When my girlfriend and I got together last term, neither of us anticipated having to endure a long-distance relationship beyond the nine-minute cycle between our colleges. It’s relative, of course (Homerton to Girton, anyone?) and we found ourselves embracing the quasi-long distance existence. When my own college started to feel a little claustrophobic, I’d cycle to hers, a place which gradually became another place I could call ‘home’. I even made the romantic (in context, I promise) gesture of purchasing an obnoxiously fluorescent jacket for her that I’d spied in a charity shop, after she was nearly flattened by a car on her way back to college.

Being once so physically close, as well as almost totally enmeshed in each other’s university lives, lockdown hit pretty hard. Supplying one of her ever-frequent nuggets of unparalleled insight and wisdom, my girlfriend commented the other day: “God, no one ever chooses to be in a long-distance relationship, do they?!” – and, in all seriousness, I’d have to agree. No longer regularly by my side, and instead subsumed into a vaguely human-resembling collection of pixels on my laptop screen, separation has been a bit of a shock. There’s a bitter irony to how laptops positioned between us were once the only barrier stopping us from completely distracting each other, when post-lockdown, it is precisely those same screens that we rely on to keep us connected.

“What has surprised me most about our long-distance situation, exceeding (for which I can only apologise) all the overly sentimental observations it has roused in me, is that I have never felt closer to her.”

What has surprised me most about our long-distance situation, exceeding (for which I can only apologise) all the overly sentimental observations it has roused in me, is that I have never felt closer to her. Being so far apart has reduced our relationship to its bare bones: we are no longer distracted by the chaos of Cambridge, no longer shuffling ourselves in a dishevelled post-Cindies daze from supervision to supervision or caught up in the many “should’s” and “ought to’s” of an institution that conditions us into a state of constant anxiety over our own productivity. At last, I can actually talk to her without the nagging feeling that there’s something else, dare I say, more important, that I need to be doing.

Yes, the intensity of a Cambridge term often seems to propel people into relationships of a mirroring intensity. But while there is some truth to the statement that seeing someone “at their worst” offers considerable insight into who they are, so does eyeing up their self-isolation habits over FaceTime (she’s a TikTok star with a strange penchant for bandana-buying) and watching them bargain about an 11 pm bedtime with their younger sister. And there is certainly something revealing about how people cope in quarantine: I text her Michel Foucault excerpts, and she asks me if I would still love her if she were a worm.


Mountain View

Why Cambridge feels half a world away

Worm-related discourse aside, it has given me an opportunity to pay attention to the things that I never properly noticed when we were rushing between club nights and libraries. For instance, one evening we stumbled across a glorious internet quiz entitled “50 Deep Questions to Ask Your Partner To Connect on A Deeper Level” that seemed promising. But what really stuck with me through that conversation wasn’t her telling me about her biggest regrets, hopes and dreams. Instead, it was the space between: when one of us would get sidetracked from our jarring attempts at serious introspection, screw our faces up at the ridiculousness of the question, or she would momentarily leave – and I’m not ashamed to admit I missed her – to go and make yet another cup of tea. Being so physically removed from her life has, paradoxically, brought me closer to its seemingly mundane details. Long-distance has not only made me listen more, it has also made me listen differently.

Long-distance relationships seem to be the exception rather than the rule, as indicated by the dreaded modifier ‘long distance’. Distance is usually taken as something to be struggled through or resented, but it has also made me see some things with new eyes. This acknowledged, nothing could detract from, what is to me, the most obvious fact in the world right now – I can’t wait to see her.