The Paradoxical Faith In Long Distance Relationships

When I started writing the script for "10,000 KM" seven years ago, I had no idea to what extent my life and film would evoke public debate surrounding long distance relationships. It is not a debate that occupies front pages in newspapers, but in this last year, as I traveled to many countries to promote the movie, I found that long distance relationships are a subject that ignites passionate discussions all around the world.

The question I get asked most often in screening Q&A's is if the movie was autobiographical. Some days I would answer "yes" and some days I answer "no" just because both answers were true depending on how the question is framed. As my filmmaker friend Eliza Hittman says, "we make movies about feelings and situations that we know well, although not always lived in first person as they are presented in the film. Moreover, cinema allows us to observe those feelings and situations in a more profound way that you are not able to get when you are going through them, to analyze, and afterwards synthesize, them into images and sounds." Another question I often get asked is "Do you believe in long distance relationships?" It was never "What do you think about long distance relationships?" Somehow, the question was always formulated in terms of believing and faith. It seemed like people who were in long distance relationships and watched the film needed validation to keep fighting for their relationships. They were also looking for hope that things would work out.

Of course, at the beginning I never knew the best way to answer this question. I had just made a movie dealing with the subject and to me making movies is about asking questions, not giving answers. So, the only option I had was to turn the question back to the audience members and let the individuals share their thoughts. Many times, the Q&A's would turn into intense and emotional debates where the attendee would share different experiences and points of view on long distance relationships. Some people expressed the need to believe in the people who were successfully going through it, while other viewpoints reflected the pain of those who had gone through the experience and lost faith because it hadn't worked for them. I was most interested in hearing from people who lost their faith on long distance relationships. They would never say that they don't believe in them. Their answer was simply that long distance relationships "don't work." Both sides would argue and confront each other, needing some kind of validation that their point of view was correct.

Turning the question back to the audience was obviously much more interesting to me than talking about the movie or my own opinions. It was like I was doing my own social research on the subject. But, it was also a way to avoid having to answer the question. One day, the same question came up and I had the urge to respond, "I don't think it is a matter of believing or not, it's not a religion, it's just a reality." And for some it is a very complex reality. When I came to this realization, it became clear that I was making a movie to help people cope with this reality and help them understand its complexity.

Long distance love has existed since the beginning of humanity. Take for example Homer's The Odyssey, a story of long distance love between Ulysses and Penelope. While the situations have changed with the invention of the internet and other forms of communication that allow us to stay in touch with our loved ones, the feeling of longing still ring true. But could it be possible that the Internet, world globalization and the post Freudian decentralized capitalism that has provoked such strong migrations all over the world, hasn't changed long distance love at all? I would like to think that it hasn't changed long distance love, but it has created a new category: long distance relationships. Although it seems pretty obvious, we tend to forget that love and relationships are not the same thing. To me this is one of the hardest things to realize when you are in a relationship for the first time. Sometimes, love is not enough, even if it is indispensable for a relationship, the relationship itself needs more to keep it going.

Before telephones existed, long distance and relationships was a paradox. You could have a long distance marriage, a long distance engagement, a long distance affair or even an epistolary relationship. But, long distance relationships didn't exist. A relationship is something you develop through contact with the other person, and you can't do it when you are not in contact. Moreover, the communication by letter was actually much more virtual than any kind of contemporary way to communicate in the distance. Letters create a perfect space for self-presentation under total control where time is never shared, a space where you were able to create the world as you please, a perfect space to idealize the other person and long for him/her, to love them in the distance without having to have a relationship.

But, changes in technology made the paradox possible. The telephone allowed humans to be able to share things with the other person in real time. More than creating a virtual world, to me the biggest change that telecommunications brought was the possibility to dissociate time and space. Transportation became cheaper and allowed people to see each other more often. Finally, when the Internet arrived, long distance relationships became an extended reality, almost a rite of passage that everybody must experience at some moment in life. But to me, the rest of the paradox still remains in its core. Now, we can also share our time, our voices, and our image in movement. Nowadays technology can create the ilusión (ilusión in Spanish means both illusion and hope) of also sharing a space together, to act as if the other person was really there in present time. Being in front of somebody will never be the same as being in front of the image of somebody. It doesn't matter if the image is 3D, includes smells or even if you can touch it, it is still just a representation. Physical presence is something you can't substitute; it is something that links us to our past as instinctual animals.

However, at the same, my experience in all those debates these past months tells me that long distance relationships can bring happiness to many people. Many couples become much stronger after having gone through a period living apart from each other. I'm probably not the right person to talk about successful long distance relationships, but from the many stories I have been listening to, long distance relationships can be successful for couples who have projected a life together, who have set deadlines for ending the long distance situation. They all find beautiful moments during the process. A paradox can also make us happy; we live surrounded by paradoxes and actually life without them seems a bit boring. It has been my observation that problems occur when one of the partners wants to change the deadline. This change can trigger an end to the relationship. But as I said, the only thing I believe is that relationships are not machines, and nobody has found the right formula to make them perfect.

"Nobody has found the formula, nobody has found the formula, nobody has found the formula..." I repeat to myself while crossing the Atlantic Ocean, leaving my hometown of Barcelona, years after I said that I would never step in the same hole again. What I'm sure of is that Skype is not made for me, but maybe long distance love is actually enough for a little bit, so the relationship can wait until I come back.