Courtesy of studying and working in different countries, the vast majority of my half-a-decade long marriage has been long distance. Although the husband and I are deliriously happy with each other (thank God!), our unique version of “happily ever apart” is unfathomable to most people. “How do you do it?” frequently ask my bewildered friends and foes. This article, which chronicles my Facebook posts as evidence, is my response.
Step 1: Adapt to the wedded state
This is much harder than it looks. Consider this post from the early days of my married life:
Still getting used to being married. Was getting into the car today, saw the husband hurrying over to my side. Wondering what he wanted, I scrambled out of the car and asked, "Has something happened?" He said, "No, I came to close your door." I said, "Oh. Oops. Wait." Then I scrambled back into the car with the grace of a platypus. Chivalry is so wasted on me.
Step 2: Marry a patient man, buy him a dark panjabi
Went to a wedding with the husband for the first time. Accidentally poured an entire glass of cola on his brand-new very cool punjabi. He smiled. This marriage thing is more complicated than it looks.
Dark colours stain less. Patience is also indispensable, as this article amply illustrates.
Step 3: Communicate, communicate, communicate
Communication is critical. On the positive side, successful long distance veterans become veritable experts at tête-à-tête. On the negative side:
Husband on the phone: “All right, I have to say salam. I'm off to the library.”
Husband an hour later, still on the phone: “Uhhh salam?”
This is what a long distance marriage involves—long debriefs on the phone where the poor man is treated to a blow-by-blow account of my singularly boring day. To spice things up, I even throw in obscure questions to check if he's really paying attention.
Step 4: Terminate time zones
Since we traipse across the world, the husband and I regularly inhabit radically different time zones. Over the years, we've simply learnt to ignore them:
My thesis has been written, printed, bound and submitted. My veins have coffee flowing through them. Woke the husband up to tell him the good news. Sharing life's triumphs with the spouse sounds romantic in theory. Over long distances though, this means being forced awake at the crack of dawn.
In fact, we've also perfected the art of Whatsapping—we keep it on even when one is awake and the other asleep. This is “companionable silence” in the modern marriage.
Step 5: Jettison the jet lag
The problem with jet lag is it happens only to the spouse who's travelled. So while I am awake and antsy for deep philosophical exchanges, the husband is woefully asleep. I have, however, perfected an empirically-tested solution that I rolled out one sleepless night to great success:
Me (conversationally): "What if I'm killed by a serial killer and, since we live alone, you're the most likely suspect?"
Husband (asleep): "What?"
Me: "You should always have an alibi."
Husband (mumbles): "What are you talking about?"
Me: "Haven't you thought about this?"
Husband (turns away sniggering): "You watch too much Criminal Minds."
Very long pregnant pause.
Husband (reluctantly, but unable to contain his curiosity): "What if I'm killed by a serial killer?"
Me: "I'm glad you asked. Here's my plan..."
Thus ended his sleep.
Step 6: Share interests
Since we're both unrepentant nerds, the husband has at times done classes with his Skype conveniently on, allowing me to listen in on very interesting lectures on post-colonialism. In turn, I have reverently replaced regular romance with irregular interests:
After a particularly fascinating class on South-South cooperation, I immediately thought, "I have to share this with the husband." Coz this is the extent of my romantic repertoire—I recycle lectures while he listens patiently… interrupting only with insightful questions that engage with the core content.
Whilst sharing interests is essential, sharing food is optional at best:
Bought some snacks for the husband. Then uhhh finished most of it before he could uhhh eat any. He's now negotiating with me for the remainder, "This one's mine, right? I get to have this one?" This sharing aspect of marriage is seriously overrated. My eclairs are mine, your eclairs are mine, all eclairs are mine. Thanks.
Step 7: Be romantic…
A successful marriage craves creativity. With the husband and I anchored to different continents, you'd think going on dates would be difficult. NOT SO. Across the ocean, we keep Skype on and watch the same movie on our laptops. I know this sounds very sad, but if you keep the mute button on, it works out fine. (Hey, no one said long distance was fun, okay?)
Step 8: …but be realistic too
Romance per se doesn't always fly in our household:
Yesterday we walked past a beautiful blue lagoon. I dreamily said, “I could just jump in these waters. It looks so inviting.” The husband interrupted me with his shrill voice of reason, "Can you swim?” "N...o," I answered. The traitor guffawed in response.
Step 9: Crucially, be an exceptionally nice human being
This one's rather non-negotiable. Consider, for instance, the time the husband made fried rice:
On the rare occasions we're in the same country, we cook together—one cooks, the other plays assistant. Recently I taught him to make fried rice, and he made some last night. It was delicious, better than mine. I asked, "How is your fried rice better than mine? I taught you!" He said, "I have a better assistant than you do."
On second thought, eight steps seem unnecessarily complicated to make long distance marriage work. Just the last step alone should suffice.
Nabila Idris is a PhD student. Across the Atlantic, so is her husband. They do not recommend long distance marriage except as the very last resort.