how to maintain intimacy while traveling

The Age of Miracles

If I remember the story right, my paternal grandparents met at a USO dance just before Grandpa shipped off to fix bombers in Italy and Africa during World War II. They kept in touch via letters, maybe one or two a month, for two years before he returned. They were married, had three great kids and my Dad, too (zing!) and stayed together for more than half a century.

Think about that for a moment. Two years of just the occasional letter, during a time of war, no less, when you couldn’t really even be sure that the person on the other end was still interested or even still alive. Or think of the Civil War, when the postal service wasn’t nearly as consistent.

I’m writing this in a hotel room in San Francisco. I’m on a business/training trip, teaching some classes here and then heading down to L.A. to interview and train with a Japanese performance artist. I’ll be gone from home for ten days, and that comes after a previous ten-day trip in October. Meanwhile my partner and I are still very much in the “honeymoon phase” since our commitment ceremony last June, so there’s quite a bit of pining and “I miss you’s” going back and forth.

But that’s why I call this an age of miracles. Not the least because I get to sit in a chair and fly through the air to travel these thousand-plus miles. But because I can send her a message telling her “Love you” in faster than it takes you to read this sentence.

Literally. I just did it. And moments later got her response: Love you, back. More everyday. Are we spoiled? Is it silly or clingy or needy (or all three) to bemoan a ten-day separation when couples used to go through months, years of separation with minimal contact? I don’t think so. Like all feelings, it’s subjective, and it’s also tied a lot to expectation. If you know the person you love could contact you more than they actually are, then it can make those feelings worse. Getting a letter that was written by the light of burning airplanes in north Africa is probably a bit more exciting than a tiny text message.

Keep in Loving Touch

Because of my work, this is far from the first (or last) time that Natasha and I will be apart. Over the years of our relationship we’ve found a few ways that help maintain the closeness and even intimacy of our relationship in spite of the travel.

  1. Leverage Technology. We all carry these little miracles around with us, or keep them on our desks. Sending text messages or short voice memos to each other is a great way to give tiny touches of contact during the day. We also send “good morning” pictures (usually hers is to remind me to take my medication) and occasional snapshots during the day. So, things like this:
  2. Don’t Let Technology Leverage You. You may be wondering why we don’t use video messaging like Skype or FaceTime, or why we don’t take that radical step of using the phone to make a phone call (what a concept!)? The reason is simple: for some reason that technology doesn’t work so well for us. We both have busy days, and trying to match schedules for real-time communication is often difficult. Other people I know love phone calls and find text messages tedious. Just because you have the technology doesn’t mean you are required to use it. Use what works for the two of you, and let the rest go.
  3. Ditch Technology. The US Postal Service is a miracle in its own way, and the personal touch of writing a letter or sending a postcard may be slow but it is always appreciated. Sure, you could send an email faster – but the visceral sense of ink on paper that you have actually touched makes a difference for your loved ones. As a side note: I’ve found a good compromise for this is the PostGram App. It combines the personal touch of your own photos with the tactile joy of getting a postcard, for only .99 each.
  4. Nothing is Too Small. One of the biggest mistakes you can make when you are at a distance from your lover is the idea that they won’t want to hear from you. Here’s the tip: if you are thinking of them, let them know. If you think “Oh, I wish I could show her this shirt,” then snap a picture and share it. Part of the miraculous nature of technology is that if someone is too busy,  the message will wait for them. Many’s the time I’ve seen a voice message arrive when I was too busy to listen – but knowing that it was from my sweetheart means that I look forward to creating that moment of intimacy and actually hear her voice.
  5. Make Use of Talismans. Something as simple as a picture of your beloved on your phone, or a piece of jewelry that reminds you of your connection. By taking these talismans with you through your day, you create a shared presence that makes their absence easier to take. It’s the equivalent of the lock of hair kept by separated lovers in the days of yore, but it can be so much more. Once I sent a special cigar to a lover knowing that she would enjoy it while thinking of me, or more importantly, us. Sometimes it’s watching the same movie, sometimes it’s just knowing that you’re both eating at the same time. The more you can link physical experiences to the thought of your distant intimate the easier it will be to still feel their presence in spite of the distance.

That’s five off the top of my head. What ways have you found work when you’re apart from the ones you love? And what doesn’t work so well? Be sure to share in the comments!

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1 thought on “how to maintain intimacy while traveling”

  1. Using friends and/or other partners as conduits and talismans.

    For example, right now I am four states away from my girlfriend and my partner of 4yrs. But they can still get together and do the things we all like to do together. Last night I got to talk to them both on speaker phone after a particularly well plotted scene.

    Yes, they have their own connection and a growing non platonic friendship, but a lot of their time together is spent mutually thinking about me. (Heh, or at least they say, 🙂 I have had that with a metamour as well, although we never played together, but getting together for coffee playing cards and talking about how adorable our mutual love is was really great in times of distance.

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