Essays

Long-Distance Love

Words By sheila lam

Moving away from home. Seeing friends in a particular city on your annual visit. Being apart from your partner for extended periods. Distanced love is an experience more of us collectively share than we may realize. “Long-distance relationships” have always carried a romantic attachment, but that suggests that familial, platonic, or otherwise relationships aren’t as vital, which of course, is entirely untrue. If the pandemic showed us anything, we yearn for all kinds of connection and are prepared to do whatever it takes to keep those bonds strong. When we can’t spend time in the presence of those we love, we write letters, carve time out of our day to sit on the phone, send memes and songs that remind us of one another, and reminisce until we can be together again. As much as we travel to experience the world, we travel equally, if not more so, to connect.

I was six years old when my mom and sister returned to Vietnam for the first time. The memory of clutching onto my dad as they waved goodbye at the end of the corridor at the Vancouver International Airport is one of the first core memories I can recall. Up until then, my family had never spent more than a sleepover apart here and there. But for my mom, it had been years since she last saw her mother and sisters. Melancholy was, at that moment, passed from my mom to me – an unconventional gift. Because to miss something is to love something enough to miss it. History, culture, and time are accounts that people of a diaspora often miss as well. We feel a longing for connection to a place we recognize in our bodies. Something I’d felt when I visited Vietnam for the first time. When that distance was removed, layers of my identity were unveiled. When we travel, communities too become places of pilgrimage, and those around us transform us.

Much in the same way as we have relationships with people, we also have relationships with places. On many occasions, I’ve found myself longing to see the sights of a place I’ve been to before and pick up the conversations we’ve left off as if reuniting with a friend I’ve not seen for months over an ebullient dinner, trading stories and laughter. In an affecting quote from Joan Didion, she wrote, “You have to pick the places you don’t walk away from.” Places, as much as people, can connect with you in a way that lingers even when you’re apart.

Places, as much as people, can connect with you in a way that lingers even when you’re apart.”

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and all this ruminating on love at a distance is befitting. Chocolate, cards, and gifts are often what first comes to mind when we think of this holiday, but at the core of Valentine’s Day is love in action. To me, there is nothing more worthy of Saint Valentine, the patron saint of lovers, than to close the distance between family, friends, and partners. It has always been true that so much of human experience is surrounded by how we love and how we experience love. It’s a privilege to travel for love, to visit family during the holidays and friends during a break, and return to the arms of someone you love. While we can express love in long-distance relationships in a myriad of ways, as often as I’m afforded, I will choose travel. ■

Correspondence

On Nature

In conversation with photographer Richard Gaston.

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