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Love in the age of mobility

Submitted by TheRididill on July 1, 2010 – 7:17 amComments

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Long distance love

It can be a great thing, globalization. Much as I’m up for railing against its evils, it sure as hell has some upsides to it. I mean, not even to mention the joys of the internet, which gives a platform for people like me to spout their self indulgent musings to a potential audience of thousands.

One good thing has got to be the globalization of labour, and that means people. People in your country who you would never otherwise meet – those intrepid adventurers who’ve made the pilgrimage to distant shores in the search of money or knowledge, or both. A useful filter, you might say, which may well ensure they are slightly more interesting than everyone else you might happen to chance upon who hasn’t made that effort; or who at the very least has the novelty value of a life story of poverty and hardship which, in turn, is bound to be more engaging than one of growing up on a council estate and working in the local chip shop.

People like my boyfriend, who I met at university. All the way from the sunny sands of Puerto Rico to the drizzley pebble-fest of the British shoreline. It’s astonishing to me how we, who have come from such different backgrounds and contexts in life, could have a more complete connection than anyone I’ve ever met, of all the people who have grown up in a similar environment. It’s a testament to the power of the human mind’s unrepdictability and uniqueness that such connection could triumph in the context of such powerful forces of cultural, socioeconomic and religious (and genetic, if you’re that way inclined) difference. It’s a beautiful thing.

But what happens when the visa runs out? When the study course ends? When it’s time to move on to the next stage of your lives? This is a question that we had to face almost a year ago now, and it’s a toughie. It’s hard enough to commit to someone who lives in the next town, let alone someone who lives a whole ocean away. Whose visits will be limited by both of our work and study commitments. To commit to fidelity when you know you’re going to see each other 5 times a year max? Remember that when you’re spending 5 hours wondering whether to call back that girl/guy you met in the pub two weeks ago and thinking what a difficult commitment even a phone call can be.

The options are so limited – to move to either country, one of us has to abandon our lives and plans and friends. That’s a huge pressure to put on the relationship, something you have to be really sure about. Or you move to a third country, which wins on the fairness points but loses fairly heavily on the practicality side. I mean, rationally, there’s no real reason to make the total opportunity-loss double when you could only sacrifice half. Or, being both independent people, who value your life choices over the temporary nature of relationships, you have a long distance relationship.

That’s the option that won out, but it’s still pretty huge. It switches 90% of your interactions to digital. That means 90% without the physical side. And that’s not the only implication – you can’t hang out as a social group. Doesn’t really work if you Skype on the laptop out clubbing or on a kayaking weekend. You can’t DO anything together.

It only works when you have enough other stuff in your ife to fulfill those other needs. And that’s how we discovered the ‘third way’. The commitment dilemma is a false trade-off, people. You don’t have to choose between love and freedom; you can have both. It’s called an open relationship. I know it sounds crazy, and I never thought I’d do it, but once I got over the initial emotional weirdness I have never looked back. It’s taken all sense of ownership out of our relationship, and rested it upon the things we have always treasured about our time together: the emotional closeness, the intellectual connection, the humour. It’s brought about a more complete trust than I had ever known – and that makes sense, because when you’re abiding by a set of societally prescribed and unchosen rules about monogamy in relationships, you have a lot of incentives to be dishonest. You have a lot of incentives to distrust. But now there’s no reason we would ever lie to each other or suspect each other, because the worst thing we could do, the worst betrayal, cheating, no longer exists. Loyalty, the thing we have most cause to doubt  (and most fear of losing) in our romantic relationships, is no more in question with him than with any other close friend. Because it doesn’t have to be exclusive.

Imagine that. ‘Globalization brings progressive revolution in human relationships!’ Suck on that, Chomsky.

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