The Human Condition, or Something or Other

On Long-Distance Relationships, Modern Technology, and Plato


The term “human condition” is often tossed around flippantly. Some think the human condition is to be good, or bad, or indifferent, a blank slate, a predetermined makeup, decided by either God or Karma or something or other. I haven’t a clue what the “human condition” is, nor do I care to know, really. What difference does it make? It’s a fun discussion to have late at night with some pals, sure, but, really, it’s trivial.

What I do know about the human condition is that — regardless of whether it is intrinsically good or bad, just or unjust — distance does not factor well into its makeup, its structure, its processes. By distance, I mean the distance between one human and another: two close friends, two romantic partners, two family members.

Presently, I am speaking specifically with regards to romantic partners, i.e., boyfriends or girlfriends or whatever the hell other arrangement one might have. I am speaking of this sort of horrible arrangement — being apart for a prolonged period of time — because I am currently knee-deep in it myself.

I’ve never been a particularly candid writer when it comes to matters personal, so I do apologize if my anecdotal circumstances prove too vague to be coherent. In brief, my girlfriend is quite far away, some nine hours by car. She has been away for over a week and will continue to be so far away for another nine or so weeks. She’s, essentially, a camp counselor at this wonderful teaching-camp in Maine. She’s been a camper herself for a while now, this being her final year attending both as either a camper or a, now, counselor.

Nine weeks, you might be thinking: Why, that’s nearly the whole summer, isn’t it? Indeed, it is. This is a bleak fact. To provide further context, we are both college students, so, you might well be thinking: Nine weeks from now is damn near the end of August: Won’t that leave the two of you with little time together before school starts and you must part once more? Indeed! Your constant assertion of the facts is saddening me, so I beg of you to relent.

Such is our state of affairs: apart for nearly two months, reunited for a week or two, and then off to our respective schools. Quite obviously and expectedly, I’ve been thinking a great deal about long-distance relationships, that dreaded three-word phrase that rings of rotten dairy and gloomy horizons. Not that I want to sound cynical or anything.

But I truly do not want to sound cynical — for once — for my relationship with said gal is as wonderful as can be imagined: honest, loving, committed, generous, respectful, teasing, and, all in all, too good to be true. However, even when the match between two Sapients is as perfect as can be hoped for, distance remains a devious, I dare say treacherous, mistress.

As I see it, humans are uniquely suited to become attached to one another. This is ironic when put within the context of our own present times, when the world feels more connected than ever and yet, at the same time, less personal than ever. Most of us have dozens of interactions every day through the black mirrors in our pockets or on our laps. One wouldn’t have a hard time having conversations exclusively via text or Snapchat or email for an entire day, never once uttering an audible exclamation. All of this impersonality (i.e., lack of physical/audible contact) can lead to apathy, a lack of social skills, tools, and desires. And yet, when that special person comes along, we still can’t keep ourselves away. In this day and age of unprecedented physical-social isolation, humans remain as drawn to one another as ever.

This is undoubtedly a part of the human condition: We long to be with the people that we resonate with, that have that something that we just can’t seem to let go of. In fact, I would argue that all of our brilliant technology only makes long-distance relationships more difficult, at least in one particular way.

Before the advent and spread of digital and telephonic technology, people communicated, mostly, over long distances by mail: letters and notes and postcards, etc. This was torturous because one only heard from one’s beloved as fast as the mail could be delivered. If my gal and I were living in such a time, perhaps we would receive one letter each over the course of a full week. But today, we’re able to be in constant contact. We aren’t, of course. But we could be if we wanted to be. We could reach one another by one of a dozen digital means. This sounds better than those slow and infrequent means of yore. However, the one way in which modern technology has made long-distance relationships harder is this: Being in contact so easily and so often with one another is just a constant reminder of how tantalizingly close yet far away our significant others truly are.

Your girlfriend or wife of boyfriend or husband or whatever might seem right next to you because of texting or FaceTime or a phone call, but they simply aren’t. They’re far away, just as you are from them. This sort of emotional tease didn’t exist when letters were the only way to communicate over long distances. I don’t care how talented the writer or how strong the written voice, letters don’t provoke such a sense of right here as videos or instant messages or phone calls do. This is the paradox of smarter, better, faster technology.

I’m not so much complaining as I am musing. There is no silver bullet to ensure long-distance relationships go well. All one can do is hope for the best, communicate as clearly and honestly as possible, remain faithful (if the relationship calls for it), be generous with your time and your affection, and recall why it is that you were so drawn to one another in the first place. It’s a tough racket, but it’s almost always worth it.

Before I let you, dear reader, return to sunnier, better-written pastures, I would like to return once more to the human condition. It’s been a while, so to reiterate my stance on what exactly the human condition is: I don’t know. Haven’t a clue or a care. All I know is that distance causes all sorts of glitches and rumblings. But, unlike this writer, Plato thought a great deal about the human condition and about romantic love. He put it thusly, in a way which merits a total avoidance of paraphrase:

“According to Greek mythology, humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves…and when one of them meets the other half, the actual half of himself, whether he be a lover of youth or a lover of another sort, the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy and one will not be out of the other’s sight, as I may say, even for a moment…”

One will not be out of the other’s sight, as I may say, even for a moment. Well, Plato, there have been too many moments to count since I last saw my gal. And it isn’t hard to buy into your conception of the human condition, or, perhaps more metaphorically, the human capacity to love wholly. Whatever the case, distance is hard. Being a human is hard. But no matter how hard, one always longs to return to the time and place in which “the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy…” I may not know much, but I do know that that is as essential to the human condition as anything else.