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We’ve been together for 4 years—but we’ve only seen each other in person for 20 days

By Yumi Pascual Paras Published Mar 25, 2022 5:52 pm

One of the first things I asked my boyfriend after he asked me to be his girlfriend (and after I said yes) was what day we would consider to be our anniversary.

It was early into Saturday morning—the 14th on my end; he, meanwhile, had just gotten home from Friday night dinner—the 13th. 

(I was nervous, he tells me; he’s beside me now as I type this up. That’s why I had to hide it in code and put it in pictures when I asked.)

We can’t celebrate on Friday the 13th, I reasoned, armed with my half-believed superstitions. People say that’s unlucky. What kind of good relationship starts on a day of bad luck?

Even from his dimly lit room across the globe, I could still make out his smile on my computer screen. That’s okay, he said. We’ll just prove them wrong.

We’ve been celebrating our anniversary on April 13 ever since. From that night he asked me to be his girlfriend in 2018, Raph and I have been together for almost four years. And of those four years, we’ve only been together in person for about 20 of them–one day shy of three weeks.

Humble (and embarrassing) beginnings

Raph and I met in school—though it was grade school, to be more specific. In the fourth grade he’d actually been my first real crush. We listened to Taylor Swift together on his Sony Walkman, and chatted on Yahoo! Messenger for hours. My first few attempts at writing poetry, cringeworthiness notwithstanding, were all about him. And in 2009, my then-10 year old boyfriend liked me, too.

Not being able to physically spend time together to do the usual things couples do can make LDRs feel a little bit lacking. And when circumstances are out of your control, things seem even bleaker.

That didn’t last, of course, because, again—we were 10. When we graduated from our elementary school in 2012, Raph moved to Europe, and I went to high school here. So he was out of sight and out of mind for me for a long time—until 2017, when I greeted him for his birthday because I always had. Like most of the years prior, I was expecting our conversation to die down after a few weeks—except, this time, that didn’t happen. 

A usual day for the couple.

What started off with casual conversations throughout the day became consistent messages that I started to look forward to. Maybe it had something to do with the distance between us, or because I had already known him for a long time, but I felt more comfortable telling Raph things I didn’t tell others around me. And that feeling was reciprocated; Facebook messages became voice calls, which turned into video calls every night.

(It was easy being with you—comfortable. He smiles. Even before we started dating, it felt like home.) 

Sunsets (and timezones) away

The time difference between Germany and the Philippines is six hours (7, when you factor in daylight savings). When I’m about halfway through my day, Raph will have just woken up; conversely, he has dinner when I’m already pretty much asleep. 

(We used to send each other pictures of our sunsets. The sun is shining high in the sky for me now, he’d told me once. See? I’m not that far away! I’m always just chasing you.)

Long distance relationships aren’t as uncommon as they once were. You don’t need statistics when you have Facebook posts and Instagram stories depicting your dearest couple friends “finally reuniting” or “not ready to say goodbye just yet.” Dating apps make our world a whole lot smaller; it’s never been easier finding your soulmate on the other side of the world.

But before getting into an LDR, I had always been a little skeptical of them. It was nice to see people stay together despite the distance, but those instances seemed rare to me. My expectations of these relationships lasting weren’t as high; I regarded them with cautious optimism. 

And they are difficult—make no mistake about it. Not being able to physically spend time together to do the usual things couples do can make LDRs feel a little bit lacking. And when circumstances are out of your control (see: turbulent Internet connection, a rampant pandemic), things seem even bleaker. 

(Even Raph admits it—It’s not ideal, he says. It’s really tough.)

Silver linings

But being long distance can also help give you a new perspective on your relationship. You end up valuing the time you have with your partner more, and it makes the instances you do get to see each other in person all the more special. 

It’s always good to remember and appreciate who you are, and not just in relation to someone else.

Apart from visiting each other, Raph and I have been able to go to places like Vienna, Hamburg, and Singapore together—making the most of long weekends and vacations whenever possible. More than just a reminder that the person on the other end of the screen is real, it shows us what we have to look forward to when our long distance days are over.

Being long distance also helps you value the time you have for yourself—your hobbies, interests, and aspirations. This applies to relationships that aren’t long distance, too; just because you’re with someone who makes you happy doesn’t mean you can’t get happiness from other sources. It’s always good to remember and appreciate who you are, and not just in relation to someone else.

Singapore, 2019

Vienna, 2019

Schipol Airport, 2019

Manila, 2018

Amsterdam, 2019

Singapore, 2019

Vienna, 2019

Schipol Airport, 2019

Manila, 2018

Amsterdam, 2019

CLOSE

(Are there days that are tougher than others? I ask Raph now; he pauses for a bit. I don’t think so? he shrugs. I always miss you. It’s always at the back of my mind, but it’s not a huge concern to me, knowing that we’re working toward something in the future together.) 

As in any relationship, communication is vital. Long distance relationships present their own unique challenges, but misunderstandings and “off days” happen to all couples, proximity aside. For couples like Raph and I who only video call or text most of the day, being long distance puts an emphasis on transparency and understanding.

(It’s a little easier, Raph chimes in, because we’ve known each other long enough to know when we’re feeling stressed or unhappy. We’re able to understand and be there for each other when we need it.)

On the first flight back to your side

A lot of effort goes into long distance relationships, but that just makes them all the more worth it. Raph and I have only seen each other in person 20 days of our four year relationship, but that doesn’t make our connection and love for each other any less real. We spend nights watching our favorite shows together and wake up to good morning texts. We laugh at easily concocted inside jokes, tell each other about our successes and failures of the day, and we do our best never to go to bed upset.

Like any other long term relationship, my feelings for Raph have shifted from the kilig and nervous flutter in my chest, and have since become something warmer—subtler, but always present. Raph and I agree that’s just as nice.

(It’s that sense of being at home with someone; knowing that whatever happens, they’ll be there for you at the end of the day.)

I wonder, sometimes, what our relationship would have been like if we had started out differently: if we were able to see each other more often. But then I look over at Raph through my small phone screen, and he looks back at me and smiles, and I realize I wouldn’t trade what we have for anything in the world.

We may be oceans apart, but I’ve never felt closer.