Long-distance relationships were never meant to be easy

If two people from different countries fall in love and want to make a long-term go of it, there's no compromise. One of them has to leave home, family, friends, culture, in jokes, food, landscape, their very history, and become immersed in the world of their beloved.

Konrad Marshall's poignant piece on long distance love (The Age, 8/2) started with his own US-Australian marriage and he interviewed a dozen other couples with similar stories. Not all of them had lasted the distance and Marshall was realistic about the richness and heartache involved in these scenarios.

If two people from different countries fall in love and want to make a long term go of it, there’s no compromise.Credit:Shutterstock

International relationships are not a new phenomenon, however, and in the days before cheap airfares and slick telecommunications, things were a lot tougher.

I know because this is my family's story. Dad was from Northern Ireland and Mum from Melbourne; they met in England and married in Belfast in 1954. None of Mum's family were able to attend their wedding.

They settled in India for 20 years, which sounds like neutral ground, but it was Dad's work that took them there. He loved the place; Mum was ambivalent. She made a rich life for herself, but she had to look hard for work (all voluntary) that enabled her to contribute in a meaningful way. She experienced deep grief when she had to send her children to boarding school in the early primary years, which was simply the way things were done then and there.

We called our only grandparents "Granny Ireland" and "Granny Australia" because they were semi-mythical creature rather than people we knew, despite precious weekly letters travelling the oceans both ways. Apparently I did meet both grandmas, but I have no memory of these encounters.

The experience of "Third Culture Kids" who grow up in a society different from that of their parents, as my sister and I did, is a whole other story. But for Mum and Dad, having a partner from the opposite side of the globe was a constant challenge. They had a long, lively, affectionate and committed marriage, but they were never in a place where they could both be really content. One of them always had to make a sacrifice.

They moved to Australia for some years and, although he made a good fist of it, Dad was never entirely happy. They moved to Dublin, and Mum was bereft at being away from her adult daughters, particularly once grandchildren arrived.

Some time after Mum died, Dad married a Scot. They proceeded to live six months in each hemisphere, until they became too old, and settled in Edinburgh. Email and Skype made this a very different scenario from the separations of my childhood, when we didn't have so much as a landline.

But, as Konrad Marshall revealed in his article, living apart from the ones you love is still painful. Not even the most sophisticated technology can replace connecting over a cuppa, sharing a meal or having a long hug. International relationships may not be the ordeal they were, but they're never going to be easy.

Clare Boyd-Macrae is a Melbourne writer.

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