Honey, I Just Called to Say I Love You
Long distance relationships are not for the faint-hearted.
It began as a regular day in the life of 32-year-old Vrushali Amin (name changed on request). She woke up early in the morning to get her 4-year-old daughter ready for school. After working through the morning, she settled down for a mid-afternoon break, when the door-bell rang.
With child-like innocence and anticipation she ran to the door. When she tore open the envelope that lay in her mail-box, her life was ripped as surely as the envelope she put down.
Instead of airline tickets, which she had been awaiting, she had been served divorce papers in the envelope that came from her husband Sudhanshu Modi (name changed).
The Modi household was in dire financial straits. Modi was administrative assistant at a private company and Amin had given up her job as a pre-school teacher to take care of their young daughter.
After Modi secured his visa for Canada, the couple decided he would go ahead to search for employment and settle in the new country, after which Amin and their daughter would join him.
The dream of a new and exciting life crashed for Amin and her daughter the day Modi sent those divorce papers.
“I was shocked and angry,” recalls Amin.
Her parents tried to investigate what went wrong, but were unable to get answers from Modi. Amin is past caring. “He is dead for me,” she says with a cold stare.
Distance, it is said, makes the heart grow fonder. When two people, deeply in love commit to a life-time of togetherness, distance is not supposed to sever their powerful bond.
But does it? Is sometimes out of sight also out of mind?
Stephen Blake, author of Loving Your LongDistance Relationship, estimates the number at more than 10 million couples worldwide (of which 2.5 to 3 million are in the United States). Some struggle and emerge out of the separations successfully, while others succumb to the immense pressures of loneliness and call it quits.
With careers and financial rewards taking a leap on priority lists of young Indian professionals, love more often than ever before is being trumped by the lures of higher pay, better job opportunities and career advancement.
Most couples in committed relationships see a long distance relationship as a temporary phase in their lives for career or financial goals, which in the long run would enhance their family lives. However, sometimes the pressures of separation can destabilize perfectly strong marriages.
Just ask Ashutosh Pradhan (name altered), who works as a hotel manager in Pune. “My wife and I decided to shift to different cities due to various demands in our respective careers.”
Pradhan’s wife Shimoli Bhatnagar (name altered) worked as a business correspondent with a reputed daily and contemplated a transfer to Pune to keep the family together, but demurred. “I had a promotion due in Bangalore and shifting to Pune would have meant starting from scratch.”
Bhatnagar often feels extremely lonely and insecure. “Ashutosh and I keep fighting about the most insignificant matters on the phone and my insecurity makes him feel I don’t trust him.”
For his part, Pradhan feels slighted when Bhatnagar works 14 hours a day, sometimes late into the night, to justify her promotion and stay afloat in the killer journalism market.
“I get extremely tired of explaining the most inconsequential things to him at times. I feel is this pain worth it?” complains Shimoli.
Pradhan too says he feels “trapped” sometimes and is trying to “come to terms with the situation.”
On their anniversary in January this year, when Bhatnagar received a small diamond ring through an internet mall from Pradhan, she was thrilled. “Suddenly, all the happy times came rushing back in my memory and I cried with pain and happiness.”
The happiness was short-lived, however. “That same night we had a bitter fight on the phone that ended in tears … again!” she says, sadly.
“It’s like a roller-coaster ride of conflicting emotions where one moment you feel safe and the very next moment you feel down again,” sums up Pradhan.
Being around other singles can also mean sharing your burdens with the opposite sex. A person juggling a long distance marriage and a high pressure job, may find respite in soothing words from a colleague or a friend.
“I sometimes feel the need to pour my heart out to someone and try not to get drawn into any extra marital relationships. It’s so easy to slip and fall,” confides Bhatnagar.
“We are trying our best to stay afloat and make this marriage work, though I don’t see much left in our relationship now,” she says with a sigh.
In recent years a slew of self help books targeted at couples like Pradhan and Bhatnagar have sought to provide advice, including Long Distance Relationships: The Complete Guide by Gregory Guldner, The Long Distance Romance Guide by Leslie Karsner and The Long Distance Relationship Guide by Caroline Tiger. The Barnes and Noble Press and Media department did not have sale figures for such books, but a representative said overall sales for relationship improvement books has grown drastically over the last two years.
“What this means is that couples more than ever before are aware that relationships need to be nurtured and given a lot of time. LDR in particular need a lot of patience from both sides,” says Dr. Jason Tuffmann, practicing psychologist and an expert advisor on relationship issues between couples.
He adds, “A LDR after marriage is more dangerous because both partners tend to get used to living around each other and that physical intimacy has already been created. In courtship periods, the couple still hasn’t tasted the bliss of staying under one roof.”
It’s also tricky to be in a long distance relationship during the courting period. Since this is the time when couples bond emotionally and physically, being together is crucial.
Take the case of Ruchika Aggarwal and Sujay Jain (names altered). Aggarwal and Jain were the perfect couple: the gorgeous looking high-school babe and the dashing, rich guy whom girl’s swoon on.
They met in the first year of college and after a whirlwind romance, Jain went to Bangalore for advanced studies. After promises of long love letters and the sweetest of reunions, they bid good-bye.
Enter Shyamal Khanna (name altered), Jain’s high-school friend. After introducing himself as her boyfriend’s buddy, Khanna endeared himself into Aggarwal’s friend circle and gradually won over her heart.
Asked why she broke her promise, Aggarwal responds with well-practiced innocence, “I was too naive to understand what was happening. I couldn’t take the loneliness and needed someone desperately.”
Today Aggarwal says she is “nicely settled” in Los Angeles, Calif., with her husband, who she found through well-meaning family friends.
But not all such relationships flounder. “It’s not necessary to be with each other physically to love each other for life,” insists Shailee Talati, who courted Prerak Badheka for almost four years before being engaged to him early this year.
Talati who is an accounting professional based in Chicago is excited about tying the knot with Badheka, an engineering research fellow based in South Carolina, sometime this year.
She discounts the experiences of couples in the courting period who split up because of a lack of physical intimacy: “Not in our case. We trust each other completely and being emotionally close can feel just as wonderful as being physically close.”
Cell phones provide some respite to lovers in long distance relationship. As Badheka and Talati say in unison, “We sure did make good use of the unlimited nights and free weekend minutes on our cell phones.”
The metamorphosis from friendship to attraction to love occurred long distance for Badheka and Talati and their courtship period was entirely long distance. Badheka says, “We were friends in India and then lost touch for a couple of years. When we got in touch again in the United States, we started out as friends and over a period of four years fell in love and decided to get married.”
She adds with a smile, “I have the most precious and perfect relationship with Prerak and we understand and trust each other completely. Yes, the distance is unnerving at times, but never once have we thought of separating because of such a trivial reason.”
Radhika Mehta and Siddharth Parikh (names altered) were like any other couple in love: moony-eyed and inseparable at parties and social events. After a two year courtship they tied the knot.
Just a year into their marriage Parikh moved to North Carolina from San Antonio, Texas, for a better job opportunity.
He saw it as an opportunity to build a better future for both of them. However, she saw it as an effort to get away from her, because he had tired of her.
As they entered the ruthless world of long distance relationships, they grew more distant from each other, not only physically but also emotionally.
This emotional turmoil shook the very foundation of their relationship. Mehta says, “If it were not for that one meeting at the place were we met for the first time, our marriage would have been long over!”
They had almost called it quits after endless rounds of bickering and quarrels over the phone.
Parikh suggested they meet up, once, for the last time, at the place where he had proposed to Mehta.
Two hours after they met at that emotionally significant place, they were in each other’s arms, crying and comforting each other.
“We were in love again and it felt as if I was on the top of the world,” says Parikh. “We snatched our victory from the jaws of defeat.”
“My LDR taught me the power of emotions and how you can get close to a person who is sitting miles away,” says Tanvi Pota, who recently married Dhwanit Desai, a software professional based in Boston. After their engagement in India, Pota flew to Australia for her MBA studies, while Desai returned to Boston.
They started communicating via email and phone. As they had been brought together through an arranged marriage and had been separated immediately thereafter, they had to develop their bond long distance.
“It was difficult staying apart when we got emotionally close,” confides Pota about their one and a half year long-distance engagement period.
But Desai tells similarly situated couples, “Don’t be disheartened by the pains and frustrations that distance can cause. Follow your heart and if you really love each other and are truly committed-you will make it. Trust me, at the end it’s all worthwhile.”
Pota recalls that during their frustrating and lonely times, they often attempted something special to keep the relationship alive. “Dhwanit is my chill pill,” says Pota.
Ah, the virtues of plain old normal life.