Tag Archives: skype

Family moments across the miles

7:40 this morning, just after I get out the shower, skype rings on my laptop. It’s my grandparents, playing with their brand new iPad.

When I answer, my grandparent’s living room pops up and I can see my mother and grandfather peering, puzzled, straight into the camera.

Me: “Hello?”

Pa: “Now how do you…”

Me: “Hello?”

Mum: “Don’t press that one!”

Me: “Hello? Can you hear me?”

Pa: “Well, where’s the other little thing?”

Me: “Hello? Did you call me?”

Mum: “It’s somewhere down the bottom there.”

Me: “You called me accidentally, didn’t you. And you can’t hear me.”

Pa: “I can’t find it.”

Me: “OK then, I’m just going to hang out around here until you figure things out.”

Mum: “No, not that one!”

Pa: “Bugger.”

Mum: “Oh, look. There’s Lisa. She’s, uh, got her bra on.”

Pa (laughing): “She’s getting dressed.”

Me: “Oops, I didn’t think the camera showed that far.”

Pa: “Why can’t we hear her?”

Mum: “I’m sure the volume switch is around here somewhere.”

Four minutes later, they finally find the volume switch and I find the rest of my clothes. Pa tells me all about the chook shed he is building for my cousin, and Nanna tells me about all the delicious baking she did for family Christmas. Then Mum takes control of the iPad.

Mum: “I’m going to show you something that will make you homesick.”

Me: “Great, thanks, that’s just what I need.”

Mum turns the iPad around so that I can see one of my favourite views in the world – the river out my grandparent’s window. It’s a gorgeous, sunny day. The tide is in and the water and sky are both a clear, shiny blue.

Mum: “Can you see the guy waterskiing?”

Me: “Yes, I can see him.”

Mum: “And the dog?”

Me: “There’s a dog waterskiing?”

Mum: “No, not waterskiing, on the footpath.”

Me: “Oh, OK. Yup, I can see that dog.”

Mum: “So do you feel homesick?”

Me: “Yes, yes I do actually. Thanks for that.”

It seems that you no longer need to be on the same continent as your family to experience classic family moments during the holidays.

And that?

Priceless.

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The most important quality in a marriage (2)

This post is a continuation of the discussion we began on Friday about the most important quality in a marriage. Below is an excerpt from the memoir I am working on. It recounts a conversation Mike and I had via skype before we got engaged, when he was  in PNG and I was in LA.

…Even when we were talking, on our carefully scheduled skype dates, it wasn’t guaranteed to be smooth and happy sailing. Occasionally we’d be talking away easily one minute only to find ourselves mired in a messy miscommunication the next. Or we’d be laughing and a moment later one of us would have blundered unexpectedly into a virtual minefield.

This was the situation I found myself in late one night, about a month before Mike was to arrive in LA in May. We’d been talking for an hour already, but before we wrapped up I suggested we dip into the question box.

The question box was a tool we used sometimes to help move us past the whats, whens, and hows of our days. A solid plastic rectangle, it held hundreds of small cards each with a different question printed on them.

What is one special holiday memory from childhood?

If you had to move to a foreign country indefinitely, which one would you choose?

What’s your favorite flavour of ice cream?

This night, however, the card that I randomly selected touched on a topic much weightier than ice cream.

“What’s the question?” Mike asked, after I’d been silent for a couple of seconds, debating whether to throw it back and pick another one.

“OK,” I said, deciding to stick with it, “what’s the most important quality in a marriage?”

“Commitment,” Mike said almost immediately. Then he paused and talked around the concept for a while, trying on words like honesty and forgiveness.

“No,” he finally said decisively. “Commitment.”

Sleepy and relaxed I opened my mouth and started to think out loud.

“I don’t think so,” I said. “I think it’s affection, or warmth, or… kindness,” I finished with assurance. “Yeah, kindness. I’d rank that above commitment.”

There was silence from the other end of the skype line.

“Hello?” I said.

“Is that because commitment would already be there?” Mike asked.

“I guess so,” I said. “I can’t easily see a relationship that’s full of affection and kindness not being built on some foundation of commitment, but I can envision it the other way around – a committed relationship lacking kindness. And that’s just ugly.”

Again, silence.

“Hello?” I said.

“I’m a bit paralyzed right now,” the distant Mike finally replied. “I think I’m better at commitment than I am at affection. I just don’t think I can discuss this any more at the moment. I have to get back to the office over here anyway.”

“Oh,” I said, completely startled. “Uh, OK. That’s not one of my fears in relation to us by the way, that you’re not good at affection, but alright.”

“We’re OK, it’s not you, I’ve just stumbled over some of my own inner furniture,” Mike managed to reassure me before signing of. “We’ll talk soon.”

We did talk soon, but not before I’d spent an uncomfortable day or two wondering where I’d gone wrong. Perhaps, I ventured to my parents after thinking it through, it was the moment when I opened my mouth after Mike had bared his soul and basically insinuated that I didn’t think commitment was that big a deal and that I’d be in a marriage only as long as I thought the other person was being kind.

“Yeah, that might have done it, I’d say,” Mum said.

“Mum!” I said.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” she said, negating any reassurance the statement might have delivered by laughing immediately afterwards.

“I do think commitment is hugely important,” I said. “And I know any commitment – to marriage, to a place – is going to have times when it’s tested. I was just saying that I’m not sure commitment is the be-all and the end-all. I mean, would I really want to stay in a marriage indefinitely if sheer single-minded commitment was all it had going for it? Commitment might be an effective glue but surely kindness or something else has to be present much of the time to make it worth holding something together?”

Mum didn’t venture to touch that one.

“What do you think is the most important quality in a marriage then?” I asked her.

“Balance,” she said.

“Balance??” asked my father, who’d been listening in from the other side of the study.

“Balance,” my mother repeated. “What have other people said?”

“Well, two of my colleagues said trust,” I said, “and another one said good-will – the commitment to hold a good image of that person in your mind even when you’re not liking them in the moment.”

“Does anyone want to know what I think?” Dad asked in my favorite tone of voice – that of the patient martyr.

Apparently it’s Mum’s favorite tone of voice, too, because she was quicker off the mark than I was.

“Not really,” she said breezily.

“Yes, Dad,” I said, rolling my eyes at both of them. “We want to know what you think.”

“A commitment to love,” he announced. “It combines commitment and kindness.”

“That is not a single quality,” Mum replied.

“And balance is?” Dad asked.

Over to you… any further thoughts on this topic? I’d love to hear them. Or, uh, what’s your favourite flavour of ice cream? I’d love to hear that too. Hope your week is off to a good start.

Reunions

In the three and a half years we’ve known each other, Mike and I have spent at least 3 weeks apart nine times now. When Mike was still living in PNG there was the three months apart right after we started dating and three and a half more after we got engaged. There were four month-long overseas consultancies Mike did during our first year of marriage. We spent about half of the first six months of last year apart before our move to Laos. And then there’s been this last ten weeks.

Mike will arrive into the Gold Coast tomorrow morning at about 7:30am, so when I haven’t been wondering whether the baby will beat him here I’ve been thinking a lot about reunions lately.

The last couple of days before a reunion I used to get oddly nervous. I wanted to be back together again but I often caught myself fretting about his return, too. What if he’d changed? What if I had? What if we struggled to find things to talk about? What if it was weird and we ended up staring at each other over the dinner table (or in bed) wondering, “who are you, and what are you doing here again?”

I’m not feeling nervous about Mike getting here this time – possibly because when I haven’t been busy forgetting all about appointments and planned skype calls any fretting I’ve done in the last ten days has run more along the lines of: “who am I, and how did I end up pregnant and living with my parents again?” So given that Mike is landing here in ten hours I’d say I’m home free this time, because even when I did get nervous in advance of a reunion I was usually beyond the anxious stage by the time I reached the airport.

I always aimed to get to the airport not too long after Mike’s plane was scheduled to land so that I’d be there before he exited customs. I wrote the following in my journal the day after one of these pickups during our first year of marriage:

I don’t mind these airport waits as long as they don’t go on too long. You can’t maintain that focused state of excited expectation for too long before it rises, crests, and transforms into something else for a while – boredom, thinking about things I need to do, anxiety. But as long as they don’t drag on beyond an hour there’s a wonderful concentration to these snippets of waiting to come together again. A profound gratitude, and amazement, that we have journeyed halfway around the world and yet again found our way safely back to each other. A wonder at the mystery of relationships, at how my life has been transformed during the last two years in ways I had never imagined.

I like standing there in the airport anticipating the moment that Mike will come through that door. I like watching other people doing their own waiting and wondering what has bought them to that point. I like feeling a part of the mystery of a thousand separate lives all meeting at that single moment like a huge tangled ball of living yarn.

Waiting in the airport is that turning point from the busyness of getting ready to have him home and the solitude of the last month. The familiar happiness of reunion begins before he even appears, although the instant of greeting is always a slightly different experience. Yesterday, the kiss I’d been anticipating – that radiant singular moment of greeting – was fleeting and not as electric I’d expected. The hug was better. All warm, and stubbly, and smelling him familiar, his hands firm against my back, tilting my face up towards him as you lift it to sunshine on a spring day.

Our last LAX reunion before moving to Laos - June 2010

What have been your experiences with reunions – what do they make you think and feel? Do you have any reunion traditions?

A skype date at 37 weeks pregnant

“How are you?” Mike asked me last night via skype.

“I’m grumpy,” I said.

“Why are you grumpy?” Mike said.

“I don’t know. Why are you in Laos?” I said.

Mike stops to puzzle this over for a few seconds, then decides not to engage on that front.

“Well, tell me about today,” he said.

“I talked to Jenn and Robin by skype. I lay down for a while. I read. I went to the chiropractor. I made an apple and rhubarb crumble. We had pizza for dinner. We watched TV,” I said, outlining a day most people might consider nearly perfect in its restfulness.

The problem, as I went on to explain to Mike, was that it was the third nearly perfectly restful day I’d had in a row and I was starting to get restless. It’s the first time in a year I haven’t had either consulting work or the memoir to occupy me during the day. I’m grateful for this extra mental space, but it’s making the days long. I’m at that stage where I can’t spend more than a couple of hours out and about without returning exhausted. My feet, after weeks of doing so well in the cold weather here, are swollen. Whoever the doctor was who claimed Braxton Hicks contractions are painless must have been an unmarried man. My back hurts, and I’ve even been banned from walking 2km in one go and doing all but the most gentle of yoga poses.

“The baby could come any moment,” I finished. “Or it could be five more weeks. And I hate these in-between stages.”

Mike listened to this litany of woes and, thankfully, didn’t remind me that many women manage to soldier through pregnancy while also caring for other children, or working full time, or alone, or while fleeing the latest horrible conflict or deadly famine in Africa. I know all of that, and on days like yesterday having someone else dish out some version of the “lots of other people have it worse than you do” perspective check usually doesn’t help in the moment. It just makes me even grumpier, because I end up feeling like a pathetic, complaining weakling on top of everything else.

Instead, Mike asked me how I’d been dealing with the grumps.

“Oh, really productively,” I said. “For example, I skulked about the kitchen while Mum was making dinner and complained that she’d bought the wrong type of pizza bases, that we didn’t have enough pizza sauce or the right type of trays for cooking pizza, that she’d set the temperature wrong on the oven, and that I wanted to fix my half just the way I liked it. I think she wanted to banish me to the living room. Or maybe back to Laos.”

“What’d she do?” Mike asked, possibly looking for tips on how to handle this scenario during those times I know that he wants to ban me from offering commentary in the kitchen while he’s cooking.

“Not much,” I said. “She pretty much patiently ignored me the same way she ignores Dad when he’s being unreasonably grumpy.”

At this point we managed to segue away from my grumpiness and talk for an hour about family dynamics, this article on the Harvard Grant study and happiness, the true meaning of church, and whether, when, and how we should venture opinions when people seem set on doing things that appear way less than wise because they “made a promise to God” or feel that “God told them to.”

You would think that an hour of talking with my distant beloved would have completely shifted my mood. Alas, no. This is how the conversation ended at 10pm.

“I’m going to let you go so that you can take your yawning self to bed,” Mike said.

“I don’t want to go and go to bed,” I whined, somehow instantly transformed back into a petulant five year-old. “I want a cuddle.”

“Well, even if I were there I’m not sure you’d be getting one from me. I might be telling you to go sort yourself out. In bed,” Mike said.

“If you were here I’d bite you,” I said.

“I know.” Mike smiled the smile of someone who was safely out of biting range. “I love you.”

P.S. If you followed that link on the current food crises in Somalia and Kenya and are wondering how to help, here are some more links to World Vision and Oxfam.

P.P.S. Since my parents were mentioned, I ran this past one of them before publishing it. Mum laughed and said maybe Dad should be vetting it instead of her. She suggested that I include the fact that Dad is not often unreasonably grumpy, but I said that such a caveat would spoil the punchiness of the line. Then she suggested I maybe could include the fact that Dad has been massaging my swollen feet for me many nights. I pointed out that, while true, that fact is a narrative tangent irrelevant to this tale. Sorry Dad, maybe next time.

Stories we tell our grandchildren

It’s been a busy week on this side of the world. I’m juggling two consulting projects from the kitchen table here in Laos, both for clients in London. One of the projects is reviewing training material for workshops running in Sudan and Chad next week. Sudan, incidentally, is where my father headed off to for two months yesterday on his own consulting project. The world seems very small sometimes. Well, except when you’re flying across the Pacific – then it seems enormous. Or when you stop and think about the fact that your immediate family is once again scattered over four continents.

OK, the world is not that small come to think of it. But thank God for the internet, and for skype. One of these days I will write an Ode to Skype. I will.

Did you know that when I first went to University in Sydney (way back in 1995) I wrote weekly letters back to my parents – who were about as far away as they could get, in Washington DC – and received weekly letters back? I sometimes also used to receive cartoons that my mother had clipped from the Washington Post and stuck in an envelope and posted with nary a note inside. Not even a scrawled, “Thinking of you. Love you”. This practice invariably made me roll my eyes. We didn’t even have our own individual phones in our dorm rooms. Nine of us that lived in the same group shared a phone in the common room that could only receive incoming calls. So on Sunday mornings I used to hang around the dorm waiting for my parents to call in. Sometimes we connected, sometimes we didn’t.

Mike and I were talking the other day about the stories that we might tell our grandkids. My grandparents tell stories about not finishing high school. Or getting married at twenty and then having him go off to fight in WWII two weeks later and not coming back for two years. Or owning and working a sugar cane farm, and the year that there was a huge flood and the barn burned down. My father talks about growing up on a dairy farm, and how it was a special treat to have chicken on Christmas day, and how he had to milk all the cows before and after school. My mother talks about going to school in a three-room schoolhouse down the road with 40 other kids.

These stories fascinate me. I can remember this sugar cane farm – my mother’s parents didn’t move off it until I was about thirteen – and I briefly attended this tiny school in between the time we lived in Bangladesh and the first time we moved to Washington DC. I’ve glimpsed these lives, but they haven’t really been mine. I feel that way a lot, actually – that I’ve glimpsed many, many different lives, but most of them haven’t really been mine. This process of figuring out what sort of life has been and is mine remains an ongoing one.

Mike and I decided the stories that would probably seem as foreign to our grandkids as stories of two-year separations during World War II seem to us, would be the stories about LBTI – Life Before The Internet. It will probably be inconceivable to our children, not to mention our grandchildren, that this time existed before computers in homes, before email, skype, and mobile phones, before the bone deep assurance that you can reach almost anyone, almost anywhere, as quickly as you want and need to.

I reckon these stories – the ones about handwriting school assignments in eleventh grade, researching papers using only our set of encyclopedias, penning letters home in University, scheduled weekly phone calls that sometimes didn’t happen, and years spent in overseas countries when my parents could only call their parents very infrequently (and it cost the moon) – these are the stories that will smack of science fiction. They will force these children to imagine a world very different from the one that they know.

What do you think? And what sorts of stories have your parents and grandparents told you? Does the world that they grow up in seem foreign or familiar?

The rat has left the room

On his first night in Malawi Mike woke up at midnight to see a rat running around his room. Every time he got up to try and find it, it disappeared. When he turned the lights off and lay back down he heard it come out of hiding again to chew on the door, or drag all the toilet paper onto the floor, or knock his toiletries off the bench. He said he didn’t sleep super well. Lisa was surprised he slept at all.

Fast forward to 6pm the next night (8am LA time). Mike has just returned from his first day at the office to be told by the hotel staff that they have not managed to find and remove the rat from his room because “they were out all day.”

Mike sounds somewhat resigned to this state of affairs.

Lisa: “You need to go and demand another room until they get the rat.”

Mike: “I don’t think there are any other rooms left, and they’re all really depressing anyway. I can’t really be bothered. I think I’ll just stay here.”

What Lisa was thinking: Are you insane?? If that rat got up on the bathroom counter you think it couldn’t get up on the bed, huh? And what do you think it’ll do when it’s on the bed in the dark in the middle of the night? EAT YOUR FACE!!!

[Contrary to widespread public opinion, however, Lisa does have some filters. And she judged that this might not be a helpful thing to say to a jet-lagged and overwhelmed spouse who was contemplating another night in ratville.]

What Lisa said: “Well, you’re a big boy. I’m sure you’ll figure something out.”

Mike via email at 8:12pm Malawi time (10:12am LA time): “Rat just left room. Apparently he’s a potty trained rat because as I was sitting at the desk he crawled over to the door and motioned to me that he wanted out. So I opened the door, which of course scared him because he’s a skittish thing. But I sat back down at my desk and prayed for God to give the little bugger the courage to try going out again. And he did. Thanks be to God.”

Skype date, the monologue

It’s 3:30pm in LA, 6:30am in Banda Aceh. The last time Lisa and Mike talked was four days ago – a mobile phone conversation that lasted precisely 12 minutes and 32 seconds before the line unexpectedly dropped out.

There is a three second delay on today’s line. This means a lot of stop and start simultaneous conversation if they try to talk naturally. They have learned the hard way that the best way to do a skype date with a delay on the line is to treat skype like a two-way radio and have a “monologue date”. One person asks a question, then waits. The other person talks for as long as they want, on whatever they want, before handing over the floor. Sometimes this is fine because, let’s face it, there are times when everyone wants to talk uninterrupted to a captive audience. Sometimes it’s damn annoying.

They are three weeks into this trip. They are over skype dating. It’s firmly in the damn annoying zone.

Lisa: “Hi!” [simultaneously] Mike: “Hi!”
Lisa: “Oh, delay.” [simultaneously, and sighing] Mike: “Delay.”
Lisa: “How are you?”
Mike: “No, you talk.”
Lisa (complaining): “But I did most of the talking last time. You talk.”
Mike (not budging): “It’s early, very early. You talk.”
Lisa: “Early doesn’t seem to be a problem other times. Fine.” [Exaggerated sigh] “What do you want to hear about then?”
Mike: “Are you going to treat me like this when I get back next week?”
Lisa: “Maybe. If you’re very, very, lucky.”

The Birds

Lisa and Mike are having a skype date. Mike’s just finished a three week consultancy in PNG and is at Lisa’s parents place in Ballina for two days before heading back to LA. Lisa is in LA, not at all jealous about her family hanging out at home without her. Not at all.

Mike: “So, what else happened today?”

Lisa (running a bit short on material since she’s been sitting at the kitchen table all morning writing, thinks hard). “OH! There was this bird. Well, two birds actually. There was this girl bird just sitting on the railing minding her own business. And then this boy bird flies down and sits about a couple of feet away and pretends not to notice her at all for a while, but you KNOW he’s interested because he’s fluffing up his feathers and doing his little boy bird dance and sneaking peeks at her out of the corner of his little eye.”

Mike: “Mmmm. What was she doing?”

Lisa: “Pretending not to pay any attention of course, and the courtship was proceeding according to plan until she decided to hop off the railing and have a little fly around. Presumably, to show him that she COULD fly. Except, she flew in the open door of the apartment and round to where I was sitting, and then tried to fly out the locked screen, which didn’t work so well. So she beat herself against the screen, and then the glass in an absolute flurry of desperation and frantic cheeping.”

Mike: “What was the boy bird doing?”

Lisa: “He was sitting on the railing, watching, hopping from side to side, not knowing WHAT to do.”

Mike: “Well, of course he didn’t know what to do. Because you know what she was saying?”

Lisa: “No. What was she saying?”

Mike: “Don’t help me! Don’t help me! I’m fine! Just fine!”

Love Long Distance

It’s my birthday tomorrow, and I can tell you something I won’t be doing… talking to my husband.

No, we’re not fighting.

He’s in Papua New Guinea.

Yes, again.

It’s been ten days since we got back from Australia, eight days since our Los Angeles wedding reception, and six days since he left for a about a month to do a consultancy with Oxfam. I’m relearning what it’s like to be alone, which is exactly the lesson every new bride longs to learn two months after her wedding.

To be perfectly honest, there’s something to be said for alone. Reading late at night and a whole bed to yourself, for one. No one pestering you to give them more than 10% of the closet, for another. But, on the whole, alone has been emptier than I’d anticipated this week. Quieter. And I have had to light my own candles, pour my own glass of wine, and turn on the mood music myself after I get home from work.

If I said that to Mike he’d roll his eyes and say, “Awww, it’s so hard, isn’t it? How do you manage to be you?”

But I can’t say that to Mike, because he’s in some remote village right now completely out of cell phone range and keeping company with fleas instead of me.

I was thinking, driving to work this morning, about how often we’ve been in this situation during the last year, and how few places there really are left in the world where you are literally uncontactable. Even in aid work that’s unusual now – most international NGO offices in Darfur have high-speed internet access – and when it comes to the reach of mobile phones the true wilderness of the world is shrinking faster than Antarctica’s ice. With an ever-growing number of access points – email, text, mobile, facebook, twitter – our ability to connect with others almost anywhere, almost anytime, is also expanding. And so are our opportunities to pursue love across the miles.

Starting during my wedding reception, more than a handful of people in the last few months have suggested that I start writing essays about married life now, while others have pre-emptively recommended that I not lay Mike’s life quite as bare as I appear to be willing to lay my own. Well, those concerned with protecting Mike’s privacy can rest easy for a while. For, as my sister said to me yesterday on the phone; “You haven’t really had any normal married life time yet, not a single day.”

“Yes we have,” I argued. “There were a couple of days there in Australia after honeymoon and before Matt and Lou’s wedding.”

“You were both on holiday, and living in Mum and Dad’s house!”

“Well,” I said a bit wistfully, “I wish that were normal. It was really nice.”

“Yeah,” Michelle said, in a tone that made it clear that any hopes she’d held that marriage would magically mature me had just been dashed.

So perhaps it might be wise to give things a couple of months and maybe some more time in the same country before I tackle my marriage in writing. But having Mike away again has highlighted something I can write about that we have a lot more experience dealing with to date – a long distance relationship.

Before we met face to face in Australia for the first time about a year ago, Mike and I spent three months writing letters. It was a modern beginning in some ways – we could transmit those letters instantly with a click of the send button – and it was decidedly anachronistic in others. We agreed early on, in our second exchange, that we wouldn’t consider anything more than friendship until we met in person (if we ever got that far), and we never talked until we met for the first time in Brisbane airport.

The letters we wrote during that time, an entire book of them, laid the foundations for the relationship to come. It was then, with little to lose and the extra protection afforded by distance, that we established the range of our discourse – and there wasn’t much that was off limits. We wrote about our childhoods and our families, our love/hate relationships with the work we are drawn to, mental health and what we’d learned from previous long distance relationships.

We wrote about the little things that made us smile that day, or sigh, or wonder.

It amazes me now, but we were so used to communicating via letters that when we met for two weeks in Australia we didn’t give much thought to whether or how we were actually going to talk once we’d decided to date. We also didn’t figure this out until some time after we had returned to our respective sides of the world.

Two weeks after I returned to LA last year I was sitting on the couch in my new apartment on a Saturday night, writing, when my mobile rang. The number came up No caller ID, which usually means someone overseas, so I picked it up expecting my brother, Matt.

The line wasn’t working that well, and neither was my brain, apparently, because before I relay the conversation I have to pause for some disclaimers. I didn’t know that Mike had my mobile phone number. I wasn’t sure it was technically possible for him to call me from where he was. And I was writing – I was therefore vague. Very vague.

Mike: “Hi. So you like surprises?”

Lisa thinks: Hmmm, guy’s voice. Probably foreign friend. Possibly foreign friend flying into LA tonight who wants a couch to crash on. Crap, I don’t want to drive to LAX to pick someone up tonight!

Lisa: “Uh… sometimes.”

Mike says something about sitting on a rock looking out over the Pacific Ocean.

Lisa thinks: Hmmm, mystery guy friend trying to mess with me by pretending to be Mike. Who would be that mean??? Okay, let’s face it. A lot of my friends would be that mean.

I really had no idea who it was, and for some reason I was firmly convinced it wasn’t Mike. After we’d traded a couple more sentences I finally sighed and asked, “Ah, who is this?”

Mike: “Your secret admirer from PNG.”

Lisa: Hmmmm, he didn’t say Mike. He said secret admirer. That’s something a mean friend might say.

It took me about three awkward minutes to accept that it was Mike and about thirty seconds after that, while I was still trying to pretend that I normally acted like such a weirdo at the start of phone calls, the line went dead. I was left with no way to call him back and no way to even debrief by sending an email because my new apartment didn’t yet have working internet. I went to bed with the phone that night in case he managed to ring again, and stewed all evening about the fact that I hadn’t recognized my own boyfriend’s voice on the phone and must have come across as a suspicious freak.

It was not one of my favorite long-distance moments ever.

In fact, I’ve never liked long distance in the moment. It’s not like I sit around thinking, I’m really glad Mike’s half a world away right now. But although I haven’t liked it, I do think it’s ultimately been good for us.

Having nothing to build a relationship with but words, forces you to cover a lot of ground. Doing this at a distance – unable to exchange text messages and only able to talk every couple of days in chunks of an hour or two when Mike was in Madang and the one high speed internet connection in town was working – bought us some additional benefits. It removed some of the pressure and pitfalls that attend expectations of instantaneous response and 24-hour accessibility. It slowed us down, granted us extra time and space to think, and encouraged us to be deliberate, thoughtful, and thorough in our communication.

Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t all rosy, and I’m not advocating that all my single friends looking for potential spouses should suddenly start corresponding with strangers living on technologically-challenged

islands in the Pacific.

It took effort and energy to rearrange schedules to talk, or prioritize writing letters when I was exhausted or flat. Intermittent week-long stretches of total silence like the one I’m in the middle of now have sometimes assaulted my sense of surety in the concept of us and prompted unexpected mood swings. Then there was the temptation to feel that my “real life” was on hold until Mike arrived – to live life in such a haze of anticipation that it obscured the complex beauty of the present. Probing pasts and futures, joys and sorrows, across the miles when we might otherwise have been discovering what snacks we each liked at the theatre provided us with a deep, solid, foundation in one way. But it also rendered our quirks as merely adorable abstractions, and robbed us of small daily opportunities to identify differences and head off or resolve conflict.

Mike knew that I was not as neat or organized as him, but I’m sure it’s been a different thing altogether to see me get absorbed in writing something and subsequently ignore dishes on the bench, hair in the drain, and the fact that it’s lunchtime. I knew he was a lark to my nightingale, but it’s been much harder to fully appreciate the togetherness when he wants to experience the sunrise with me in person. We learned a great deal about sharing our inner selves across distance, but little about sharing our space or schedules. Those particular lessons have just begun.

Some will see this unusual progression as too high-risk a game to play, and there’s definitely an inverse reward function associated with long distance relationships – at some point payoffs start to decrease and costs increase. But even now, nine weeks after our wedding and facing a birthday alone, I can say that high risk has so far equaled high reward and that long distance has, on the whole, helped us more than it has hurt.

I am however, looking forward to Mike’s return, even if it means sharing the closet and the covers. Skype dating has lost some of its charm – although I’d take it right now over incommunicado – and apparently, there’s this brand new adventure called normal married life that I have yet to experience.

Bring it on, I say.

Or, I will, when I talk to my husband this weekend.