long-distance relationships


It has been almost exactly two years since Reanna and I started our long-distance relationship. Yesterday she had her interview for her K1 fiance visa and we are on track to finally live together in nine days. I haven’t written much about our relationship or being long distance (except here,   hereherehere,   and here) but it has been a huge part of my life for two years. It has been a challenge at times, but mostly just amazing and beautiful, mostly because of what an amazing and beautiful person Reanna is. Yes, an amazing and beautiful experience that I am SO GLAD IS ALMOST OVER!

Nathen & Reanna by Ruth Pike

I was just on Skype with my friend Jonathan, who is also in a long-distance relationship. His is between Vancouver, BC and Germany. Mine is between Eugene, OR, and Vancouver, BC. We started coming up with a scheme for measuring the difficulty of a long distance relationship. Here are the major factors we came up with:

1) Financial impact of making the trip

2) Number of travel hours separating the couple

3) Amount of time difference between locations

To that I’m going to add,

4) The availability of high-quality video chat.

5) Number of days left before final reunification.

Obviously, any such attempt will result in a major oversimplification, but I’m thinking we should stick with easily measurable factors. For example, the communication ability of each partner plays a huge part in the success of a LDR, but is difficult to measure, so I’m leaving it out. If the couple prefers not to fly for ethical or other reasons, it will factor in, too, but I’m leaving that out as well. And so on.

So, how do we calculate this index? Generate numbers for each factor:

1) Cost of a round trip, divided by the combined income of couple.

2) Number of hours travel, round trip, by that mode of transportation.

3) Number of hours difference between locations, plus 1. So if you’re in the same time zone, you get a 1 here, and if you’re eight time zones off, you get a 9. The plus 1 is just to make a no-time-zone-difference a nonzero number, for calculating the index.

4) I’m going to estimate that having good video chat makes LDRs ten times easier, so if you have it, you get a 1 and if you don’t, you get a 10.

5) The number of days left before final reunification.

Let’s try those elements in the following equation:

difficulty of long distance relationship = (cost of trip/combined income) x number of hours travel x number of hours difference x number of days left x video chat

It’s a start. Let’s see what kinds of numbers it gives us, using about what Reanna and I have left to go–a little over a year: For Bill Gates, the index would range between about .01 to maybe 30, depending on the difficulty of the trip, or between .1 and 300, without video chat. For someone poor, with a long, difficult trip that costs their yearly salary and no video chat, the index would be about 600,000. If this very unfortunate couple had 10 years to go instead of a year, they get 6,000,000. I know, that doesn’t sound like much of a relationship, but I’m looking for the upper end of the scale.

Reanna and I get about a 30. Not too bad, I guess, though it goes up to 300 when I’m at Not Back to School Camp, which is way out on the information-dirt-road. So we get a range of 30-300, which is the same range as Bill Gates’ worst-case scenario–if he had to take his private Lear jet to the central Asian steppe every time he wanted to see Melinda.

OK, here’s where you can help me out, if you want. There are certainly several problems with this scale. Here are two, off the top of my head: First, the range of .01 to 6,000,000 is too big to think very clearly about. How hard is my 30 compared to Bill’s .01, or Mr. Unfortunate’s 6,000,000? Other than “somewhere inbetween,” it’s difficult to say. The equation needs some kind of transformation to produce easier numbers, say between 1 and 100. Second, some things aren’t working out with the math. As it is, if a couple is very poor, even a 10-day LDR with an easy trip comes out harder than Bill’s 10-year LDR with a very difficult trip, as long as Mr. Unfortunate doesn’t have Skype. That can’t be right. If any of you are math people, what do you think? Third, there are other factors that should be included but are difficult to operationalize, like communication skills and depth of commitment. Any ideas, conceptual people?

If you’re in grad school or going to start soon, consider getting engaged to an amazing woman. I have had the good fortune to do that, and believe me you won’t regret it. I could (and maybe will at some point) write long into the night about the qualities that I am talking about, but for now I’ll just focus on one telling detail.

In graduate school, you do a lot of reading. Many, many, many hours and hours of reading. Few people do all the reading that they are assigned in a grad program. The eyes and attention can’t take it. I have the advantage of being engaged to Reanna. She reads a chunk of my assigned reading to me each term. Understand that this is mostly dry, academic stuff, interesting if you really want to be a family therapist, but otherwise only tolerable if you are extremely intelligent, curious, and dedicated. Understand also that she doesn’t even get social time with me out of it. I live in Oregon and she lives in British Columbia. She reads my assignments into a voice recorder and emails the files to me. I get to do the dishes or whatever while hearing her voice and getting reading done. She gets to sit in front of a computer screen, reading. (Well, she does get to criticize the bad writing, of which there is plenty, but that’s not much of a payoff, especially for a professional editor.)

She also reads relevant books that she finds that I have not been assigned. How cool is that? I’m going to have a term on Susan Johnson’s emotionally-focused couples therapy next fall, and she’s already read me Johnson’s popularization, Hold Me Tight.

Here is a partial list of what she’s read, from my iTunes. Some of the times didn’t copy out (Open Office couldn’t recognize them, apparently, and made them into times of day), but take my word for it, this is about 50 hours of reading.

A Walk Down the Aisle – Prologue Kate Cohen 17:05
A Walk Down the Aisle – Pt 1 Kate Cohen 22:06
A Walk Down the Aisle – pt 10 Reanna A Walk Down the Aisle 23:01
A Walk Down the Aisle – pt 11 Reanna A Walk Down the Aisle 16:11
A Walk Down the Aisle – pt 12 – ch 8 Reanna A Walk Down the Aisle 43:12:00
A Walk Down the Aisle – Pt 13 – ch 9 Reanna A Walk Down the Aisle 30:41:00
A Walk Down the Aisle – pt 14a – ch 9 Kate Cohen 7:32
A Walk down the Aisle – Pt 14b – ch 9 Reanna A Walk Down the Aisle 1:28
A Walk Down the Aisle – pt 15 – ch 10 Kate Cohen 1:26
A Walk Down the Aisle – pt 16 – ch 10 Kate Cohen 1:47
A Walk Down the Aisle – pt 17 – ch 10 Reanna A Walk Down the Aisle 29:18:00
A Walk Down the Aisle – Pt 2 Kate Cohen 10:18
A Walk Down the Aisle – Pt 3 Kate Cohen 10:25
A Walk Down the Aisle – Pt 4 Kate Cohen 41:25:00
A Walk Down the Aisle – Pt 5 Kate Cohen 7:51
A Walk Down the Aisle – Pt 6 Kate Cohen 12:49
A Walk Down the Aisle – Pt 7 Kate Cohen 11:07
A Walk Down the Aisle – Pt 7 Kate Cohen 10:24
A Walk Down the Aisle – pt 8 Kate Cohen 45:32:00
A Walk Down the Aisle – pt 9 Kate Cohen 1:08:43
Pt 1 – Chapter 3 – Emotional Responsiveness Dr. Sue Johnson Hold Me Tight 34:40:00
Pt 2 – Conversation 1 – Recognizing the Demon Dialogue Dr. Sue Johnson Hold Me Tight 41:25:00
Pt 2 – Conversation 2 – Finding the Raw Spots Dr. Sue Johnson Hold Me Tight 35:02:00
Pt 2 – Conversation 6 – Bonding through Sex & Touch Dr. Sue Johnson Hold Me Tight 47:05:00
Pt 2 – Conversation 7 – Keeping the Love Alive Dr. Sue Johnson Hold Me Tight 23:59
Chapter 1, Part 1 Why Don’t Zebra’s Get Ulcers, ch1 Reading Aloud to Nathen 10:06:00 PM
Chapter 1, Part 2 Why Don’t Zebra’s Get Ulcers, ch1 Reading Aloud to Nathen 07:21:00 AM
Chapter 1, Part 3 Why Don’t Zebra’s Get Ulcers, ch1 Reading Aloud to Nathen 06:10:00 PM
Children’s Attachment Relationships Phillis Booth Reading Aloud to Nathen 30:05:00
Circle of Security – Terminology CoS Reading Aloud to Nathen 12:46:00 PM
Committed Ch 5 (pt 2) Marriage and Women Elizabeth Gilbert Committed 03:52:00 AM
Committed Ch 5 (pt 3) Marriage and Women Elizabeth Gilbert Committed 08:07:00 AM
Committed Ch 5 (pt 4) Marriage and Women Elizabeth Gilbert Committed 04:13:00 AM
Committed Ch 5 (pt 5) Marriage and Women Elizabeth Gilbert Committed 09:02:00 AM
Committed Ch 5 (Pt 7) – Marriage and Women Elizabeth Gilbert Committed 06:22:00 PM
Committed Ch 7 (pt 1) – Marriage and Subversion Elizabeth Gilbert Committed 10:21:00 AM
Committed Ch 7 (pt 2) – Marriage and Subversion Elizabeth Gilbert Committed 42:02:00
Committed Ch 7 (pt 3) – Marriage and Subversion Elizabeth Gilbert Committed 05:21:00 PM
Committed Ch 7 (pt 4) – Marriage and Subversion Elizabeth Gilbert Committed 12:34:00 PM
Committed Ch 8 – Marriage and Ceremony Elizabeth Gilbert Committed 08:25:00 PM
Committed: Ch 1 Marriage and Surprises Elizabeth Gilbert Reading Aloud to Nathen 50:31:00
Committed: Ch 2 (pt. 1) Marriage and Expectation Elizabeth Gilbert Reading Aloud to Nathen 35:17:00
Committed: Ch 2 (pt. 2) Marriage and Expectation Elizabeth Gilbert Reading Aloud to Nathen 08:50:00 PM
Committed: Ch 3 (pt. 1) Marriage and History Elizabeth Gilbert Reading Aloud to Nathen 01:05:07 AM
Committed: Ch 3 (pt. 2) Marriage and History Elizabeth Gilbert Reading Aloud to Nathen 03:38:00 PM
Committed: Ch 4 (pt 1) Marriage and Infatuation Elizabeth Gilbert Reading Aloud to Nathen 01:34:14 AM
Committed: Ch 4 (pt 2) Marriage and Infatuation Elizabeth Gilbert Reading Aloud to Nathen 07:37:00 PM
Death on a horse’s back Robert J Barrett Reading Aloud to Nathen 168:00:00
Dharma Punx Noah Levine Reading Aloud to Nathen 05:33:00 PM
The End of Innocence 1 Dusty Miller Reading Aloud to Nathen 12:45:00 AM
The End of Innocence 2 Dusty Miller Reading Aloud to Nathen 42:08:00
Family Process // The Language of Becoming Ellen Wachtel Reading Aloud to Nathen 01:04:24 AM
Feminism & Family Therapy 1 Virginia Goldner, PhD Reading Aloud to Nathen 34:43:00
Feminism & Family Therapy 2 Virginia Goldner, PhD Reading Aloud to Nathen 01:03:00 AM
Feminism & Family Therapy 3 Virginia Goldner, PhD Reading Aloud to Nathen 28:33:00
Feminism & Family Therapy 4 Virginia Goldner, PhD Reading Aloud to Nathen 03:49:00 AM
Fixed (New Yorker) Jill Lapore Reading Aloud to Nathen 32:04:00
Impact on Family Therapist of a focus on death, dying Becvar Reading Aloud to Nathen 06:41:00 PM
Impact, pt 2 Becvar Reading Aloud to Nathen 10:59:00 PM
Introduction, 1 Appetites Reading Aloud to Nathen 05:36:00 AM
Introduction, 2 Appetites Reading Aloud to Nathen 04:32:00 AM
Introduction, 3 Appetites Reading Aloud to Nathen 06:34:00 AM
Introduction, 4 Appetites Reading Aloud to Nathen 37:26:00
The last time I wore a dress – CH 11 Daphne Scholinski Reading Aloud to Nathen 08:28:00 PM
The Last Time I wore a dress – Ch 12 Daphne Scholinski Reading Aloud to Nathen 38:52:00
The Lobotomist Jack El-Hai Reading Aloud to Nathen 24:06:00
Marry Me St. Vincent Marry Me 04:41:00 AM
Minnie Mouse and Gunfire, Lucky Child Luong Ung Reading Aloud to Nathen 29:49:00
My Angel Rocks Back and Forth Four Tet Rounds 05:07:00 AM
My Lobotomy Howard Dully Reading Aloud to Nathen 32:41:00
Paris is the cruelest month Alan Alda Reading Aloud to Nathen 09:32:00 PM
Passionate Marriage David Schnarch Reading Aloud to Nathen 42:45:00
Prozac Nation Elizabeth Wurtzel Reading Aloud to Nathen 42:05:00
Real Weddings Media Hill Publication Reading Aloud to Nathen 06:44:00 AM
Running With Scissors Augustin Burroughs Reading Aloud to Nathen 38:30:00
Solution Focused Therapy – A Molnar & Shazer 1987 Reading Aloud to Nathen 10:01:00 PM
Solution Focused Therapy – B Molnar & Shazer 1987 Reading Aloud to Nathen 12:49:00 AM
Solution Focused Therapy – C Molnar & Shazer 1987 Reading Aloud to Nathen 05:39:00 AM
Stubborn Twig Lauren Kessler Reading Aloud to Nathen 52:15:00
Sybil, CH 7 Flora Rheta Schrieber Reading Aloud to Nathen 37:47:00
Truth Telling Candib Reading Aloud to Nathen 39:31:00
Truth Telling, pt 2 Candib Reading Aloud to Nathen 08:22:00 PM
Understanding the Rainforest Mind Paula Prober Reading Aloud to Nathen 09:36:00 PM
An Unquiet Mind Kay Jamison Reading Aloud to Nathen 38:33:00
The Voices of Children – 1 Sandra Stith Reading Aloud to Nathen 04:45:00 AM
The Voices of Children – 2 Sandra Stith Reading Aloud to Nathen 03:06:00 PM
The Voices of Children – 3 Sandra Stith Reading Aloud to Nathen 36:03:00
Where is the Mango Princess Cathy Crimmins Reading Aloud to Nathen 30:07:00
You Ain’t Got No Easter Clothes Laura Love Reading Aloud to Nathen 38:06:00

My parents forwarded me an email from a family friend, Lauren (musician and poet), who is going off email for six months. She’s concerned about distraction (including in her email the quote “It’s commonly believed and understood that it takes about 4 minutes to recover from any interruption. If the computer dings at you and you look 30 times, that’s 120 minutes of recovery time. That’s the crisis.” —Marsha Egan, Author of Inbox Detox), concern over what seems like addictive behavior, valuing face-to-face or at least voice-to-voice communication, and this article about a study which found that emailing reduced productivity more than pot.

She had a series of questions about it email and her project, which I answered. By email. I think she’s starting on April 14, but if she’s already started,she can read my answers in six months.

1.     How many times a day do you check your email?
I don’t know. It varies between one and many–20?–depending on the style of my day. There have been days that I don’t check–camping, procrastinating. If I need to concentrate, I do not check email or even keep a browser open until I’m done.
 
2.     How many times a day do you send or receive a text?
Zero. I sent one text in my life, just to try it out, and I strongly encourage my friends not to text me. It doesn’t appeal to me. I’m also vaguely offended by the use of “text” as a verb.
 
3.     Have you ever had a miscommunication via email or text?
Yep, at least a few. It took a while to realize that the pragmatic (i.e. non-verbal) context of communication really does not come across in email.
 
4.     Do you feel anxious over the thought of not having email for
six months? Do you feel anything negative at all? Happy? Just tell me
how you think you would feel.
Hmm. It would be tough. First of all, I’m in grad school and email is how all of my profs and peers communicate important info. We often get our reading over email, and turn in our papers, too. Second, I’m in a long distance relationship, and email is helpful in keeping a sense of connection. We depend mostly on Skype, which is allowed in your plan, but I wouldn’t want to give up email before Reanna and I are living in the same house. Plus, she emails me mp3s of her reading articles I’ve been assigned, so I can “read” while cleaning my kitchen. Plus, she edits my writing over email. Third, I’m so busy that losing the super quick, no-strings-attached communication ability would mean isolating myself even more from my geographically dispersed family and community. Last, as I understand it you are going off of Facebook, blogging, texting, messaging, and chatting as well as email. That all sounds fine except for blogging. I’m pretty attached to my blog. It’s my most consistent form of creative expression these days.
 
On the other hand, I feel relieved and relaxed when the power goes out, and a big part of that is losing the computer. I went to a lecture years ago by a woman whose name I can’t remember who said “You’re not ‘connected,’ you’re ‘tethered.’ She recommended taking vacations from the leash–phone included. That appeals to me. When I climbed Mt. Whitney, ten years ago, two behaviors really confused me, seeming to miss the point: At the summit, a few people lit up a cigarette and many people immediately called home. It seemed like in sharing their moment they were also missing it. At least they weren’t texting, I guess.
 
 5.     Do you think there is anything important to be learned/gained
by not having email for six months?
Yes.
 
6.     Do you use email more for work related messages or for
family/friend correspondence?
Mostly school. Family and friends second. Work a distant third.
 
7.     How do you feel about me not emailing you for 6 months?
Well, we haven’t communicated in years, so I don’t feel much about it. If we were close I might have feelings.
 
8.     Are you sitting with a Bluetooth in your ear, reading and
sending a text with one hand, eating soup with the other, glancing
frequently at your To Do list, all on your twenty minute lunch break?
Don’t feel bad. While writing this letter I checked my email 3 times,
ate handfuls of dry Panda Puff cereal, and listened to my sweetheart
talk about his online class.
No, actually, I’m sitting at my first shift on the University of Oregon Crisis Line, waiting for someone with a crisis to call me. I do have my cell phone with me (and will almost certainly use it at least once), I am (obviously) using email, and have a to-do list that you wouldn’t believe, but I doubt that I’ll check my email more than three times today. Mostly I’ll be reading about counseling gifted children, assessing families, and conducting group therapy.
 

I have fallen head-over-heels in love with Reanna, and she loves me back. I’m very happy. In my honest and totally objective opinion, she is about the best person ever. She is very, very smart, creative, brave, athletic, adventurous, loving, beautiful, sexy, and fun. She’s a great writer, rock climber, and conversation partner. Her family is amazing. She laughs at my jokes. She loves to dance with me. She loves how sensitive I am.

Unfortunately for us, we will live 425.6 miles apart for the next two years. We’re working out how to do that sustainably. I think we can.

Here are some photos and a video of us during our last few minutes together for nearly three months. We were trying out different facial expressions.

Pleasant

Pleasant

Sad

Sad

Surprised

Surprised

Terrified

Terrified

Angry

Angry

Disgusted

Disgusted

Ashamed

Ashamed

Kissy

Kissy

The video below was impromptu, and is, in Reanna’s (totally objective) words, “sick cute,” so watch at your own risk if you can’t hack that kind of thing. I wrote for YouTube, “Our last few minutes together for three months. ‘I love you.’ Gratuitous kissing. She stabs me in the eye with her glasses. Not for the faint of heart.”