Why social media matters so much in my long distance relationship
If you took Snapchat’s word for it, you’d think something was off between me and my partner. Normally, his name comes up with a heart emoji, the bright red cartoony one that signifies true love in the digital age. But today there’s a cringey face emoji, that little jerk with the smirking mouth and narrowed eyes. The one designated by Snapchat to convey that maybe “he’s just not that into you.”
Snapchat needs to take it down a notch.
We’ve been ignoring the app during a rare week together: in the same house, in the same city, on the same continent. A year ago, I moved back to Canada after five years in the U.K. — giving rise to our long distance relationship.
Now my partner lives in London while I live in Toronto, and we rely on Snapchat to share the everyday little moments we used to have in common — like what’s for dinner, or when a forgotten Kleenex erupts and multiplies into fluff during the spin cycle.
I send a lot of snaps. Too many, sometimes. Alone in my apartment, I feel like a child trying to get someone’s attention. Look what I cooked! Check out this video game I’m playing! Some days he must wake up with over a minute’s worth of snaps waiting to be played.
But in a long distance relationship, there’s no time to overthink your social media addiction. It’s a little ironic: modern relationship wisdom cautions us to put aside our devices and spend more time with our loved ones — but when you’re an ocean apart, that just doesn’t hold up.
Every morning, I bounce out of bed to unplug my phone and see what’s happened during the five hours London has already been awake. WhatsApp notifications on my lock screen are a cue for my insides to go warm and fuzzy – the loved-up version of butterflies you get in the early days of dating and texting.
In the absence of your person, even the sight of their name becomes thrilling. He liked my Instagram! I feel like a teenager with a crush, except the object of my affection is someone who’s done the late night Kotex run.
Maybe this is why we tell people that, actually, long distance isn’t so bad. There’s truth to the old cliche about absence making the heart grow fonder. When you live with a partner, it’s easy to become apathetic about them, or worse. An ocean makes it harder to take someone for granted.
That’s not to say that living apart is easy. When my partner signs off for the day, my heart crumples up like a paper ball. That feeling – of chest pressure and getting the wind knocked out of you – had me worried for a good few months, until I Googled “why does it hurt to miss someone” and found a Reddit thread explaining the vagus nerve.
Sometimes, especially if he’s going to bed early, he wants to say goodnight while I’m at the gym. Texting while twisting your way out of the complex elastic prison of a sports bra isn’t pleasant; I’m usually in a hurry to wash my hair and get home before rush hour. As I sit on a bench in a towel and wait out the minutes-long intervals between messages, I become resentful. Of long distance, of technology, and yes, sometimes of him.
But even though it’s not always convenient — or even possible — saying goodnight in real time matters.
Apart from a few times when we were on the outs, my partner has texted me a kiss every night when we aren’t physically together since our first date five years ago. It’s a tiny ritual of unspoken significance, a thread woven through good times and bad.
When we live together again, it will mean the end of goodnight text kisses – possibly forever.
And of course that will be a good thing, because it will mean that we’re in the same place. But it will also be sad, because it will mean letting that thread trail off.
The reality is, when you share your space with someone, you have to work much harder to avoid life devolving into a cringey face emoji. In any relationship, you get out what you put in.