Aside from the fact that my boyfriend of two years lives 7,932 miles away, across an ocean, on another continent, in Australia, we have a normal relationship. We met at work and based on our mutual admiration for one another, developed the standard shared values that make for a strong union: The foundation of an unimaginable existence without one another, aligned pheromones, a general consensus on which restaurants are worth frequenting and movies to see and our whether or not to have kids. We also suffer the same stresses that can plague any relationship: The insecurities, the doubts, all the elements that come from making oneself vulnerable to the possibilities of heartache. He visits me in Los Angeles for a month or so at a time until he makes the big move later this year, and although we are committed to one another, having set the boundaries of trust just like a couple that sleeps in the same bed every night, there are demons that penetrate my good logic.
When he does visit me in sunny California, we like to play tennis in Griffith Park. It's become a tradition of sorts. We go at night when there's always a court available and we're the only people smacking balls back and forth under the buzzing fluorescent court lights.
Earlier this year, a photographer tracked and captured a picture of a giant cat that roams about the six and a half square mile park. This isn't just any regular cat. It's not a feral, former house cat that got jacked up on steroids and ran away to join the circus. No, this is a tiger, a cougar that resembles a zoo resident or a creature indigenous to an African territory that a brave soul captured hugging on their GoPro camera. The cat is only a couple of years old and experts following him have predicted that he will soon become ravenously hungry, emerge from hiding and find a runner, a cyclist riding through or a couple playing night tennis to break his hunger strike. OK, so the last part isn't exactly true, but stranger things have happened in L.A. Have you been to Venice Beach?
On my boyfriend's last visit, we went to play on a chilly December evening. Collecting the rackets and balls from the trunk of my car that resembles an REI store, I told him about the animal lurking in the depths of the Park. As we crossed over the roughly half-mile stretch of grass to the lit courts, we joked about the hypothetical scenario of this mysterious beast hurling itself from the darkness, intercepting our painfully amateur tennis match and attacking us. The laughter dissipated and our regular volleying commenced, but I couldn't help shake the fear seed that had been planted. Every time I missed the ball, the yellow circle managed to fly right past me, out the creaky gate -- that refused to stay shut -- and into the black abyss. I would pause and carefully scan the land looking for any sign of a scary four-legged creature. My boyfriend was getting frustrated at this nonsense interrupting our game. He could tell that I was thinking about something that wasn't even there, but all I could see was the animal watching me from a distance. I saw it running after me, trapping me inside the court. Its massive paw would snatch my leg and as it brought my body to its wet jowls, its teeth would sink into my neck and that would be it.
I saw the news headline, "Griffith Park Tiger wins, slaughtering defenseless couple on the courts." Why do I always think the worst?
"There's no tiger out there Betsy," my boyfriend reminded me, half mocking my ridiculous paranoia and half reminding me to seriously, stop worrying about the urban legends tige. I shouldn't believe everything that I read, even if there IS evidence from a National Geographic photographer. His intended calming words didn't matter. I got defensive and jogged my memory for more bits of information that I could remember from the article -- I had read months ago -- to justify my fears. We'd had this same conversation a thousand times before. Only replace the tiger fear with my relationship fears.
The fear of this imaginary beast in the park is just like the fear created in a long-distance relationship. When things get tough, I'll panic and dig through the vault of reasons why we shouldn't be together. All the doubts and negativity manifested in my head, the silly notions that he secretly wants to get back with his ex, or I'm better off alone, leave my heart shattered. But they aren't real. Just like the tiger. It's not real. Yes the four-legged beast, or the possibility of my relationship not working out, may in fact be hibernating somewhere, but why should I be focusing on an imaginary scenario?
All romantic relationships have a third party; an element or presence that lurks right outside of the conscious mind. According to relationship expert, Dr. Tricia Doud, "Though they [people in LDRs] may be spared the hassle of dealing with common daily stressors... they will likely need to sort out even greater issues." These issues feed all the anxiety, the doubt and the fabricated scenarios that you create in your head which all have the ability to tear you away from your partner. In a long distance relationship this entity is heightened.
The infrequency of interaction can create more space, which can cause for greater misunderstandings, which makes it easier for the uncertainties (a.k.a. my insecurities) to creep in. Dr. Doud said, "Insecurities can ruin a relationship. This goes for both couples that live within close proximity and those doing long distance." When ways of communication fail -- a missed phone call, a questionable Facebook post from a girl you don't know or out of sync time differences -- a dark veil can quickly suffocate your better judgment, making you question your partner. "To have the healthiest relationship possible (free of games and drama), this often requires both parties to be in a place of confidence, stability, and security within themselves," Doud added. The mind games, that I think I'm only playing with myself, result in added strain to the relationship with my partner.
Contrary to the negative thoughts in my head, a study published last year in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy says a long-distance relationship doesn't have to fail. The old cliché, absence making the heart grow fonder, is apparently true, and can even help in keeping the fire alive.
A long-distance relationship isn't something that you want to do. In fact, it's something I swore I would never do because of its unrealistic nature and statistically, you have a better chance of surviving a motorcycle crash, which already has pretty crappy odds. But love is a funny wizard that places a spell on many peoples otherwise good common sense.
It's like you're setting yourself up for to fail from the start. The distance magnifies everything, bringing all sides of him -- and me -- under a microscope. When you see your partner, day after day, it's easy to take the tangible parts for granted. A hand placed on the small of my back or a gentle caress to his cheek can divert a disaster. Not to mention the power of make-up sex as a buffer to calm the tension created in an argument. But the lovers from a distance, they must stay patient and drown out the negative thoughts by remembering the memories created and all the ones waiting in the future.
Every relationship has an element of uncertainty. Even marriage brings only a degree of conviction that can result in a broken promise. So a LDR, like any relationship, has a caveat that must be dealt with. You either let the doubts in, wedging a gap, or you pretend like they're not there and push them out. The irony is that either can happen no matter how far or close your partner is. The trick is finding a way to silence the fear, forget the lion lurking in the distance, so you can have a better time enjoying the game.