Q. I am currently engaged in a long-distance relationship. The object of my affection, in fact, resides in Great Britain. I am at a loss as to the proper behavior when the other is an ocean apart.
Even with such technological advances as the Concorde and telephones, a letter takes five days to cross the Atlantic, and phone calls quickly can become prohibitively expensive.
Surely this problem has been encountered before: Men have gone off to war or traveled around the world, thereby reducing the love affair to only the written word. What does one do when the other develops writer's block? How can one disagree with the other, when, by the time a letter reaches its destination, the sender may either have forgotten or else be in a seething rage? What are some remedies against pining away?
A. Pining away is exactly what you are supposed to be doing. It is, in fact, the official occupation of separated lovers, and should be mentioned in all letters, even if one has to interrupt one's account of a marvelous all-night party in order to insert it. Make that "especially if."
That does not mean that it should be a full-time occupation, except in the case of lovers separated because one is fighting a war or otherwise enduring hardship, while the other is living in more or less normal circumstances. When both are in a temptation-ridden environment, pining away is described in love letters as the bittersweet accompaniment to an otherwise full and cheerful life: "The ball was dazzling and full of fascinating people, but I ached to think how much more I would have enjoyed it with you."
Why? First, because you need some substance in the letters, to set off the mushy parts, and also because if your letters are truly eventful and interesting, your lover may quote them in conversation, thus establishing you as a presence in his life, among those whom he sees more often.
Also, unrelieved mush makes you sound like a drip. If your lover has in his mind only one picture of you, and that one melancholy, he will soon forget what you look like.
The second chief reason is that an absent lover should know that the most stalwart of sweethearts does have, within easy reach, the antidote to neglect. That is a very good reason for his not developing writer's block. Each lover must have the sense that the other is leading an interesting life, in spite of the sacrifice both are making, and that it would be well to reward that sacrifice as much as possible.
That is not to say that you threaten the lover with a replacement, even in the relatively subtle manner of describing a likely one without acknowledging your interest. One never admits to the slightest infidelity, even of the spirit. You don't know what comfort the other person has at hand.
You are right that you cannot safely conduct a quarrel by letter. Accusations that would take six minutes to hurl back and forth orally can occupy weeks by mail, and what is more, foolish statements in writing cannot be denied. The way to make a complaint by mail is to be hurt, not angry.
You will notice that supplying the material to fill in your letters between statements about pining away, is, in fact, the cure for pining away.