It's dark and I'm on the plane. My head is throbbing; my T-shirt feels like I have been locked in a Finnish sauna for three days with plastic wrap glued to my armpits. And I want to bang my face on the stupid tray table attached to the seatback in front of me and just die.
"I was in a traffic jam for an hour yesterday trying to get to be with my boyfriend!" complains one of my Facebook friends. I laugh as the person sitting next to me unpacks a thick onion bun and I try desperately to breathe in the other direction. Although I feel a bit sorry for the other girl, if I want to see my boyfriend, I must spend at least 17 hours in transit on three separate airplanes, sit multiple uncomfortable airport chairs, burn around 700 Dollars, race 5,000 miles through 8 time zones, and have seven heart attacks because either the flight connections are so tight, or security seems to think my chocolate is an illicit drug, or because my wallet is suddenly missing.
I am German and my boyfriend is American. We have been involved in a long-distance relationship spanning two continents since 2018. In those two years, we have been through it all: a nerve-wracking Homeland Security interview, film-ready welcome posters, outbursts of tears at farewell, and a border-closing pandemic. While many people would throw in the towel early in the liaison because of stress involved in long-distance relationship, the whole shitload of adversity just welds us together more and more. So, let us talk about a long-distance relationship – what it is, how we survive and why love always wins in the end.
"It would be handy if your boyfriend at least lived in New York," my dad will mention occasionally. True. That would be nice as there is a direct flight from Frankfurt to New York. But my life is not handy, it is special.
My boyfriend lives in the deepest bush in the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming. After 17 hours of travel on three different airplanes, we still have to drive about two more hours to get to his house. The US is huge, and the wild west is vast.
But a long journey also means long anticipation. Most of the time, I grin at every single person throughout the trip, while my heart goes crazy.
My boyfriend and I both have countdown calendars on our phones that show how many days, hours, and minutes it is until we meet again. I always feel like I am a kid again and counting down the time until Christmas morning arrives. Every single time. And each time, we have an interesting welcome sign to greet the other. When we finally see each other waiting at the airport in the distance, we run! And embrace. And kiss. And we do not let go for literally minutes.
Because my boyfriend is retired, and I am a digital nomad, we can sometimes see each other for several months at a time. Until another visa expires, and we are forced to go back to our respective homelands for a while. But this moment of seeing one another anew, after weeks of separation, is the most beautiful moment imaginable. It is the beginning of another fabulous time with the most wonderful partner in the world.
Yes, and then there are the moments of farewell. One reason we are forced to separate is limited visa days. You do not know anything like that if you live in Chicago and your partner in Boston.
But if Europeans want to go to a country outside the EU, we often need to apply for a visitor's visa, which allows you to stay in a country for a certain number of days. Often, it is 90 days. I have a special visa for the USA, a B2 visa, which allows me to stay up to 180 days at a time. But that is all I have available each year. My boyfriend currently can only come to Germany for 90 days.
As you can see, if you plan well, you can spend a lot of time together. But that is the point: long-distance relationships need a plan. You cannot simply pop over to the other’s house for a glass of wine and interesting conversations. And I have never flown 17 hours just to sip a glass of wine.
Of course, there is always the fear of an emergency. Even in the best case it takes at least 24 hours from decision to door until you are with the other, even if you immediately drive to the airport, making flight arrangements on the way.
The moment of farewell, when you wave for the last time from the other side of the secure area through a glass pane and then the elevator slowly completes the separation process, is about as much fun as dysentery. I do not know how many times I have walked through airport aisles with tears running down my face and people have been staring. I even have a song that I listen to during those moments. “Broken Crown,” by Mumford and Sons. These are the shittiest moments. Ever.
One question we keep hearing is, "How do you do survive when you are separated?"
As I noted, we both have a very favorable job situation. My boyfriend is retired, and I work from home as a self-employed copywriter and photographer. So, we both can find a lot of time every day to chat via WhatsApp.
We discuss everything, from the best spice mix for noodle soup, to bills, to planning, and even to things like death. We both like to talk a lot, and we both feel closer to each other if we can share as much time as we possibly can with each other despite the distance.
In my evenings, German time, we almost always end my days with a video chat. This is a time when my boyfriend reads a book to me, and I usually fall asleep at some point. It is nice to hear each other’s voice, to be able to laugh with each other, and to be able to see each other.
We also try to always set a new, fixed date for a reunion as soon as possible, and then to book flights almost the next day. The accomplishment of the reservation is the moment when the feeling of separation turns from pain into delightful anticipation and I always wind up eating a lot of chocolate with excitement. We try to not have more than two months between being our rendezvous.
By the way: At the beginning of our relationship, the farewells were always as bad as running through a nest of fire ants. Part of that is that I have had a series of broken promises in the past. But this has not happened with this relationship, and the more often we do separate, the easier it seems to get. Especially because we know with confidence that we will see each other again.
Just as we were both gaining confidence that we would always be able to meet regularly, along came 2020. And Corona. Suddenly the United States declared a ban on Europeans entering the USA, and the EU declares a ban on Americans entering the European continent. It was a time of high drama, to put it nicely. This is because there were, and still are in most places, no exceptions for partners. Long-term and long-distance partners are treated in the same way as beer-guzzling tourists who still want to travel around for the fun.
The global movement #loveisnottourism has now achieved a great deal in this respect, so that at least Germany has created an exemption for partners involved in long-term relationships, despite the ongoing border closures. Unfortunately, the United States has not yet come up to that level of insight, even 10 months after the pandemic started.
If you live in Europe and want to visit your American partner, there is currently a way. To be allowed into the USA, you need to stay 14 days in a third country where visitors are not banned. I did this by visiting Aruba in September 2020. Totally crazy, I know. But it works. This has about as much to do with virus protection as fish have with cucumbers. But be careful, always check online with the Embassy of the country you want to visit, as the rules sometimes change overnight.
There are many couples in long-distance relationships around the world who are still separated and have been suffering severe psychological stress for almost a year. Hopefully, the vaccinations will soon ease the situation and they can reunite.
You can find accounts of what we did in 2020 just to see each other despite Corona in these articles:
One of the many questions we often are asked is, "When do you move in together? When do you emigrate?"
Closing the Gap is what people in long-distance relationships call this question. It is something that probably 95 percent of all couples in similar situations would like to do. But we do not. Surprise! It would be funny if there is anything normal about our relationship.
We are both extremely travel crazy and we both have a lot of time we can spend traveling. I can work from anywhere. Flying long distances does not really matter to us. Well, except for occasionally wanting to smash an onion roll into the face of a seat neighbor on the third flight.
Honestly, we are both very excited that we have two homes on two continents in two cultures. My boyfriend still wants to see so much in Europe, and I love the USA, Canada, and South America. Having a home base in both places is cool. Also, we both have strong ties to family and friends. Neither of us can imagine giving up our respective homelands completely. And we do not have to, because we can travel freely (in non-corona times) and we can survive, albeit a bit uncomfortably, for a few weeks without being each other, as long as we continue to communicate constantly when we are apart.
The most important thing for us is that we know what our love is worth to us and that it enables us to do almost anything. Even with a pandemic, borders closures, and 5,000 miles, our relationship carries on. Our love not only endures, but it seems to grow. To survive, a long-distance relationship needs trust, passion, resilience, heart, and perhaps more than just a bit of craziness. And we have a lot of all of that.
As you may know or have seen, we have not only a long-distance relationship, but also a relationship with an age difference.