Divorced only six months, I already had a few failed ‘relationships’ in my rearview mirror, but this one, I believed, was different. She always said – and I always did – the right things. We were made for each other, and both knew something more than coincidence had happened.
Everything seemed perfect when together. The conversation easy, the passion intense. I believed no one understood me like she did. We started getting intentional, calendaring more weekends around my time with the kids to keep things less complicated and not interrupt nights out. During the few times they did meet, my three and one-year-old were perfect angels. I took this as a Providential blessing to keep going.
When those weekends ended, and it was time to go back home it felt as if our hearts were being pulled from our chests. But we were convinced the stars had aligned and were pointing us towards a more heavenly future. Finally, as if on queue, and full of bliss and butterflies, it was decided I would move her here. Something this good should not be states apart, and we needed more of each other than every couple of weekends. With no children, she agreed. We would cut a five-hour commute to five minutes, and our lives could finally begin, in person and in the same time zone.
She found herself a new job and her own one-bedroom apartment a half mile up the street. And in less than two months, single again. No sooner was the last box been unpacked than our ‘relationship’ was irrevocably over.
I was reminded of this sad chapter of my life while reading an email from a follower.
I am dating a man that I love very deeply and think the world of. I’ve never loved anyone as much and have been through a fair number of relationships short and long-term. We’ve been struggling for a few months and have been together only 7 months. He lives 3 hours away and works a completely on call work schedule, all of which make it difficult to have time together or to have meaningful conversations.
What I learned in the aftermath of that relationship catastrophe and what I’m afraid this reader will soon find out the longer she continues down this path is that long distance ‘love’ is more often than not like a mirage – we see things that mostly aren’t there.
Ask any couple whose been together for long enough and they will tell you that relationships come with peaks and valleys. Times when things are its best, and the couple is their finest selves. Other times when they and the situations around them seem at their very worst. Yet it’s those down times, when we feel we’ve reached our limits, that test the mettle of a relationship. When things are at bottom, the stress is nearly unbearable, confidence is nowhere to be found, and worry is predictable as morning traffic, that a couple earns their stripes, develops callouses, and learns valuable lessons. It’s also when they build up the strength, stamina, and character needed for the long haul.
Those first days, the phone calls and weekends that followed were all spent on that summit. We were always at our very best, hiding whatever may have been going on behind the curtain until we got off the phone or back on the plane for home. For a weekend I could set aside work problems or financial anxiety, and be the charming, outgoing, and attentive guy I wanted her to believe me to be. As the relationship got deeper, we started talking about what a future together might look like. The heat from that excitement blinded us even more to reality and like a mirage, we saw things in each other that simply weren’t there.
It should be little surprise then that soon after she arrived so did the problems. That new life we hoped for started to get in the way. All the great things we thought the other possessed began fading as our eyes were opened to what we’d ignored or tried to hide during those weekends together. We started to see just how little we resembled what we’d made the other out to be.
I began to notice how inflexible she actually was, how the slightest inconvenience or change of plans sent her orbital. This gave her a front row seat to my condescending sarcasm and cutting tone. She quickly grew annoyed at the way parenting routinely interferes with other less kid-friendly plans. She became irritated they were with me more than it first seemed. I started to resent she would even consider them an issue.
Seeing each other every few weekends didn’t allow time for fighting or disagreement. It’s hard to be upset or unforgiving with someone you haven’t seen in weeks and know that in a few days you won’t see them for several weeks more. But no sooner had the movers left than we started arguing about anything and everything.
Immediately after she arrived, I became highly allergic to her cat. I considered this a different sign and a perfect excuse not to make the five-minute drive over to her place. We began spending less time together, making excuses, too busy, working late, having something at the kids’ school. Days would go by without seeing each other. The thing we most wanted was now turning sour, and I wished she might go back to the way she was before or where she was before. Or maybe away altogether.
Years later, after growing up a bit and a after thorough relationship post-mortem, I finally came to realize something I wish I’d known back then, and what I hope this reader will understand now. She and I never really knew each other. I only knew about her from what she wanted to show me during those weekends together. I always saw her best self because it was all spent at the peak. Without time spent in the valley we never really got to know the other person. Instead, what she and I gave each other were merely illusions, PhotoShoped reflections of who we really were. Bright glimmers in small moments. Because of this, our ‘relationship’, which we thought was on a strong foundation, was little more than a house of cards that collapsed at the first breeze of reality.
She remained in town until her lease ended. She quit her job and moved back to where she lived when this all started. I never spoke to her again and regret uprooting her for something – and someone – that never actually existed. I only hope that she can forgive and that she learned as much from the whole mess as I did.
Relationships can only be built upon a foundation of truth and transparency. They are strengthened in the crucible of real living, a place we can’t always see rainbows and butterflies. We must get down into the valley to really understand a person. Only then can we know them, all of them – the good and the bad. Because a relationship spent only at the summit will invariably lead us to mistaken love for what is more often just a mirage.