Away-not-Away

Writing this post is slow going because I have to keep stopping and responding to Facebook Messenger messages from Bill. It’s just noon here, but he’s sitting at an outdoor table having a light dinner because he’s in Ireland, where it’s 8 pm. Why Bill is in Ireland without me is something I’ll explain in some future post. What’s interesting about this trip is how not-away he seems to be. People ask me if I miss him, and I do. But not as much as you  might think, since we’ve spent an hour video chatting every afternoon (my time, bedtime his time) since he left. Plus text chatting throughout the day, or at least the part of the day that we’re both awake. Plus a running supply of photos and videos. I’ve seen the table where he’s having dinner, the gorgeous view from the table in two directions and the dinner itself.

For a long time, I’d been slightly jealous of the Big Bang Theory characters for the way they use video chat like a normal part of everyday life. I’d tried it a few times but usually found it too glitchy, low-quality, and difficult to use to be really useful. Even when I was in Costa Rica on a yoga retreat and had to talk to Bill by internet chat, I used audio chat because it seemed to work better. And holding my phone to my ear made it seem more intimate.

But time, and bandwidth, marched on. These days, a meaningful portion of the “conference call” invitations I get are carried out over Skype or Zoom or some other venue that allows both audio and video chat. I haven’t fully figured out the etiquette of one versus the other. Once, when I was interviewing an expert in The Netherlands over Skype–I thought just to save on long-distance–he complained when he couldn’t see me. I explained that he’d have to watch me typing, taking notes–I wouldn’t be able to make much eye contact–but he insisted so I switched to video chat. Another time, an Inc.com colleague asked for a meeting with me and suggested Zoom so she could record it. This time I clicked on video chat from the start, and found myself face to face with an elegantly dressed and made-up woman wearing a nice necklace whereas I was wearing a hoodie.

Back to Bill. He’ll be home soon after two weeks “away,” but the quality of that away-ness is different fom past times apart because I see him and hear him and talk things out with him every day. Young people these days don’t seem to care that much where their friends and even their girlfriends or boyfriends physically are. They maintain friendships and romantic relationships over great geographical distances, and I’m beginning to see how that just might be possible. On the other hand, I still need him here to snuggle up with and bring me coffee and make distracting noise while I’m trying to work, and to have dinner with while debating the Hugh Hefner documentary we’ve been watching. All the things, large and small, that make up being married and that you just can’t get from video chat.

At one point while he was away, Bill sent me a chat message that said he wished they’d perfected transporter technology so that I could magically appear by his side for just one night of pub-crawling and live music. (Not to mention avoid the many, many hours in planes and airports it would take for him to get home.) Meantime, he did the next best thing and held his phone up so I could see the musicians and hear the music.  It wasn’t anything like being there. But it was still a lot of fun.

Image: Bill’s dinner in Ireland

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