News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

February 13, 2014

Dianne Frances D. Powell: Love can endure miles of separation

TERRE HAUTE — Coupledom is “the state of living as a couple, especially when regarded as being interested in each other to the exclusion of the outside world,” according to the dictionary.

Many in coupledom today, however, are living with a lot of the outside world physically between them. Thanks to technology — and love, of course — they are making the relationship work.

To explain, allow me to go back to my teenage years.

Almost exactly two months after I moved to the United States, I woke up to find balloons and a stuffed animal beside my bed with the words, “Happy Valentine’s Day!”

That was the first time someone had given me a Valentine’s Day gift. It was from my dad.

While that was the first time I ever received a Valentine’s Day present from anyone, that was also the first time that my parents spent time together on Valentine’s Day in about a decade. They were not divorced or separated.

They were — and still are — happily married.

My parents endured many years apart for reasons many in today’s economy can probably relate to: working for a better economic future. My dad spent many years in the U.S. getting a graduate degree while my mom worked and took care of three children.

And I might be not be here today if that sacrifice didn’t work.

My parents were among many in coupledom who live or have lived apart by necessity or by choice.

Yes, choice.

A famous example of a couple living apart by choice are director Tim Burton and actress Helena Bonham Carter, who have been together for more than a decade and have two children. They reportedly live next door to each other in two adjoining houses in North London.

The “element” to the decision, Bonham Carter told the British media, was her boyfriend’s snoring.

This new family form is being called Living Apart Together. In 2012, Kate Bolick wrote in Elle Magazine, “Hard numbers are impossible to come by, given that the Census Bureau doesn’t count this demographic, but it has become increasingly common for two people in a loving, committed union, married or otherwise, to maintain separate living quarters.

“One survey,” she continued, “indicates that in the United States some six percent of women and seven percent of men live separately from their partners; throughout northern Europe, it’s about 10 percent — a quarter of all the people there who live alone.”

And for those like my parents, who have had to live apart by necessity — relocation for jobs or military tours — it wasn’t easy, I’m sure.  

I read the letters written on the plane, listened to the voices cracking when recorded on cassette tapes and overheard the long-distance telephone calls. My parents made it work, perhaps, with the aid of technology but mostly, because of love.

Today, many couples who live apart — by necessity or by choice — use Skype for videocalls, Facebook for chats, status/photo sharing and other social media. Just on Thursday, one Terre Haute woman posted a picture of her husband who lives overseas and “tagged” him with her Valentine’s Day greeting.

According to an article on Psychcentral.com, “what once seemed fatal to a marriage is now possible. … [Making marriage work while living apart] requires both commitment and excellent communication skills from both partners.”

The author, Mary Jo Rapini, then described some of the challenges of couples living apart. One of the biggest challenges, she said, is uncertainty about each other’s intentions and goals. Another is jealously or difficulty with commitment.

But she also offered some advice including having a direct discussion about the reasons for living apart; checking in frequently with each other; and committing to seeing each other on a regular basis.

Love is not just an emotion. It’s also a decision.

Just as couples can decide to love one another, they can also commit to making their relationships work even though they are separated by miles, or in Bonham Carter’s case, yards.

As my parents have shown by example, it is possible to stay together while living apart.

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell@tribstar.com.

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