Monday, June 22, 2015

Here With Me (or, An Excuse to Trot Out Some Wedding Photos)

One of the books I read during our amazing beach vacation last week was The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber. There were many, many reasons I loved this book--the serious treatment of Christian belief in a literary setting, the whole concept of religious proselyting on an alien planet, the writing, I could go on--but the aspect of this book that stirred me the most, and will probably stay with me the longest, are the letters between a husband and wife physically divided by thousands of light-years.

Yes, this book may primarily be a genre-crossing literary Christian Sic-Fi novel, but at its core this book was really about the relationship between this preacher/missionary husband and the wife he left back home. It was the anatomy of a marriage undergoing the stress of physical separation.

My husband and I celebrated our seven year anniversary this past Saturday, so marriage has been on my mind recently. Specifically, what makes a marriage last.

We were such babies. Such young, young babies.

My husband and I had been dating seriously for a semester before we faced an eight month separation. After finals, I jetted off for a summer study abroad in Paris, and before I returned my then-boyfriend Nathan left for his semester of solo travel around the world/tutoring gig in Africa. Eight months of separation was a long time, and we discussed how we wanted to handle it before the semester ended. Should we just break up? Be allowed to date other people? Or say that we were still dating and try to keep the relationship up?

Nathan voted for keeping our relationship open, letting me be available to date other people, and then see where things stood when he returned the following year. At that point, however, I was pretty head-over-heels for this kid, and I was bound and determined to keep our relationship afloat with a serious letter writing campaign. Not only did I write and pre-date nearly twenty hand-written letters for him to take with him and open weekly on his trip around the world, but I also set aside time daily to write a lengthy email epistle. Over the summer, Nathan returned my daily emails (as well as phone calls when we could), but during his time in Africa he only had access to the internet about once a week, so the ratio was one letter of his for every seven of mine.

All of that history is to say that while reading this book last week, I had serious flashbacks to that time in our relationship when physically we were miles and miles apart, and the only thing connecting us was the words on a screen.

I'm convinced Michel Faber has experienced a long distance relationship himself, because some of those letters between the husband and wife were so real, so true. Honestly I felt like Faber had gone back and read some of my email archives because there were so many moments when I was like, HOLY COW I REMEMBER FEELING THAT EXACT EMOTION HOW DID HE KNOW!!!!! Granted, we weren't married at the time, and I certainly wasn't facing the apocalyptic crash of civilization while my husband was stuck on an alien planet (like the wife in the book), but reading the book, and reflecting on my own relationship, left me contemplating the nature of long-distance relationships.

Is physical proximity necessary to keep a relationship afloat? To keep two people connected?

The book itself leaves some doubt to the answer of that question, but in my own case, obviously, things worked out. Nathan returned and less than a month later we were engaged. In many ways the separation actually helped to develop and deepen our relationship, because apparently I express myself much better in writing than I do in person (and crucially, Nathan himself is a very thoughtful letter-writer as well). So our relationship was able to develop throughout the separation and be at an even stronger place when we were finally together again. And obviously, couples all over the world survive and thrive during long periods of physical separation (think of all those army wives).

That being said, separation is HARD. I would NEVER NEVER NEVER want to go through a separation that long again. I can handle the occasional week-long business trip, but I would make a miserable army wife.

Why is that? Why is physical proximity so beneficial, and in most cases crucial, for healthy relationships?

Is that a stupid question?

All I'm saying is that I'm terribly, terribly grateful that since our wedding, there have been very few nights that I've spent away from my husband. Even on those busy days when he comes home in time to scarf some dinner down just to disappear into the bedroom to work for the rest of the night, having him physically home is a million times better than having him stay at the office. We don't have to be doing anything together, just being under the same roof makes all the difference. Just being able to kiss him goodnight before going to bed is enough to satisfy me on those busy days. I just want him physically near.

It's been a wonderful, amazing, fantastic seven years with him by my side. Here's to many more years together, physically and metaphorically.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this post! (We've talked about doing this book for my book club, but I've been hesitant about it . . .sci-fi isn't my favorite genre.) My husband and I also went through a period of separation when we were dating. It wasn't as long as yours--just four months. I went home for the summer, and he stayed at school. It was before either of us had cell phones, and so we used calling cards when we wanted to call each other (aren't we ancient?!). We really didn't want to rack up the money with phone calls, so we limited ourselves to two a week. The rest of our communication was done solely through letters and emails.

    In retrospect, I'm SO glad we didn't have the option of calling every day. Those letters are treasures! Several years later, Mike printed all of them and had them bound (four large volumes worth!). Plus, like you, it is far easier for me to write things than say them, so most of our most difficult discussions happened through letters. I think it really strengthened our relationship to be apart because it forced us to only work on the friendship part of our relationship instead of the physical.

    Happy Anniversary! Love your pictures!