Long distance: my ex-relationship through a screen

By KELSEY KO | December 2, 2017

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COURTESY OF KELSEY KO

You never expect you’ll be in a long-distance relationship until you’re in one. And then there you are, with all that it entails: laying in the dark with your face warmed by the light of a pixelated screen; or holding your phone up to the sky because a strong signal is your lifeline to that person halfway across the world.

Man, hasn’t technology made relationships easier? I can only imagine that before technology, in the era of pigeons and mailmen, the wait must’ve been agonizing.

But now you can say “I love you” in real time, as long as your network connectivity is solid. You can be sitting on the toilet and find thousands of hot people in your area by opening up an app. Or maybe technology has made relationships harder. Someone can break up with you without even talking to you in person, leaving you to realize only when you check your phone to see the “it’s not you, it’s me” text.

When I look back at my first real relationship, I see it through a prism of FaceTime calls, texts and occasional visits. We met online and broke up online. He went to school in New Jersey and I went to school in Baltimore. Without the glorious world of online dating, I never even would’ve met him.

We talked a lot about technology in that relationship. Wasn’t it fate that we both somehow happened to be in the same 10-mile radius for a brief instant, so that our online paths crossed? Wasn’t it crazy and amazing that we could see each other and talk to each other in real-time every day? Wow, wasn’t technology great?

It really wasn’t. We’d FaceTime and call, only to spend hours talking about how excited we were to see each other next. No amount of seeing someone’s pixelated face compares to holding them in your arms. My default feeling when it came to that relationship was anticipation, and our love blossomed on the promises of “next time.” I was in a perpetual state of limbo, where my digital life was inseparably tied to my romantic life. In fact, my romantic life was my digital life.

It was a strange form of masochism, denying myself from seeing someone for so long until the next moment I could. For months, I stood at the precipice of a fulfilling relationship that never came.

Towards the great fizzle-out at the end of the relationship, I was distraught. So many people I knew were in successful long-distance relationships. What was I doing wrong? If I cared about someone, shouldn’t the FaceTime calls and text messages and occasional visits be enough? Why was I being so selfish?

But I’d forgotten about the ugly. When it came to me and my ex, technology emboldened us to be more cruel. At the end, when I was alone in my room with only my phone held up to my ear, he would cut through me with his words, made cold and impersonal by the miles between us and the static of the phone.

We would let our anger simmer long after our phone calls and text combatively through all hours — while eating dinner, while hanging out with our friends, while staying up late into the night. When our connection would cut out or I hit “do not disturb” on my phone at the end of the day, I’d be grateful. I needed some sort of reprieve.

There it was, the double-edged sword: technology with its way of creating instant closeness but also its way of making draining and hurtful situations inescapable.

Today, in my current relationship, there’s little FaceTiming since we both attend Hopkins. But without a doubt, when he was on the West Coast and I was on the East Coast last summer, that was the rockiest part of our relationship. Maybe it was because it reminded me so vividly of the turbulence of long distance, tech and love from my first relationship.

As we hurdle rapidly towards a more digitally connected world, I find myself afraid for the state of human connection. There’s a certain back-to-the-basics simplicity in talking at length with someone in person, beyond just texting or Snapchatting them 24/7. I long for it all the time, and I also long to be released from the pressure of having to be in constant contact with others.

Back home in Pennsylvania, my friend Maggie and I would often go hiking in the woods, where we’d have no cell phone reception. Every time we approached a particular ravine on the trail, she would turn to me, her eyes twinkling.

“What if we just threw our phones off the ravine?” she’d ask. “I feel like it’d be satisfying.”

I don’t think the collective destruction of our phones and laptops is the answer. But I hope that we don’t forget the value of finding peace and space outside of the digital realm. Without first prioritizing human company, who will we even connect and keep in touch with online?

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