Long-distance love stories: ‘Being apart has allowed us to flourish’
Does absence really make the heart grow fonder? Readers share their stories
Lilla and Marcelo: ‘I didn’t know he was 6,000 miles from me when we started chatting online.’
Does absence really make the heart grow fonder? Or do time differences, Skype calls, and weeks or months without seeing one another in person eventually take their toll?
Ahead of Valentine’s Day we asked readers living far away from their lovers, or have been through a long-distance relationship in the past, to share their stories. Below is a selection of the ones we received.
Liz Weir: ‘I had never held this man’s hand and yet I felt I had known him all my life’
As an Irish storyteller I often receive requests to meet foreign journalists to talk about the folklore of the Glens of Antrim. Some of those meetings have been excruciatingly boring. But when I spotted German travel writer Winfried Dulisch outside my local pub in Cushendall, I felt an immediate attraction. The interview that followed was over dinner and contained none of the usual clichéd questions.
“Are you a witch?” he asked
“No, but I believe in magic,” I replied.
That was the start of it. After that initial meeting, which ended in a handshake, there followed a six-month exchange of emails that would make a good novel. We both use words for a living so the communication was stimulating and never boring. He was quirky and unlike any Irish man I had ever met. We both knew where it was headed.
Two days before my 60th birthday I found myself standing at Dublin Airport arrivals wondering what in the name of God I was doing. I had never even held this man’s hand and yet I felt as if I had known him all my life. It was a risk, but one worth taking. There was no turning back.
Since then we have met in Ireland, England, Scotland, Austria, Monaco, Germany, the Netherlands, Colorado, California and Arizona. It’s a truly intercontinental relationship given the nomadic nature of both our jobs.
It’s not easy being apart for weeks at a time. There have been many ups and downs with bouts of depression and frustration. It is expensive with all the travelling. The coupling and un-coupling can be very tough on the emotions, almost beginning again on every visit, and yet knowing we’ll part again soon. From email we moved on to Skype which can be extremely annoying when the conversation drops mid-sentence. So near and yet so very far.
Challenges include cultural differences. We have tried Christmas in both Ireland and Germany, with me preferring my Christmas Day turkey with all the trimmings and Winfried favouring his quiet Christmas Eve with cold meat. I have that famous Irish indirectness, while he is startlingly forthright in his opinions which I find very German.
But we can celebrate New Year’s Eve together in Northern Ireland, because he loves the silence. In Germany he must be afraid of fireworks and thunder. We share a love of music, and it’s a joy to see how our traditional musicians in the Glens welcome him into sessions where he sings and plays the blues.
It’s almost seven years since we met. It’s a long way between Bremen and Ballymena but as the proverb says “Giorraíonn beirt bother” (Two shorten the road).
Thayna Desmond: ‘We had to be rational instead of romantic’
I left Brazil very young, and while living in America I had a dream about Ireland. That’s what brought me to the Emerald Isle. I followed my instincts and I loved this country, and its perfect location which allowed me to discover Europe easily. I then met Gav, my Cork man. It felt like we had known each other forever.
He was teaching English and decided to do a H-dip to work in a secondary school. But when he finished the course there was not enough space in the market to absorb all the new graduates. Many rejection letters later, we found out he had to fulfil required teaching hours otherwise his diploma would become obsolete. There was no time to waste and the UK was the only viable option. Just a week later, he had secured a job that could give him experience and new skills. I had to let him go.
A newly qualified teacher’s salary isn’t enough to support two people, and I have a good job in Dublin. We had to be rational instead of romantic.
Now, we have dinner, watch movies, rant, laugh and sometimes cry together over video chat. We meet once every two or three weeks, and that day is always exciting, like a vacation. We have a ritual and we message each other constantly: I know he landed, I know he took the bus, I know he’s almost on the corner and I can open the window to scream when I see him arriving.
The positive side of a long-distance relationship is having more time to meet people, study more, focus on fitness or meditation. You definitely learn more about yourself and about what makes you truly happy. It has made our relationship stronger.
I know at some point I’ll have to follow him, if teaching is the career he wants to have. The UK, Canada, Australia, Emirates; wherever it may be, at least we’ll be whole again.
Elsie Bulchalter: ‘It began with a swipe to the right’
It began with a swipe to the right, as it often does these days. There’s no shame in a bit of Tindering for the single fortysomething, as long as you’re not married, your picture matches, and you haven’t loped off too many years. I liked his profile because it was a whole lot of nonsense, which I later found out was written to ensure he wasn’t propositioned by an algorithm. His opening gambit was a song, one I hadn’t heard in an age, a song I used to love.
So began a conversation in fits and starts; he sent music and I would respond. The first words he wrote were “Brussels or Dublin?” I had thought he lived somewhere down the country. My five-mile radius location must have malfunctioned, and he slipped through the net.
We threw sentences at each other, and phrases and shorthand and loose punctuation, until I couldn’t bear it any longer and sent him a string of numbers. The next day my heart was pounding, palm clammy, phone buzzing: “Hello….?”
Next thing he’s coming to Dublin. He has a room booked in a central hotel. All I know about this man is how he plays with language. It’s not even his native tongue and I am hooked. I’m 15 years old again, blushing, stuttering, can’t eat… I am suffering “yearns”’ and sighing aloud.
The girlfriends advise. “You’re mad!” warns one, “Anything could happen! He could be a mass murderer or a serial killer.” Another takes the opposite stance, “You’d be mad not to. Anything could happen…. Sure you only live once.” I have a get-away clause all worked out. Codes will be sent to various people at various times to ensure safety throughout the meeting.
Six weeks forward from the initial swipe I walk up the hotel steps, through the lobby to the bar where I spot him at the far end, sitting at a small round table for two. I’m feeling equal measures of terror and excitement. He stands up. I plant a kiss on each of his cheeks by way of an introduction, and two weeks later I find myself travelling to Brussels.
Lilla Bozso: ‘I didn’t know he was 6,000 miles from me when we started chatting online’
I didn’t know Marcelo was nearly 6,000 miles from me when I started chatting with him online. When he told me he lives in the most dangerous and exciting cities in the world, it was too late. I was into him.
Rio de Janeiro. That is where he is from. Being a U2 fan for years he decided to target Ireland to practice English with a potential online friend. It was obvious we would never meet. He did not even have a passport. I have never been to South America.
But we couldn’t stop talking. Despite all the negativity from other people, warnings to be careful and asking if he was real, and his mom wondering if I might be a man, we did not care.
His hobbies and his personality fascinated me. I knew from the start, no one is like him. So I invited him to Ireland. It took him two months to get a passport but he came to visit me in September and we spent an adventurous month together travelling to Cork, Wexford, Glendalough and Bono’s house. It was a dream come true for both of us.
His departure was painful. I felt lonely and empty and miserable, not knowing when we would meet again. I didn’t want to travel alone to South America… until it got too much and I did. I’m just back from the most amazing trip of my life. I was in Rio! With sunshine, beaches, exciting fruits, friendly people, and a loving family waiting for me.
After spending two weeks in Brazil, I am back to reality, to the winter and the loneliness, and no plan again. We will make sacrifice after sacrifice, but we see the light at the end of the road, and an eventual end to loving at a distance.
Rosemary McGuinness: ‘One thousand seven hundred and twenty two days of long-distance love’
We met as I was planning to leave London to go back to Ireland. Sarah knew that from the start and the reason behind it. Selling my flat took longer than I thought which gave us more time. Our long distance relationship took off, and lasted last three and a half years.
“How did you sleep? What did you dream about? What are you wearing today?” Skype was a virtual presence as we worked. “I’m having a coffee now … do you fancy one?” And before bed more talking and last thing night texts. Those last lingering texts that got shorter and shorter in character terms. X.
We were seven hours apart door to door, from North London to the southwest corner of Fermanagh. Every other weekend, one of us Easyjetted or Ryanaired to the other. Not a single day of the one thousand seven hundred and twenty two days of our long-distance love passed without being in touch, or us knowing exactly where and what the other was doing. The worst times were the in-between Friday nights, coming home to your pick of love-notes from under the pillow, sustained by the memories of the last weekend and anticipating the next.
We both worked in education and fortnightly visits were supplemented with mid-term breaks and long holidays. I had hoped to entice her to Ireland but she wasn’t ready to leave London. At the end of the three and a half years apart, my reason for returning to Ireland had passed away. So I moved back to London, into her arms and house. After six months we opened a joint bank account, pooled our resources and bought our first home together.
Our friends from Ireland came to our London wedding in 2011 and Sarah gave birth to our daughter a year later. The following year we moved west to South Wales. Her country. We are geographically nearer Ireland but it’s now a 12-hour journey, door to door, from Raglan to Belcoo by car. Travelling light is no longer an option. We have a long distance relationship with Ireland now, but with Facebook’s help and frequent visits we both work hard at it.
Maedbh King: ‘Being apart has allowed us to flourish’
“You can do this. You are crazy but you can do this”. I have recited these words to myself time and time again with every takeoff from the tarmac at Dublin airport.
Since September 2015 I have been living in Canada, studying a postgraduate degree in neuroscience, while my partner of seven years has been finishing his architecture degree in Dublin. Our relationship over the past year and a half has been a mishmash of hurried visits, pixelated Skype conversations, and incalculable messages spelling out “I miss you”.
I bear the responsibility for this seismic shift but we both share the burden of a long-distance relationship. We have missed endless shared pots of tea, long cycles, and lazy Sunday mornings. Every visit home is punctuated with periods of self-doubt: “Why am I doing this again?” and “Is this going to be worth it?” Every return trip (“home”) to Canada is underlined by the stark reality of a single bed, cooking-for-one, and time zones that differ by five hours.
My move to Canada was a (some may say selfish) decision driven by career ambition. But from the time I first braced the idea with him until today, his support has been steadfast. He has visited me twice, and shared my single bed for two weeks, as well as voluntarily getting his brain scanned for my research study.
While it has been challenging, we don’t regret it. Being apart has allowed us to flourish, to take on more responsibilities, and most importantly, to become comfortable with being alone. We have thrown ourselves into our studies, put in long hours at the office (me) and the studio (him), and we are now ready to reap the rewards. This August, I will move to the Bay area in California to pursue a PhD; this time, he will come with me.
Christina Prendergast: ‘We found it difficult to connect on an emotional level’
I know his voice so well, but it always sounds so different online. The warmth is always missing, distorted by a series of dips in the connection that to the average internet user, go completely unnoticed.
Even though modern technology claims to keep us all connected, the robotic tone that mimics that of your loved one is an unwelcome reminder you are not in their physical presence. Their voice is merely being carried by a series of waves, over an internet connection that more often than not - delivers their voice to you in nonsensical stutters. Talking to someone you love shouldn’t be a frustrating process, but on more than one occasion, I remember just hanging up on him.
A Swedish-speaking Finn, he was working in Finland while I was finishing my degree in Ireland. We’d met while he was on Erasmus and even though he’d stayed in Ireland for a while, ultimately it made more sense for him to be working in Finland and for me to join him later.
For us, living apart meant discussing our mutual hatred for Skype and bad internet connections more often than things of actual importance. We found it difficult to connect on an emotional level, with differing time zones often making that much-needed “goodnight” or “good morning” exchange impossible.
Now we’re finally together full-time, we appreciate those simple exchanges all the more.
John McCaul Jnr: ‘We have spent most time in our native countries since our engagement’
My fiancée Ashlyn and I met at a house party in 2013 while we were both at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. A whirlwind romance followed and I proposed to her in Washington DC the following June, at the reflecting pool on the National Mall as the sun set, before I left the States to return to Newry in Co Down.
We have spent most time in our native countries since our engagement three years ago. I have been to the US three times while Ashlyn has come to Ireland twice. We spent a week in Iceland this Christmas to welcome in the New Year together. We use the Facebook Messenger app all the time, and keep relationship scrapbooks which keep us sane when things get challenging (which will also come in handy if immigration authorities ever need evidence of our romance).
For all my fellow LDR transatlantic comrades, my main advice would be: have a voice call once a day at a time that suits both of you, surprise each other occasionally, and set short-term goals in addition to the main long-term one of a lasting future together.
Padraig Ó Cosgora: ‘I’ve fallen asleep plenty of times during our late video chats’
Marie and I met while she was over in Dublin from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania for a “semester abroad” in UCD. We met in October and she was back in America for Christmas. We were both smitten at that stage so we kept things going.
We’ve been together now for 17 months, and in that time we’ve managed to squeeze in travels to nine countries and seven US states.
The main challenge is definitely the time difference. I’m a night owl anyway so it is bearable, but I’ve fallen asleep plenty of times on camera during our late video chats. We talk regularly throughout the day on SnapChat and WhatsApp.
For anyone else trying to make long-distance work, my advice would be: Always make time for one another; keep things interesting and change the conversation daily, by asking lots of questions one day, play games online the next; send surprise gifts; and always have the next meet up on the horizon.
When we first started dating, she lived on UCD’s campus and I lived in Clontarf. She may now be a transatlantic flight away from me, but those two buses or the Dart to UCD seemed like a hell of a trek at the time. Little did I know what was in store.
I spent five weeks in America last summer and she returned to Ireland for two weeks this winter. I plan on visiting the States again this summer. For Valentine’s Day, we’ve both sent gifts and letters. We’ll video chat and open them then. What more could you ask for?