I should probably start this article with a disclaimer: If you are in a long distance relationship please stop reading this now. Read something fun, like Plato’s allegory of the cave or the allegory of the Copernicus revolution or Galileo Galilei’s works or even better, Aristotle thoughts on modern philosophy. Or perhaps read The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri and be literally scared to hell by his elaborate portrayal of hell. That will probably cheer you up.
By long distance relationship, I don’t mean you are here and they are in some remote village in Kisii like Nyaribari Chache or in the so called leafy surburbs of Eldoret or Busia, no. I mean really long distance; somewhere you can’t take a bus to or a train. Some place where people don’t know what ‘ugali’ or ‘chapo’ or ‘mutura’ or ‘thufu’ is (although I hear some folks in Runda don’t know what those are). People who recently considered themselves to be in long distance relationships with other people in mtito Andei or anywhere along those lines have also now been excluded in this article thanks to the SGR.
I cannot say I fully understand the concept of long distance relationships (lost-distance relationships as I prefer to call them) or the people who get into them. I equate them with someone going to tweeze their eyebrows or getting a tattoo. I hear they are painful and yet people still do get them. If God was generous enough to give you eyebrows that look like caterpillars, then who are you to tamper with his work. You don’t see matatu drivers or ‘nduthi guys’ going for a brain transplant, do you? Anyway, long distance seems like something you call upon yourself because she’s all the way over there in Lithuania constantly WhatsApping you pictures of her food- capelinai and boletus- or her wintry selfies against the background of ghoulish trees without leaves, offering a withered brave smile watered down by the cold European wind.
She went to further her studies in surgery in India or Agriculture in Cambodia or animal husbandry in Thailand because she’s ambitious and she wants to change the world-perhaps start domesticating elephants in Africa. And you? A fresh graduate or whatever, with none or some shitty job trying to make ends meet, with no single entrepreneurial vein in your body thinking that you can make an investment in betting.
Before she left you swore to each other that your love was bigger than the oceans and bridges and small airports between you two. That you would overcome. Then she left, got swallowed in the belly of a gigantic plane and into the sky yonder. You were left behind with pictures of her on your phone and the smell of her perfume when she hugged you. I know a number of people who are laboring under the yoke of long distance relationships and I’m charmed and horrified by the sheer stoicism of it all. And I say this because I have been there myself, many moons ago.
The whole relationship hangs on a slim thread of technology and an even slimmer thread of promise. You WhatsApp constantly. You rush home to FaceTime or Skype. You send pictures of yourselves to each other. You make it as normal as you can in those grim circumstances. Sometimes you have phone sex, a concept I have never really understood. I feel chills whenever I think about it.
Love is ideally masochism turned inside out. Of course the novelty starts to wear off after a while. Life intrudes. Reality shows its jagged edges. You hang on, like lovers in the rain huddling under one leaking umbrella. Some make it through and I’m happy for them. Most don’t, I’m not sad for them. If anything, I’m happy for their freedom.
Unless you are married to someone leaving the country for a few years, I think it’s foolhardy to sit around waiting for someone for three years especially if you are in your 20’s. If you are 25 years old and you are in the house on Friday night because your long distance lover is uncomfortable when you are out partying, then you are the epitome of the joke. You are wasting your good years standing on quicksand. It’s utterly unfair to keep another human being waiting like that but that’s not the worst part.
The worst part of it is when the other person comes back after three or so years and you sit with them and you don’t recognize them or what they have done to their hair anymore. They don’t even speak like they did on Skype. Their shoulder bones are sharper and their cheek bones more visible. Their jokes are as exciting as old bananas plus they keep saying dumb things like, “Do they have air conditioning here?”
You have also changed. Everybody changes. First your BMI is as worrisome as hell. They also can’t understand why you still have the same friends, some who still drink the whole weekend. “It’s little something we call ‘loyalty’ back here!” you mumble. She can’t stand your jokes either. Your conversations are out of rhythm. She doesn’t say it but she looks at you like you should have amounted to something more. You know this because, with a fake smile she says things like, “What is your next career move anyway?” These are questions she should have asked you on Skype. Instead, all she wanted was you to dirty dance for her in your blue boxers. Oh, now she wants to know your short-term plans?
And when you finally get intimate (after her two-week jetlag) it feels strange, rehearsed and it doesn’t help that she can’t stop talking through it, asking you suspiciously, “Oh, where did we learn that?” You have both changed, that’s the truth. People change right here before you when they move from Kinangop to Nairobi; now imagine when they move to Estonia or Luxemburg and come back with a bad habit.
Here is what I think should happen: If someone I liked and was not married to was to leave for a few years, I would convince them that the three years would be a great litmus test for everybody. They can date out there if they meet someone and I can date out here. When they come back, we can see if the chemistry is still there. That way, nobody keeps their lives on hold for a promise they made when the airline announced the last passenger call.
©Cooper Jose Njoroge