It all started with Tpain. On a night damp with rain and cheap beer, we “met.” The time following spring concert was bound by the hyperspeed that is true of Amherst spring. In what seemed like a week, we shared phone numbers, then time, then hopes.
We didn’t have any time to go through the slowmoving motions. On graduation, I went home to my Massachusetts town, and he went home to Atlanta. I was going abroad to Australia in July, and he’d be returning to Amherst in September. With a skeptical “let’s see what happens,” we decided to stay together. Together meant together on skype and whatsapp. In a way, it let us get to know each other in hyperspeed. Unable to really share any new experiences, we were left to talk about ourselves as individuals. In a short amount of time, he knew everything about me. Through a computer screen, he learned who I was: one of many siblings, person that laughs at their own jokes, lover of long walks on roads that end in pizza places. I remember last year the New York Times Modern Love section featured an essay about psychologist Arthur Aron’s 36 love questions. Arthur’s theory was essentially that if a pair were to answer 36 questions that got at the root of their being, they’d be able to find meaningful commonalities, and would subsequently fall in love. The Modern Love essay is written by someone that tried the questions for themselves. Indeed, she ended up falling in love. “Although it’s hard to credit the study entirely,” she said, “we spent weeks in the intimate space we created that night.” I think that notion of creating the intimate space is something Rishi and I partook in. Modern hookup culture necessitates this tiptoeing around that which matters. We’re accustomed to the hooking up, then the exclusivity, then the official dating, and then the intimacy. On opposite sides of the world, we were unable to take those first timid steps. Getting to know each other in an “intimate space,” consisting of hourlong conversations about who we were, let us have a sense of agency in our relationship. It’s interesting because we often assume that technology hinders the formation of intimacy. But here, we used it to create an intimate space of our own (and look at us now — we’re collaborating on an essay via Google Docs). In our intimate space, we actively got to know each other instead of blindly following the customs tied to, well, Modern Love. “We’re in love because we made the choice to be,” Catron wrote in her essay. Of course, being constrained by video chats and whatsapps wasn’t as neat as a short essay makes it out to be. It was really hard. Getting over disagreements was terrible. Googleplus has these disguises you can put on while you’re video chatting — we’re talking mustaches, hats, clown makeup, the whole nine yards. There was a night where I was really upset so I put on a disguise that consisted of a dog wearing a mustache, so that Rishi wouldn’t be able to tell. My tears were most likely mistaken for puppy slobber. If this isn’t a symbol for the use of technology to unproductively hide your emotions, I don’t know what is. The time change was also brutal. On weekends our communication usually involved me skyping Rishi while he threw up, and then him skyping with me while I threw up. The epitome of romance. I think the hardest part of it all was overcoming the deepseated assumptions about study abroad: that you’re supposed to ‘do you!’ I was often worried that I was ‘doing abroad wrong’ by devoting time to maintaining a long distance relationship. It was hard to abandon the notion that I was supposed to be eating, and praying, and loving! That being said, if there is anything I learned (in a Julia Robertsesque way) from the experience it’s that each experience — especially abroad — is unique to the individual. Abroad is an experience that is so often understood through generalizations. It’s why when you get back, everyone asks ‘how was it,’ as if you could summarize the last 4 months of your life into a simple ‘life changing.’ Our experiences can’t be shoved into a neat little, ribbontied bundle with everyone else’s experiences. Abandoning the assumptions of abroad, I was able to understand that I might not have had my life changed by a romance with an Australian surfer, and there were a few nights where I came home early to video chat, but getting to really know someone (in more than 36 questions) was worth it all.
It’s very hard to be intimate with someone else over skype. At some point, you have to reckon with the absurd notion that you’re expressing your hopes, dreams and fears to a computer screen. Most of the time you can see who the person to whom you’re telling all this mushy stuff, and it carries a semblance of actual interaction, but in the moments when skype freezes up or the internet is too slow, you’re left staring at your own reflection in the dark. Skype dictated when and how I could see Gabby, and while there were distractions built into it like cute disguises or a sporcle minigame, at the end of the day, our relationship consisted of me, her, two computer screens and the 10,000 miles between us. When Gabby first went abroad, the time difference was only 12 hours and by the time she came back, daylight savings time pushed that difference to almost 15. Australia meant that our conversations were always in the middle of the night for someone, and skyping on weekends meant contending with someone’s drunkenness. Once, I passed out in the middle of a conversation and woke up the next morning with my computer on my chest and a blank google hangouts page in front of me. Seeing Gabby in person for the first time after she got back was weird . Not because that moment’s significance for our relationship, or the fact that we first saw each other in between Stone and Coolidge, but because for six months, I had been talking to her twodimensional representation on my computer, and now, there she was, right in front of me. I had become so accustomed to interacting with her on skype that I was taken aback by her realness. For so long, I had questioned what was real about our digital relationship, as if the endless whatsapp messages and google hangouts made our connection less authentic. Ideas of authenticity fed into more general expectations and fears about our situation. She was abroad, expected to have fun and I was beginning my senior year, expected to make the most of my dwindling time at Amherst and because our relationship was primarily digital and less “real,” we both felt pressure to doubt our choice, wondering if we would end up regretting our decision. While our digital relationship felt like it required more work and sacrifice than the typical inperson model, it wasn’t all doubt, drunkenness and longing. We mailed each other letters on fancy paper; listened to music together and danced on skype calls, and bought each other tickets to a concert we would go to when we were together. Typing this out sounds corny, but we shared some incredibly unique experiences, and came away from it with a relationship that is closer and much more honest than it initially was. Maintaining a relationship from 10,000 miles away, even with the wonders of the internet at your disposal is hard, and I think we did it well and we’re worth it all.