Life Is Not Like Instagram: Damn you, Cupid

The difficulty of maintaining long-distance relationships and deciding what freedom means when it comes to love.

I’m desperately hoping that I’m not speaking for the masses here, and that I’m one of just few who labour with a mixed chemistry of phenomenal self-doubt and mischievous, come-to-bed social skills. But man, as unique as I wish I was, divorce statistics probably tell a different story.

We have an overlap culture, a total fear of being alone. Porn and celluloid everywhere and Tinder with its all you can eat buffet mentality and all of its siblings make shallow partner selection almost second nature. God help anyone who expects their partner to embody all of the qualities we’ve seen on the big (or small) screen which have been thoughtlessly melded into the perfect creature.

It’s so easy to not try hard enough these days and as soon as a lack of patience and demand for immediate, premium quality entertainment permeates into our heartsong we’re lost to the card shop condolence section.

And of course that’s fine, in physical terms, because there’s so much freakin’ choice now why should we stay with one person forever, right? Well, if you were with the right person you wouldn’t ask that damn question.

I’ve definitely found myself diverted by a mix of today’s culture and my wandering habits (geographical), but this isn’t going to be a full on exposé of my sexual history. I mean, nobody wants to read about a weekend lock-in with a tribe of naked midgets (joke).

‘What do you do about relationships?’ This is definitely right up there in the top three questions asked to nomads, and number one in the list of ongoing challenges I’ve faced over the years. Oh boy, the ever-present approach of the next trip away. The skypes and facetimes and crap connections and stuttered conversations all made worth it. In the absence of experiencing something in the flesh and the moment together, sharing it soon afterwards with the one who cares is the breath of life into the home that I crave and have never had.

But so far, I haven’t survived the perils that come with long-distance love. The gentle erosion of closeness. The different directions. The lack of presence that comes with mind and conversation often concentrating on someone overseas — frustration about missing out on the here and now. Resentment. Doubts. Can we do this? Should we?

Although on the face of it I just travel around a bit, I’ve found it so hard to meet people with that total and utter sync. The comprehension of my motives, the way I work and protect my time. The deep longing I have to venture off into the wild, often solo. What's more suitable, to partner with someone who lives the same way or stays in the same place? It’s not so much what I do that has been the problem, but who I am. I guess adventuring is all exciting and romantic and oooh, you’ve done cool stuff. But that doesn’t matter. I just want someone to love me, no holds barred. But when they come along I struggle to trust that they do love me, that they could, especially when I’m so far away with less reminder that the love is there. Oh, if I could clone her, how wonderful that would be.

And, I guess, there’s always going to be guilt when you’re always the one who leaves the other behind, off in search of newness. It's not easy, whatever side of the airport gate you’re on.

My ever-moving life has led me into the arms of some incredible women. I have been considerably moulded in the most gorgeous of ways by these encounters, lusts, romances and loves, but I’ve had very few partners who didn’t end up cheating or betraying my trust and in turn I repaid the favour, or pushed them away before they had a chance to hurt me, or assumed they couldn’t possibly love me forever so became unfaithful just to make sure of the situation.

And man, I’ve been in love! Hindsight and wreckage doesn’t make me doubt this, but I’m so determined to find that balance between being a stable partner and not losing my soul or becoming a doormat. My poor parents, they’ve seen my partners come and go and fallen in love with some (not all!) of them themselves, only for their would-be surrogate daughter to one day disappear. It’s never just two people who suffer when a relationship ends.

But that said, as much as I’m constantly amazed whenever a woman lets me close (deep down I’m still that skinny teenager with acne and thick short-sighted spectacles who shivered with anxiety when females were nearby) my surprise is often validated by their almost unanimous reluctance to continue flirtations given my being prone to disappearing soon. The moment I’d stand up to go they’d accept it, rather than saying they wanted to try and make things work. It’s a vicious circle, it really is, and for a while there I'd almost given up hope that anyone would want to battle my demons.

All of which poses grave consequences to this ever-present craving for the potential and hope of a monogamous partner who just friggin’ gets me. I know exactly what I need to do to make a relationship work, but I’m terrified of my now well-honed potential to mess it up by building walls even before there’s anything on the other side.

Not to mention the compromises to my lifestyle that have to be made when assuming half the responsibility in a most awesome twosome, thus to produce some tiny little gingers who will change the world for the better just a little bit more.

Today’s humans are more flawed and face more emotional, social and commitment issues than ever, and above all of my past misgivings I’m quite sure that the only thing they gave me was the sad truth that anyone (men or women) who can’t settle down with one person will forever be trying to fill a hole with a shape that doesn’t fit (your own quips in the comments below)…

But here it is: I want to be one of the few who learned from my mistakes and became the good man, the best man, the partner everyone wants for life rather than just a few weeks. And all of this without losing the sense of adventure and cheekiness and non-PC humour and vulnerability that somehow turns this 180cm-high pile of chemicals into the man I am.

How I can wrestle this innate desire into the same bundle as a career and lifestyle that only functions when I’m on the move, only time will tell. Does distance help the heart grow fonder, or does it make two people eventually grow apart? A bit of both, I suspect, but with plenty of adventures left I know that a lot time on the road lies ahead, and it’s a future I’m glad to have only if I learn to reduce the damage of being the guy who is always away, always leaving, always putting the blockers up.

There’s probably some truth in the fact that men only do great things to impress women, but as I take up the emotion-fixing tools that I mentioned previously I’m hideously aware of both my failings and my promise. I am an introvert who accepts attention. I’m naturally kinaesthetic and hug and touch most people I meet without thinking anything of it, but I know that can lead to misunderstanding, and sometimes even worse.

Our imaginations are so powerful and destructive when we’re weak with our resolve. I jointly live in awe and terror of the threat of love and attraction — at times I’ve even been glad of how flawed I am. But of course, these flaws, even if they contribute to my overall character, haven't always served me well.

I find the attractive uniqueness in almost everyone I meet and physically and emotionally feel the temptation of closeness of strangers and friends, however temporarily. I fall in love just a little bit everyday with someone new (someone should write a song about this), and I’ve often wondered whether monogamy is a lost art, a tradition confined to the 17th century when we had but one or two choices of partner in our village. Hell, some of my most memorable relationships have lasted just a couple of days without the clutter of expectations or rules, so I don’t regret finding the fast potential in anyone. Even if I do, it's tough, this is who I am.

I’m not going to stop being attracted to those around me, but I can make the choice not to do anything about it. Not to go too far. To make the reaction take a different path.

And the solution, the one that always makes the difference between a human and the revelation of their superpowers, is finding that peace of self, the calm, the contentment to just be you and not go looking, and then when the one sways by all gorgeous and unavoidable, taking a decision that you’re willing to stick by.

I talked about the power of commitment in Will This Ever End? It’s easy to run, to fail and to turn your back when times get hard. But to commit and work through everything, never forgetting why you fell in love with that person, that’s where the magic happens. It's the perseverance. When they say the more you put in the more you get out, that counts for love too. Be there at the airport when they land. Send special, unexpected notes. Get your mutual friends to take them Creme Eggs. Fly home early and surprise them. Let her know you're writing about her and because of her, even without mentioning her name. These little things, they are the stitches that hold together a bulging, anxious, longing heart.

The warmth of a knowing, glorious stare from your rock; the one who cares for you infinitely, understands, is willing to go through hell and back just to be with you. The meaning of that stare becomes stronger with time, and the familiarity it brings is the only reminder you need that one person is the best home you’ll ever know and ever need. But only as long as you’re both willing to share the foundations and maintenance equally, especially when the storms roll in. I am so ready for this now.

I'll always be a kid at heart, but my heart is ready to be the man I always thought I could be. After all, I started this wandering life purely so I could at least have a chance of reaching my potential — and how sad would I be to wake up on my last day and not have a beautiful, familiar face to stare at. For all the memories and the photos and the records and the miles, my heart has never beat quite as soundly as when I've been in love. It is the only adventure I hope will last forever.

Read the introduction to my Life Is Not Like Instagram Series, which includes a link to all articles published on this topic

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