Distance

Mo Isu
6 min readJun 9, 2023

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On the way to the train station, I practised my new relationship status- I had a girlfriend. We met on bumble three months earlier. It was one of those nights that come along to question why you have certain arbitrary principles. This night questioned my principle about dating apps. I swore off them the previous year, my reason being that I couldn’t picture a love story that started with swiping through profiles to pass time. My love story would start some other way I hadn’t figured out yet.

Then this night came along with the specific brand of boredom that makes you think of dating, think of meeting people. I downloaded Bumble with the intention of deleting it after a few hours — after my dopamine fix. The plan changed when I saw her profile, swiped right and willed greatly for her to swipe back. The thing about her that caught my attention was her effort. Dating apps afford you very little space to be yourself. It takes effort to use it well. She used it very well. I know now that this is something I am attracted to, the right kind of effort.

We matched the next day and I used bumble for two months longer than I planned to. Separated by a 3-hour long train ride, we dated for three months. One of the reasons (I believe) we didn’t work was timing. At the same time, one of the reasons (I believe) we worked at all — was timing.

Timing is everything.

L- how I met your mother R- how I met your father

The other reason we didn’t work is space.

I have always thought of myself as the kind of person that would thrive even in a long-distance relationship. For many of my formative years, my parents lived apart, forming lines of connection through daily calls and regular visits.

Why did I imagine it was easy?

I brought it up with my parents recently and for the first time, they let me in on how difficult it is to live apart from someone you love.

It takes discipline and effort and even with both things, it is still difficult.

When I asked her to be my girlfriend, I believed both things were on my side, timing and space. Eventually, I’d learn that neither of them really was.

The third reason we didn’t work — my *insert word that describes how unnecessarily exasperating I can be*.

One conversation we had, during a particularly difficult stretch, was about communication. In her fashion of effortfulness, she made some suggestions about how we could change our communication regimen to help us feel more connected. In my fashion of being difficult, I resisted, thinking to myself ‘what is wrong with our communication now?’

On top of that, I was feeling particularly individualistic and really wanted to be able to enjoy alone time without needing to explain it. All in all, I was being a jerk while she was trying to make a long-distance relationship work.

She said to me

“We are in a long distance relationship. We don’t have what other people have. To feel close, we need to talk to each other”

This has been on my mind a lot lately. Distance makes it hard to feel connected. Sometimes it is physical distance, sometimes it is emotional distance. Two complicated and often connected forms of distance.

I have started to feel this distance in some of my older(most intimate) friendships and its wrenching. So now, over a year later, I understand even more, how she felt then. I recognise how unhelpful I was.

I am no stranger to physical distance. For the past 10 years, many of my closest friendships have been cultivated through texts and phone calls synched across time zones. Physical distance is a challenge but it is not always going to translate to emotional distance.

I no longer limit the term ‘best friend’ to one person at a time, but for 8 years running, my best friend was someone who I had not seen physically in at least two prior years. I pride myself in my ability to maintain relationships — even with physical distance present between us.

Towards the end of last year, I began to contend with the foreign feeling of distance. It appeared first as a desire for reciprocated effort in my younger, more volatile relationships. From people with whom shared history did not run deep, I started to desire being met in the middle. I did not want to text first always, I wanted to be texted. I did not like my monopoly in seeking after, I wanted to be sought after. I gave my availability freely and began to notice that I did not often get it back. And suddenly I felt lack, want. In many of my formed relationships, this expectations of matched effort was not present- not necessary even. I was perfectly fine with doing all the calling and texting and checking up and reaching out. Now, I seem to be growing tired, because it is effort and it is hard when I start to feel like I alone am doing it. If I do it less, distance will form. And it did, in many relationships. And I am learning to be pretend to be okay with it.

I cannot learn the same thing in older relationships — the feeling is much stronger there. In older relationships, I have first chosen, to be patient.

I understand as well as many others how overwhelming it is to be an adult. the early difficulties of figuring out who you are, what you want, how to be a productive contributor to society. I suppose, in these older relationship, my patience is for them to figure out enough of their life to be able to put some of that effort back.

In my mind, patience is the best form of grace I can offer. I learnt earlier this week that is not. Not always.

My birthday was on Wednesday. I am 26 now. It was a good day, spent in the company of friends. Over the past couple of years, I have realised that this is my preferred way to celebrate my birthday. I don’t plan anything. I simply make myself available in an accessible location so that the people that value being physically with me on this day will do so. And they always do; I love it.

But some of my closest friendships, the ones where physical distance stands between us, the ones where I have begun to feel some emotional distance, some of them missed my birthday.

Missing my birthday, forgetting it, I don’t take it to heart. Except in this case where I am beginning to wonder if it is a symptom that there is growing emotional distance.

It’s okay, of course, for birthdays to be missed. I am more than willing to extend grace, but still it bothers me.

I was talking to a friend recently about this concern. I told her that my plan was to be patient and she made me realise the harm that patience can do. I can’t wait for them to be able to return to what regimen of communication we previously had. It is possible that we will never go back to whatever type of practise previously kept us connected. Offering patience as grace harms because it encourages the belief that we can return to something in the past. Conflict, Confrontation, offers grace in the form of belief that we can achieve emotional connection in some new way. It proclaims care.

But first, and maybe this is why we are scared of it, it demands affirmation.

The biggest thing I want from some of the people with whom I feel emotional distance is a recognition that there is a growing distance that we need to do something about. It is my theory that many relationships end because both parties are not able to acknowledge this to each other. That’s what my girlfriend wanted from me. I know now how not getting that acknowledgement can exasperate the feeling of disconnect.

What use is that knowledge to us now.

Timing, what a bitch.

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Mo Isu

Writing what I can| Being Vulnerable and confused| Making podcasts