The Space Between Us: Finding the Beauty & the Balance in a Long-Distance Marriage

Love and Sex

The Space Between Us: Finding the Beauty & the Balance in a Long-Distance Marriage

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

I am sitting on the couch at the end of a long day. My daughter has gone to sleep in my mother’s room. I’ve showered, made myself a grilled mushroom sandwich and am ready to savour the next hour that I have to myself. There is a book I must finish but for now I choose a Brooklyn 99 re-run because I desperately need some Jake Peralta sass. After a mild burst of endorphins course through me, I turn off the telly, brush my teeth, and settle into my book. I read until I am exhausted enough to forget that I am alone in bed.  

It has been two years, four months, and a couple of days since my husband and I decided to live apart – in Dubai and Bangalore. The two of us had grown up, worked, and built our entire lives in Dubai, but after our daughter came along, suddenly things changed. Discontent overpowered me; a combination of boredom with a city that had nothing new to give me and a desire to do more with my life as a writer and mother. But he wasn’t ready to leave yet. After years, he’d finally landed a job that he loved. We both had valid points to stay or leave. Months of harrowing arguments and discussions led to what felt like middle-ground – long-distance marriage. I’d move to Bangalore where my parents lived and he would come down every month. 

The questions, advice, and judgment poured upon us. “How are you guys going to manage this?” “Have you thought about how this is going to affect the little one?” Some of the words stuck and bothered us enough to reconsider but in the end it boiled down to wanting to try. We had lived apart for a year once before before we were parents. It had been a painful ordeal but that was a long time ago. I was counting on our acquired maturity since then to get us through now. We packed some boxes, inhaled, and crossed our fingers. 

Today, I can look each one of those intrusive, albeit well-intentioned, folks in the eye and tell them – Yes, you were right about everything. About how difficult it would be to hold ourselves together as a family. About how distance can amplify misunderstandings enough to turn lovers into strangers

In the first few months of the move, we did good. The thrill of discovering a new city together, making new friends and planning spontaneous getaways every time he visited rejuvenated us. Our joint priority of ensuring minimal impact on the child rooted us together. 

The thrill of discovering a new city together, making new friends and planning spontaneous getaways every time he visited rejuvenated us.

Perhaps it was this very concern that began taking a toll on the idea of “us”. I began to see him more as the father of my child than my husband. My conversations with him revolved around her routine as an effort to compensate for what he was missing out on. I would then passive-aggressively rub details in his face to show how difficult it was to manage the parenting load when he wasn’t around. 

I resented him for telling me, “If you’re struggling, come back.” It wasn’t fair for him to still have pieces of our former life together to cling on to while I bobbed about in an unfamiliar ocean of chaos. Of course I’d sailed to this ocean on my own accord but where’s the fun in blaming yourself?

Even when we came together, we didn’t quite know where to pick up from. We weren’t bound by routines. I did everything when he wasn’t around and when he came down, he was suddenly the hero in my daughter’s eyes, the parent showering her with presents and fun outings. 

I wish we’d been better at fighting at that point. But the worst part about being apart is losing the luxury of slamming a door in your spouse’s face. I stuffed a lot of my anger into a black hole within me . Only it didn’t stay there. Some days it boiled out and poured all over my poor kid and on others, I recycled it with a fresh purpose and hurled it back at him. 

It was physical intimacy that came through when words failed. Sex reminded us that we were more than just two bickering parents in a transcontinental relationship. Whenever I felt stretched like an about-to-snap rubber band, his warmth pacified me. Despite the countless issues we had to resolve, being together in bed gave us the right kind of amnesia.

Sex reminded us that we were more than just two bickering parents in a transcontinental relationship.

It has been two years, four months and a couple of days since we took the leap. At this point, we don’t know how much longer we will go on like this for. But we’ve learnt from our mistakes and have worked hard to set up rules to keep us afloat, the most important one being that we won’t stay apart for more than a month. When I’m mad at him, I tell him exactly why, even if it means listening to how some of it is my fault as well. 

There are no daily “I Love you” declarations but mostly we end our days connecting with stories and a reassuring kindness. I listen to him talk about how well he is doing at work and don’t feel a pang of envy when he shares that he’s going out with our friends. He asks about my yoga class, writing, and the street dogs that I feed. We pay attention to each other’s voices – to scrape away pretensions and tell the difference between being dull, sad or just tired. 

We share songs that remind us of each other. Funny animal videos help too. 

As we sleep in separate beds, miles apart, thrust into our own individual struggles – him dealing with the frustration of living apart from us and me with powering on in single-parent mode, loneliness overpowers us. Phone calls and Skype can only achieve so much. I want to be able to complain to him about an irritating lady at the grocery store. I want to have a shoulder to cry on at my disposal. I want to not have my heart break every time I watch his suitcase roll away on the day he has to leave. 

Do we regret the decision? Sometimes yes but mostly no. As much as we’ve been wrung out of patience, this has been our most courageous effort as a couple.

Of all the lessons I’ve learnt, the most important one is that love isn’t enough. At some point, the fizz of romance and comfort of a family doesn’t fully cut it and the heart starts crystallizing goals for itself. You start seeing more of what works for “you” and not “us” and while I still struggle to define this term, I can tell you what others call it – being selfish. What both of us are doing right now is being true to our own intentions for a greater bliss. 

Our marriage has turned into a Dali painting – marvellous but bizarre. It is far from perfect and makes little sense but we’re quite alright with that. We’re an unconventional work-in-progress; getting better, sometimes worse, but never stagnating.

Next month is our eleventh wedding anniversary. For the first time in a while, it is going to be me taking him out for a fancy meal with my hard-earned savings as a writer. For a few hours, the world will shrink to include just us and a pleasant waiter refilling my glass. When we leave, he will curl his arm around my waist like how he has always done from the day we met. And I will take comfort in knowing that no matter how much things change between us, we will somehow make it.