This is the second installment in our series on the changing nature of long-distance relationships today, as even the meaning of that idea and the terms that constitute it continue to morph.
You can read the first, When is a Girlfriend Real?, here.
I live a life long-distance. With my family and friends scattered around the globe, I hardly have a familiar face in my neighborhood, but my social life is very busy – even though it often involves a lot of WhatsApp-ing and dubious connecting flight schedules.
My personal drama with long distance relationships started when I was six. Growing up in one of those trans-cultural intellectual families where parents never make fortunes but jet around the world like headless chickens, be it for work, education or supervision, I ended up following my mom on extended work trips and spending significant stretches of time in a country not too far from Homeland, but still, definitely foreign. Although we stayed in one of those corporate hotel HQs that came furnished with (to a six year old) amazing things like buffet restaurants and an indoor pools, I missed my incredible Daddy dearly. Especially on friendless afternoons, as I waited for mom to finish work.
Lonesome hours manifested in massive phone bills to “Back Home” that were left for my mom to cover.
I always needed to talk to those I loved as a prerequisite to happiness, and there was nothing to be done about it – regardless of the cost. The story repeated itself with several international boyfriends in the not-so-Wi-Fi-friendly noughties, and I still cringe as I remember the fear I felt before I would open my monthly phone bill. Love not only hurts; it costs, too. I discussed this with my friends (who were in similar situations) – conversations conducted on the phone, of course, even though we then lived only a few hundred meters apart.
After I finally left home, I spent the first year of college wasting valuable pre-paid credit on improvised conference calls with my parents and their friends, in which they taught me how to deal with household emergencies and cook broccoli, homeland-style. Expensive habits are hard to break.
Enter Skype. Very soon, I would move to another country, another university, and guilt-free yap yapping would become a part of my daily life.
Today, I not only use Skype to cook and chitchat, but also to conduct business meetings, interviews and occasionally for transcontinental shopping (don’t ask). In the past, it has enabled me to do some long-distance learning, bake a cake, interview and hire a nanny, and even carry out some serious seduction. So why-oh-why are my phone bills still so huge?
A quick inspection of my communication habits makes me realize: I am a communication snob. Despite the geniality of the concept, I never really appreciate my free calls. In my personal life, I only use Skype for useless conversations, when a whole lot of nothing is exchanged and the crackling silence is background to the day. I call my parents to keep me company as I put on makeup before a night out or listen to my Significant Other pick up his lunchtime sushi as I look for my keys or shoes.
The story gets worse. As much as I will focus when conducting a normal phone call, it’s hard to get me to listen via Skype.
Experience tells me I’m not alone; I have caught my friends Ebay-ing ahead while I shared a juicy story, or dropped my Skype call as soon as a “real” one came to their phones. And don’t get me started on the elusiveness of the Skype date! The “Skype soon” and “gottagowhenwillyounextbeonline” are synonyms for “imsobusygoodluckcatchingmeever,” among the distance-living set.
Even Facetime calls and those free landline minutes abroad – although a step above Skype in the general scheme of communication – are continuously wasted for lesser news and white noise. Phone bills, meanwhile, stay astronomical, and any “emergency” or “happy-call” will have me dialing the (almost) old-fashioned way.
It makes me wonder – is this because I use Skype & Co. as substitute for actual couch-time with my family and friends? Does silent, scatter-minded hanging online replace the time I’d spend with them, equally silent and useless, hanging out in the kitchen or fighting over the remote? And does my lack of Skype love stem from disillusion with such proxy time?
I walk away today, slightly grumpy at my iPhone and its applications, because the realization makes me slightly sad. While you could never hang up on your best friend in person, or put your mom on mute when she gets annoying to your face, there is nothing like having them all around. No replacing those tete-a-tete gossip sessions with The Girls when things go wrong. No Skype will let your mom take care of you when you are down with the flu. Similarly, as great as it is to type in your bed and do research from the comfort of your sofa, nothing beats the coffee-scented kick of the office, or the buzz of the after-work drink with your beau. All the free instant access to those far away doesn’t make me miss them less; sometimes, it can even rub salt in the wound.
When you’re missing the face-to-face, not even Skype can help with the cost of distance.