A recent Skype conversation with my German boyfriend went something like this:
Me: Hey, how are you? <simultaneously smiling and looking discreetly at the small video of myself displayed in the top left corner, trying to tame and tuck my hair behind an ear>
Him: Perfect, now that I talk to you!
Me: You look so cute!
Him: You looks so cute too! But I don’t can hear you! <fumbles around with something on his laptop> I call you back! <Skype session ends>
Me: Hello again!
Me: I read your email. Thank you! You’re so sweet. And your answers to all of my questions are so funny. But I don’t understand one of your questions: “What is your favorite rate from me?” What do you mean by “rate”?
Him: <puzzled look on his face> I mean something what I say and you laugh about it. Do you understand?
Me: <puzzled look on my face> Do you mean… joke?
Him: <starts typing on his laptop, presumably trying to translate “joke”> Joke… hmmmm…. Yes! Joke! That’s what I mean. <smile>
Me: <smile> Ah, ok. I understand. I will think about it and reply in my next email! <smile>
Him: Ok, Schatzi.
Me: I love it when you call me Schatzi. So much better than Snooki!
Him: I did not call you Snooki! Only Schnucki! But zis was so funny, when you thought I call you Snooki from Jersey Shore! You know Schnucki mean “darling” or “sweetie” for us Germans…
Me: Yes, I know all about your strange terms of endearment…
Him: <feverishly typing “endearment” into his online translator>
Me: Like the time when you called me a snail?? Or a slug?? <laugh>
Him: <Eyebrows go up when he sees what “endearment” means on the screen> Oh yes! Ok, <laughs> but I don’t say slug… I call you “Schnecke,” which is also a very cute name!
Me: How is a slug cute, exactly?
Him: No, Schnecke is meaning a snail… It’s a pastry for us, like in a circle.Tastes very good! Very sweet!
Me: Well, since I don’t speak any German, I guess I will just have to trust you. <smile>
Him: You speaks some German! You say “Sprechen Sie Englisch?”
Me: Yes. And “Ein Bier, bitte! Danke!” Very important words! <smile>
Him: Of course! I love that my little American loves beer like me. <smile>
Me: I know. We are twins! <smile>
Me: <more goofy smiling>
Him: <more goofy smiling>
And this goes on for hours….
I’ve been with my magical German unicorn* for a few months now, and it has opened my eyes to many previously undiscovered relationship truths. At least undiscovered by ME. Generally speaking, I tend to be a slow learner and a late bloomer in this arena. At my age, I thought I had everything about relationships figured out. Well, certainly the “Things Not to Do” category, such as avoiding long distance relationships at all costs, not dating younger men because they’re soooooooo immature, and seeking out guys totally unlike me because, I’m like a real pain in the ass, you know? Right?!?
Well guess what? So.Not.True.
Relationship Truth #1: Long Distance Relationships Don’t Suck; People Suck
Now of course I don’t mean that it’s fun to be separated for long periods of time from the person you care about. That part actually does suck. A LOT. What I mean is that it’s not a given that every Friday and Saturday night away from each other is going to end in a Trans-Atlantic screaming match because SOMEONE DIDN’T CHECK HIS PHONE FOR 12 STRAIGHT HOURS—AGAIN—AND CONVENIENTLY SLEPT THROUGH NOT ONE OR FIVE OR TEN BUT fifteen CONSECUTIVE CALLS TO THE HOME PHONE, ONLY TO EVENTUALLY RESPOND WITH, “Hmmm, I guess I must have been really passed out!” Grrrr. Not that this has ever happened to me. 47 times.
Nor does it mean that it’s inevitable on a random Tuesday you are simply going to run out of things to talk about… and the awkward pauses and silences grow and Grow and GROW until you have to resort to white lies (<fake yawn> “Oh, I’m so tired… I think I’m going to bed early tonight!!”), gimmicks (“Ok, ok… so SERIOUSLY. If you had to carry around a hammer every day for a year OR show up to your company’s annual Christmas party naked, which one would you choose? Be honest!!”) or the worst of all: manufactured drama (“Hmmm. So let me get this straight: You’re saying that if my face was horribly, horribly disfigured and I was paralyzed from the waist down from a derailed roller coaster accident, you really would leave me?? Nice… Really nice.”).
Nope. Doesn’t mean that at all. I can tell you that my unicorn has never left me waiting very long for a phone call response if he’s busy, and I think that only happened once in four months. Of course this implies an understanding and respect for work schedules, rest and time with friends and family—totally essential. And absolutely no screaming whatsoever. I think if either of us raised our voices even half an octave, one or both of us would cry. No snarky comments. Very little sarcasm (unless it’s directed at the legitimately mean or stupid observable actions of others). Strong desire to stay in a semi-constant state of communication, as much as humanly and pragmatically possible—thank god for phones, texting, WhatsApp, Skype and airplanes! An ardent curiosity about each other, from the mundane (favorite pizza?) to the sublime (favorite pilsner?). And most important of all, old fashioned kindness and consideration. You know, like calling when you say you will, and writing an interesting and flirty email reply even after you’ve worked all night long and all you want is to crawl into bed and sleep for the whole day…
This, everyone, is what makes long distance relationships work.
And I’ll go even further: As in my particular case, sometimes starting out a relationship long distance can actually be a blessing in disguise because it forces you to get to know each other on a more cerebral and emotional level first, before the physical aspect takes an overwhelming hold. Instead of countless hours holding hands and making out, you have the time to talk about potentially sensitive topics and important issues that would normally be relegated to later. Or never. I love the fact that my unicorn (Shall I just call him Fritz? Unicorn is starting to sound a bit… emasculating), I mean Fritz, and I had serious chats about politics, religion, “The Rules,” why Germans like to eat very weird meat products and why Americans love war and hate sex well before all I could think about was kissing his cute face. In a long distance relationship, you have the time to solve the world’s problems, one question at a time. This is great! Do you think people in normal relationships talk about the Euro crisis or French xenophobia when they’re lounging in bed on a Sunday morning?? No, no. This is only done properly over a late afternoon (CST)/late evening (GMT +1) Skype session with plenty of booze on hand. I am so grateful for these moments. How else would I know that Fritz’s favorite snack is a disgusting Bavarian sandwich called “leberkäse” (which translates to “liver cheese”—shudder!) or that he randomly met Roberto Benigni in 2004 at an Italian restaurant in Munich or that his favorite childhood cartoon was “Gummibären”??
[Now I already know what you’re thinking… That my relationship is so new and rosy right now, but eventually I will eat my words and recant everything in this post because everyone knows: this kind of giddiness and romance doesn’t last forever. Got it. And you’re probably right. But the thing is, I’ve never gone even *this* long without a modicum of snarkiness, sarcasm, irritation or boredom. Never, in my whole sordid relationship history! In fact, in starting a new relationship, I don’t think I’ve even gone a few weeks without thinking something wasn’t quite perfect, or there wasn’t a glaring issue to contend with (e.g., hate mail from exes, secret office romance, I-wanted-him-and-he-didn’t-want-me-until-one-day-he-wanted-me-after-I-went-on-a-date-with-someone-else-but-I-always-resented-him-for-the way-he-treated-me-those-first-six-months, etc.). I think I have FINALLY stepped into healthy, grown up relationship territory, and it feels really really good.
Of course everything isn’t TOTALLY perfect. Fritz has these sandals… He got them in Greece—10 years ago <cringe>. And they look like women’s sandals, not kidding. I’m generally used to European men wearing, shall we say, girlier outfits than the average American dude (man capris are a good example of this, as well as man satchels), and I think it’s fair to say, after living in Europe for almost seven years of my life, that I have a higher tolerance for this kind of fashion than the average American girl. But these sandals… OMG. I wish I had an actual picture of them to show you, but instead I will provide a picture of what they look like:
Now do you understand my horror?? (And for the record, Fritz, these are NOT flip flops!)
I only highlight the Shoe Dissatisfaction to demonstrate that this relationship is not, in fact, perfect. I realize we will have serious issues and hard times ahead of us. For example, I know nothing about European football, or as only Americans call it, soccer. I’m sure for Fritz, this is a VERY BIG negative about me. I remember very clearly during one of our first email exchanges, he asked me very seriously, “So what do you think about Jürgen Klinsmann??” And I was thinking, Oh geez... This is probably some big-time European leader I don’t know about and I’m going to feel really stupid after I Google him... And you know who he is? From Wikipedia: a German football manager and former player who is currently the coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team. Oh yeah, Duh! When I discovered this, I couldn’t stop laughing. And then I started crying, because I realized I was dating one of those guys... You know—the kind of guy who cries when his football team loses and can’t speak to any human for about 6 hours, give or take. I experienced this firsthand after the recent loss of FC Bayern München to Chelsea just a couple of weeks ago, and I gotta tell ya: I felt woefully, WOEFULLY unprepared for how a girlfriend is supposed to act during those unfortunate circumstances. I’m sure Fritz has an idea in his mind of how his perfect football-loving girlfriend would act, participating in near year-round football watching, harmless ribbing and informed football club conversation over mass quantities of beer… Well, at least I’ve got the beer part down. And I’m all about the fan t-shirts and scarves!!]
Relationship Truth #2: Age is Only in Your Alcohol Tolerance
Let’s face it, people: I’m part Irish and I was raised by the Dutch. This gives me A LOT of leeway when it comes to alcohol consumption. Of course my Dad never drinks more than two beers, but nevermind that. I know the rest of The Netherlands is filled with all sorts of alcohol and drug-imbibing folk who think nothing of chugging ice cold Bokma Gin for breakfast. It’s this tangential legacy of which I write.
So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that after going this long without a husband or children to care for, or any real sort of adult responsibilities like a house or a dog or even a plant in my 3X years, that I’ve developed some other hobbies. Like partaking of fine wines and award winning beers in my free time. Or, doing jello shots and playing Flip Cup all day on my friend Sean’s party barge once (or twice) a summer. Or, occasionally walking home barefoot from 6th Street at 3am on a random Thursday. Immature? Sure. A little sad? Maybe. Boring?? NEVER! That’s because age is not is just a state of mind, it’s also a matter of how much booze you consume on a weekly basis. And this, my friends, is why it’s completely appropriate for me to date a 2X-year-old German! Make sense now??
Of course Fritz is entirely mature about alcohol, as only a German who’s been drinking since he was 13 can be.
So truthfully, our ages even out: Fritz is really mature for his age, and I’m immature for mine. I think we average out somewhere around 30, and I’m really okay with that.
Relationship Truth #3: I Am Not the Reason I’m Still Single (But I’m Sure Glad I Am!)
Over the years I’ve formulated many theories as to why I’m not married. They’ve ranged from I don’t want a man to I’m a psychotic lunatic. And while it’s true that I did go through a solid decade of pretty radical feminism (Anyone remember my bumper stickers??) and I do think that some men have tended to bring out the worst in me, I’ve come around to the idea that I am really not, at the end of the day, The Problem.
The Problem, I believe, is simply being with The Wrong Person. The Wrong People don’t bring out the best in us and, dare I say it? sometimes unleash a Beast. You know, the “I know this isn’t right but I’m in denial and I will fight for this relationship ‘til the death!” Beast. A veritable relationship Kraken, if you will. My scary Kraken has been released on a few occasions, and to my ex boyfriends I can only say: I’m sorry you were The Wrong Person.
The Right Person never releases the Kraken. Maybe a… little yapping Yorkie or perhaps an annoying squawking parrot once in a while, but never the Kraken. Because The Right Person doesn’t exasperate you to the point of hopelessness; doesn’t take you for granted; never makes you feel inferior or inadequate; pays a good deal of attention to you; and generally makes you feel so good about yourself that you want to give yourself high fives all day long and makes you laugh so much you almost pee your pants. The difference between the Right and Wrong Person is like night and day, or like leberkäse and… something delicious.
I’m sure there are several more Relationship Truths I am on the cusp of discovering, but this is what comes to mind for now. I suppose if I could add just one more to the list, it might be something like:
Relationship Truth #4: The Brothers Grimm Had it Right (I Think)
I remember a scene from a 1980s television show which I can’t recall right now but Wilford Brimley was one of the actors, and he said to his teenage granddaughter who just had her heart broken at the Homecoming dance or whatever, “I’ve always thought it was strange when someone talks about the ‘love of my life’ … how that special, unique person is never in China… or in Mongolia, or in Peru. No, that person is almost always within a 50-mile radius of where she lives. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Because usually we’re content to just look in our backyards for the most important partner we will ever have in our entire lives.” And even at that age, in my elementary, “My Little Pony”-obsessed state, I was able to read between those lines. That is, Don’t settle for the first thing that comes in your path! Take your time to find The Right Person! Be prepared to kiss a lot of frogs before you find Prince Charming!
Who says 80s television was terrible? Everything I learned, I learned from 80s TV. Probably.
In this vein, I applaud the use of a German-English dictionary. I fight for the right to Oktoberfest party, even if I have to hold the giant glass mug with two weak American hands. I might not understand the preoccupation with David Hasselhof beyond Night Rider or why it’s wrong to mow your lawn on Sundays, but I sure can appreciate a culture that celebrates everything in life, from cabbage and onions to pigs and wine, with a Fest!
If I could be fluent in anything, it would be my own instincts, to understand and appreciate enough about myself to know what feels right and what feels like it should be punched square in the jaw.
In the meantime, I’m content to continue with my German lessons. :)