Part-Time Love

by Eren Cervantes-Altamirano

*TW: Most of the statistics refer to heterosexual relationships in the US or North America defined as the US and Canada.

There are all sorts of relationship statistics out there. For instance, it is said that are more single women than men in North America and that about 52% of singles feel they are too busy to be in a relationship. Millenials have their own little pocket of stats, as they seem to be the largest cohort of single people right now (about 64%).

Love and relationships seem to also have a racial aspect to them. For example, about half the people in the US have dated someone from a different racial group (careful! that does not mean they aren’t racist). People doing online dating also seem to be more likely to talk to someone outside their racial group if they get contacted first. Nonetheless, in the US white and Hispanic men are less likely to be single in their 20s than African-American men. Interestingly enough, politics-wise, in the US those who identify as republican are less likely to be single than those who are democrats or something else (I wonder what the stats are in Canada?).

Pragmatically speaking, women seem to be more likely to end long-term romantic relationships; and when it comes to cohabitation, you are more likely to get divorced/separated if you get married or live with someone by the age of 18. But if you wait too long while dating, say four years, you are more likely to have an unhappy future once you move in with a partner. Marriage wise, we are told not to spend too much money on weddings since in about 30% of all cases, the money spent on the wedding is proportionally correlated to the duration of a marriage (the more you spend, the less it lasts).

But among all of those, the ones about long-distance relationships are of special interest for a whole generation who is breathing and living the long-distance thing. Whether you have seen your parents or family members do the long distance thing, or you are doing it yourself. In the US, there are about 7 million couples, who consider themselves in long-distance relationships right now, and 75% of all relationships report having spent some time apart. Despite the fact that most people think that these types of relationships are doomed, there is no evidence showing that they are more likely to end in divorce. And while there are not numbers for Canada, where I currently reside, I know a whole lot of couples who have done or are doing long-distance relationships (LDRs).

Some LDRs that have been greatly facilitated by access to the internet, online dating and a whole of societal expectations that still dictate that we should be married by a certain age, particularly in orthodox Muslim contexts and among converts to Islam. As such, I saw several of my convert friends being matched up through mosques to men abroad because believe it or not, male converts are scarce in Canada, and most imams in the country will not perform interfaith marriages for women. Some other convert friends found husbands by themselves through online dating in a time where Canadian policies were skeptical of immigration, LDRs and marriages abroad. I even had friends who flew to countries in North Africa and the Middle East to marry men they had only seen once in person. Some of those lasted and went well, some others ended in horror stories. But what they all had in common was the long-distance component.

If you have never done it, LDRs are “interesting” to say the least. In my own personal experience, they entail a lot of work, effort and, of course, money. About six of the eight years that I was in a relationship were in a LDR. He lived across the country and we managed to see each other every couple of months. Yes, I would be that girl (and he would be that guy) jumping on a plane, on a seven-hour ride, to spend a long weekend with him… (it was expensive, I must add, which speaks to the class aspect of LDR). He would then spend a few weeks with me during summer in my family’s home. And during the winter holidays, we would choose a destination to travel to. One year was Montreal, another it was Mexico, and so on.

At the beginning it was tough, I cannot lie. But it got easier with time. Despite the fact that LDRs tend to have a very bad reputation, they can have their very positive sides.

First, you learn independence. Although there were times that I was overly jealous of the mushy couples on the subway, I learned to work in projects by myself, to have fun by myself and to set goals for myself. Next, you learn about commitment. One of the things that people ask me the most is about cheating. Did he ever cheat on me? Was I ever tempted? My answer to that is, distance is not a determinant of cheating on its own. If someone is going to cheat and the right conditions for that to happen are met, they are going to cheat whether they are across the country or living with you. Thus, I find that being away helped me to think about what commitment meant to me and what I wanted in my relationship going forward. Further, my LDR helped my spirituality. Back then, I was a new convert in a relationship with a conservative Sunni Muslim. Even though he was pretty open minded about a lot of things, I wanted to get to learn and “test” the faith on my own. I had my share of good and bad experiences in mosque and secular spaces because we were far away enough that I had the spiritual freedom to explore my new faith without him feeling that he had “teach me” or “show me” or “warn me.” Finally, I became pretty good at planning and thinking about future goals. When you are in a LDR you do not have the luxury to “see how things go,” you are pretty much required to put a bit of effort into things right off the bat. So, we were good about planning out upcoming visits, our holidays and our long-term goals, such as marriage, moving in together, etc.

But it is true, not everything is hearts and rainbows. These days I am back on the LDR waggon. It is, luckily, not as bad as before in terms of distance, but still challenging. LDRs require you to get to know someone over text, phone or email and then face them in a concentrated amount of time that can be equivalent to 10 consecutive dates in one. Meetings are intense and there is a lot going on. Sometimes, I end the weekends wondering if things are moving too fast, or too slow, or just right? Further, the same thing that I enjoyed about being able to plan long-term can be a double-edged sword… Is it too soon to talk pragmatics of the relationship? Is it time to talk about long-term goals? If the parents are in town should you introduce them?

What is more, it can be very hard to tell when things are wrong, especially if communication is not great. Take me as an example, I am not particularly the most communicative person, and it takes me a while to figure out my feelings. Hence, when things are wrong it takes a while to demystify the situation. In order to somehow balance that out I have had to learn to be upfront and to engage in a lot of self-reflection.

And all this not to say that one should or should not do long-distance (I am in fact looking forward to not having to be so far away sometime soon), but it seems to be more and more common given the opportunities to meet like-minded people. Meeting people is hard enough, meeting Muslim youth that self-identifies as “radical,” “progressive,” “left-wing,” or so on, is even harder. So it is a matter of realizing that distance does not have to be the main barrier to a relationship (believe me, there are worse things than commuting) and a matter of embracing the circumstances for the right person (or people), but also being true to yourself and what you want to be/do going forward.

About the Author:

Eren Cervantes-Altamirano is a Binnizá-Mexican convert to Islam. She is trying really hard to finish the MA dissertation focusing on policies addressing sexual violence in development programming in the Third World. Eren’s blog Identity Crisis focuses on her multiple identities and her attempts to reconcile them when they are at odds with each other. She currently also blogs at Muslimah Media Watch and Love InshAllah. When she is not writing, Eren can be found baking, traveling, chilling with her cat Sugar and trying to figure out dating, love and relationships. Follow her at @ErenArruna.

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